New Co-operative National Law could level the playing field for co-operatives in Australia

20 Mar 2014

A uniform set of national laws for co-operatives that is being progressively introduced across Australia could help strengthen the co-operative sector.

All states and territories agreed to the Co-operatives National Law (CNL) when they signed up to the Australian Uniform Co-operative Laws Agreement in 2012.

The law entered into force in New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria on 3 March. Chief executive of the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCMM), Melina Morrison, believes the launch of the law is a landmark for co-operatives across Australia.

“Co-ops and mutuals use a variety of legal structures. Many do choose to set up under state-based co-operative legislation but they have had to deal with a fragmented regulatory system,” said Ms Morrison.

She added that businesses set up under companies law had not had to worry about the cross state trading issue. “Co-operatives are a significant economic sector and this new, national law recognises the importance of these businesses to our communities and to the economy.

“The introduction of CNL will help co-op businesses to simplify the administrative and cross jurisdictional issues that other corporate structures have never needed to worry about,” she said.

The law enables large co-operative to carry on cross-border trade across the state, without worrying about the cost of registration in each state.

According to Victorian Minister for Consumer Affairs, Heidi Victoria, more than 600 co-operatives in NSW and 640 co-operatives in Victoria would benefit from the new law.

“Co-operatives make a big difference to regional and rural communities in particular, fostering stability and prosperity. Laws providing for mutual recognition and consistent compliance at national level will go a long way to improve the efficiency and viability of co-operatives across the country,” said Ms Victoria.

John Power, General Manager of Batlow Fruit Co-operative also welcomes the introduction of the CNL, which he believes is a positive outcome for nationally based co-operatives. “Now larger co-operatives like Batlow Apples will be able to carry on our business across state and territory borders”, he said.

There are currently over 1700 registered co-operatives in Australia, with the ten largest agricultural co-operatives contributing around USD $7b to the wellbeing of rural and regional communities.

The BCMM is encouraging the remaining jurisdictions to follow the example set by NSW and Victoria, the first to introduce the new laws in their states. By removing commercial constrains for co-operatives, the new CNL enables co-operative enterprises to focus on their operational goals, growing markets and raising awareness.

Photo: Members of BCCM's board - Tony Stuart, Group CEO NRMA, Greg Wall, Group CEO Capricorn, Damien Walsh, CEO bankmecu, John McInerney, MD Common Equity Housing Ltd, Andrew Crane, CEO CBH Group, Peter Knock, CEO The Co-op, Melina Morrison, chied executive of BCCM.

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