What co-ops and mutuals want: To create an enterprising nation
9 May 2019 at 7:45 am
Now is the time to rebuild and maintain public trust in business, writes Melina Morrison, CEO of the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM), as part of a series of articles looking at what the social sector wants from the incoming government.
With the federal election just around the corner, we at BCCM are asking for politicians to adopt the three point plan that we outlined in our recently launched Blueprint for an Enterprising Nation.
In particular, we are calling on all parties to:
- recognise and support the value of diverse forms of enterprise in the Australian economy;
- ensure that policy, legislation and regulation work to provide a fair business environment for co-operatives and mutuals; and
- work with BCCM and its members to implement the objectives of its Blueprint for an Enterprising Nation.
For many years co-operatives and mutuals were the backbone of Australian communities. Rediscovering this transparent, member-owned business model can provide Australia with a roadmap in an era in which we are all demanding more accountability of our institutions. It is now up to government to support reforms that will give companies, which are run by members for members, a fairer go so they can compete.
As wage growth flatlines and living costs increase, we must find a way to address this issue for our workers. The co-op model is ideally suited for social enterprise as it encourages solidarity through member ownership, which empowers disadvantaged people. It is time to think about how our economy can be better structured. The listed company model is not the only form a business can take.
We have welcomed the bi-partisan support our sector has received since the last federal election. For the first time in two decades, new legislation has been passed for co-operatives and mutuals, supporting competition and choice for consumers across a range of industries.
This is a great start in levelling the playing field and it strengthens socially-owned business, but there is much more to do to ensure that these important businesses can reach their potential in our economy and society and help to build a fairer Australia.
It’s vital to remind our political parties that our federal government’s policy, legislative and regulatory actions could enable these businesses to fulfil their potential and in turn deliver a wide range of public policy objectives. These include; strengthening home grown Australian-owned businesses which spread wealth more broadly and fairly throughout the country. It will also provide competition and choice for consumers and will create diversity in business, which will act as a counterbalance to any risk to the economy.
By creating strategies for a healthy, balanced economy with companies that take a long-term view, our government has the opportunity to foster community engagement and empower stakeholders. Now is the time to rebuild and maintain public trust in business.
Outdated regulation has long-prevented co-ops and mutuals from gaining traction throughout the national economy. Though there have been encouraging moves at a federal level, it is essential that states and territories also undertake necessary reforms to standardise the administrative landscape for co-ops.
Currently, BCCM has over 600 co-ops and mutuals based in NSW, and in the lead-up to the state election, the NSW Liberal government explicitly agreed to take steps to include co-operatives in the national Director Identification Number scheme. The BCCM will continue to lobby for the enactment of these changes to reduce red-tape for our members.
It is vital that our political representatives are aware of CMEs as a legitimate and viable long-term model for businesses. They need to understand the regulatory burdens that CMEs uniquely face, preventing the full realisation of the benefits not only for customers and members, but the broader financial system.
People are increasingly looking for investment options where social outcomes and financial stability intersect. The CME model empowers stakeholders to find sustainable solutions to community needs while delivering a return for members invested in the outcome.