A new report is shining a much-needed spotlight on a critical part of the nation’s economy worth billions to Australians – that also gives them a fairer share of the pie.

The report details how, in a year of unprecedented change and economic upheaval, a certain business model has thrived through strength in numbers, sheer resilience and an unwavering commitment to the country and its communities.

Co-operation is uniquely at the heart of the business models highlighted in the National Mutual Economy Report, which reveals these business structures have contributed $20 billion towards Australia’s GDP, despite an economic downturn.

In 2020, the collective impact these businesses – co-operative and mutual enterprises (CMEs) – made contributed an impressive $90 billion towards Australian incomes.
Analysis from SGS Economics and Planning (SGS) shows this growing sector already generates 1 per cent of Australia’s GDP and makes up nearly 1.5 per cent of the nation’s employment, and that excludes member-owned super funds.

The report also highlights how Northern Rivers NSW – lately making headlines as the home of Hollywood heavyweights and celebrities – is one of Australia’s most economically diverse and deeply-connected regions.

The SGS analysis found this buzzing co-operative capital – leading the way as a food provenance region by delivering produce from the paddock to your plate - contributed an impressive $2.4 billion to the regional economy through its extensive network of co-operative businesses and people.

“These are businesses that persevere through a crisis, move forward together and drive change,” says Melina Morrison, chief executive of the Business Council of Co-Operatives and Mutuals (BCCM).

“In a crisis you really see the co-operative ethos get amplified and it truly pays dividends, as this report so clearly shows. Post COVID, our country needs more cooperatives to make sure more Australians benefit from our nation’s economic recovery and reap the rewards.

“Each year we produce this report because it’s sorely needed – we’re the only non-government organisation doing this very important job of showing Australians and government why this sector is crucial to our country’s economic recovery.”

The report reveals that in 2020:

  • The total revenue for the top 100 co-operative and mutual enterprises, or CMEs, was $32.8bn.
  • Australian CMEs had combined gross assets of more than $1.1 trillion including super funds.
  • CMEs directly employed at least 70,000 Australian workers, but facilitated the employment of 180,000 people.
  • In agriculture alone, CMEs facilitated the operations of more than 24,000 member businesses.

“There are more than 2000 co-op and mutual businesses across the country, and they continue to overcome intense challenges because of their self-sufficient and sustainable nature, and their ability to persevere as long-standing pillars of their communities,” Morrison says.

“The Northern Rivers is a shining example of that – it’s become the unofficial co-op capital of Australia. It’s richer as a region as a direct result of key business being co-operative, because they prevent the leakage of value out of that region.

“When 100 per cent of ownership stays in the region, that means 100 per cent of profits do too – nothing is leaking out or going offshore and in fact, it’s all helping drive Australia’s economy.”

Simon Stahl, chief executive of the Casino Food Co-op which features in the report, says the region has worked together to overcome intense challenges.

“The Northern Rivers is one of the most economically dynamic and successful regions in Australia, and we’ve shown that even through a pandemic and trying times, we can still generate energy and positivity for not only our communities, but the whole of Australia,” he says.

“Co-operatives have driven the revival and survival of the region but lots of people collaborate in different ways, and they’re helped through the longevity of business in the area. We’re anchored here and haven’t left or let people down during COVID.”

The Casino Food Co-op – Australia’s largest meat processing co-operative – is expanding its factory infrastructure, and Norco – Australia’s largest 100 per cent farmer-owned dairy co-op – launched a new ice cream brand.

“We’ve all grown through COVID, and even through lost market to China. That’s because we champion initiative and creative spirit by thinking differently, being adaptive to change and fostering new enterprise,” Mr Stahl says.

“Our region is already internationally recognised for our clean, green and sustainable approach to business and our new Northern Rivers NSW alliance brings us all together to show we are also leading the way in collaboration and cooperation.”

24 June 2021