Cooperative week for Australia’s most cooperative sector - Speech to the Business Council Of Co-Operatives and Mutuals Summit Dinner





Thank you Annabel [Crabb] for that characteristically double-edged introduction.

It’s been a cooperative week for Australia’s most cooperative sector. Politicians are not always famous for our ability to cooperate with one another. I trust if we do nothing else that Michael and I can help to assuage the stereotype tonight.

As Michael said, he was the only Coalition MP to come to my book launch recently – although it has to be said that precisely one week after the book was launched I got a telephone call from Liberal cabinet minister, saying ‘so I’m in the room, where is this book launch of yours?’

There’s a metaphor there. I’ll come back to it.


I acknowledge Melina Morrison, your extraordinarily hard working CEO, who recently encouraged the creation of the Parliamentary Friends of Mutuals and Co-ops. I acknowledge Chris Ketter – there is no stronger champion of cooperatives or Queensland in the room. Scott Emerson. Outgoing BCCM chair, Andrew Crane.

I want to particularly acknowledge Terry Agnew, your incoming chair, and to tell you a few fast facts you may not know about your incoming chair. Terry is reputedly a huge music fan – some of his favourite bands include ACDC, U2, the Foo Fighters and Midnight Oil, who he recently saw in Perth. He loves all sports – particularly team sports – and used to play football for the Finden Camels in school in South Australia. He’s only shaved off his moustache twice, once in 1998 when he lost a bet with his kids and once for Movember in 2013. He swims 60 laps a day every weekend that he’s home. He’s a fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, a fellow of the Australian Institute of Management and a fellow of the Financial Institute of Australia. which makes him a jolly good fellow indeed.

Cooperatives and mutuals have an extraordinary impact on the Australian economy. There are over 2000 cooperatives or mutuals in Australia, employing nearly 150,000 people. Four out of five Australians are members. Greg Wall was telling me that the international peak body for cooperatives – the International Co-operative Alliance – is one of the oldest international bodies in the world, founded way back in 1895.

Customer-owned banks and mutuals are heavily represented here tonight. Australia’s 80 mutual banks, credit unions and mutual societies are not going through the same controversial patch as the rest of the banking sector, showing strong degrees of satisfaction among their 4 million members. Former Treasurer Wayne Swan once described building societies and credit unions as possibly the fifth pillar of Australian banking.

We have agricultural cooperatives represented here tonight, supporting over 13,000 primary producers, and accounting for over $8 billion in annual turnover. One of Australia’s largest cooperatives is Cooperative Bulk Handling, showing cooperatives how to achieve scale, member satisfaction and a global outlook.

Speaking of a global outlook, I want to acknowledge the delegation from the All-China Federation of Supply and Marketing Cooperatives, and particularly to acknowledge its deputy director Wan Hanmin for building the international links with cooperatives.

It would be remiss of me as a Canberran not to recognise the cooperative model in my own electorate, the National Health Co-op, founded in order to provide healthcare services to some of the most disadvantaged people in Canberra and now spreading right across Australia with a plan to open 200 clinics in every state and territory.

We have here Capricorn Society, 18,000 independent mechanics. Labor is working with you to make sure that car manufacturers provide independent mechanics with the data necessary to fix modern vehicles. Data sharing is vital to ensuring that customers have choice, and independent mechanics not only survive but thrive.

As the first Shadow Minister for Charities and Not-for-Profits, I’ve been doing ‘Reconnected’ forums around Australia on building social capital and community. I am acutely aware of the role that cooperatives play not just economically but also socially, making sure we’re a more cohesive society.

Now, a year ago tomorrow, I spoke to your Canberra conference in Old Parliament House. Under the banner of Inclusive Ownership, Inclusive Growth, I announced that the Labor Party would commit to ensuring fairer access to capital. It’s a policy we had taken through our internal party processes and I was enormously pleased to announce it. Just as I’m sure the Treasurer was enormously proud yesterday to announce that one year on, the government would be following Labor’s lead.


He didn’t exactly put it like that, but I’m sure that’s what he meant to say. But as they NSW co-ops have acknowledged today, there’s more to do. We’re keen to make sure in particular that your sector has equal access to government grants, the clearest example being the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, which doesn’t allow non-corporations to apply for grants above a certain threshold. We want to work with you to make sure we’re able to get that fixed.

Let me finish where I started: by shamelessly reaching out to your incoming chair.

Terry, like you, my side of politics love team sports. Labor recognises the value of cooperatives and mutuals and we always will.

Like your Finden Camels, Labor is willing to go thirsty for a good cause, to travel the hard policy road and make sure that we come to the next election being ready, if the honour is bestowed upon us, to govern Australia.

And like you, we’re Midnight Oil fans. Such fans in fact that we took their lead singer and made him a Labor cabinet minister.


As that great band put it, ‘The great south land can be as great as the one it could have been. We’ve got the best of both worlds.’

Thank you very much.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.