Ashlee Watson Editor
I sat down with Melina Morrison, CEO of the Business Council for Co-operatives and Mutuals, to discuss what's coming up for the sector and the industry body.
The Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals began in 2013 and celebrates its second birthday in August. What did the council set out to achieve? Is that still relevant to today?
The BCCM was set up in 2013 as a legacy of the UN International Year of Co-operatives to give a voice to the co-operative and mutual enterprise (CME) sector in Australia and foster business diversity in the economy.
It's the only organisation that unites the entire, diverse range of member-owned businesses in Australia. The BCCM was set up with three key objectives:
Promotion and advocacy: CMEs are an essential part of the Australian economy with an estimated 1700 co-operative, mutual and member-owned businesses (both large and small) operating nationally. There are more than 13.5 million memberships, but many Australians are not aware they are a member (and therefore an owner) of one.
The BCCM aims to promote and increase awareness of our business models among the general public and policymakers. We do this through our communication activities and submissions to various government reviews, departments and policymakers.
Research: We're committed to commissioning research that shows how CMEs drive productivity and innovation in the economy, contribute to local economic development and create wealth and prosperity for more Australians. We've already published a number of research publications dedicated to this goal.
Education: Co-operative and mutual models do not appear in any business studies or law programmes from junior school through to tertiary level, meaning there is an education and information deficit regarding our business model from the beginning.
We believe that by working together we can ensure that our business structures are taught in the Australian education system. This should improve professional services in legal and accounting, for example, and our sector's staff can develop their careers through gaining recognised qualifications.
What has been the biggest achievement of the council to date?
We've experienced many highlights in our short history! The biggest achievement for the BCCM came recently with the confirmation of a Federal Senate inquiry. Due to sit later this year, the Economics References Committee will examine the role, importance, and overall performance of co-operative, mutual and member-owned firms in the Australian economy.
This is a fantastic opportunity for our sector to promote and broadcast the benefits of our business model to the public and policymakers – something the BCCM is very much looking forward to contributing to, together with our members.
Are there any specific challenges for co-operative and mutual enterprises in Australia?
Like any industry sector, there are always challenges and opportunities. Currently, a major hurdle in our sector's progression is the legislation that governs us. Legislation is inconsistent between jurisdictions, restricts free trade across State and Territory borders and suffers from duplicative Federal and State regulatory requirements.
It's essential that a nationally consistent legislative framework and clear administrative policy is enacted in order for the CME sector to compete on a level playing field with other corporate forms on a national and international basis.
This challenge also provides us with an opportunity to promote the advantages of a diverse economy and the role that CME ownership can play in our future.
Education and awareness is the ongoing bugbear of the sector and we have to do everything in our collective power to insist that our models of business have equal prominence in education curriculums at all levels of schooling.
And what about the opportunities?
Opportunities – there are so many! We're living in the age of collaborative consumption and social purpose business. This 'values based business' ethos is the very DNA of our businesses, so we have a great opportunity to connect with consumers looking to do business with for-purpose enterprises.
There is also a largely untapped opportunity for our businesses to do more business with each other, leveraging and cross promoting the mutual brand. What better sector to 'bank' mutuals than financial mutuals themselves?
Is there anything on the Council's wishlist?
We could do with a Minister for Co-operatives and Mutuals – that would give us a voice in Cabinet and ensure that our business voice is included in the national economic conversation.
Thanks for your time Melina.
Bank Australia is a founding member if the Business Council for Co-operatives and Mutuals. Find out more about the council at bccm.coop.