Ninja economy of a mutual kind

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ninja economy
Ninja economy: Melina Morrison, at right, with the board members of the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals.

Australia’s member owned businesses make the same contribution to the economy as the mining sector – around 6 percent of the nation’s earnings.

The Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals 2014 National Mutual Economy Report has found the top 100 Australian co-operative and mutual businesses, including the top 10 member owned superannuation funds, had combined turnover of over $104 billion in 2012/13 and combined assets of $282 billion.

The top 100 data is drawn directly from a study commissioned by the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals and undertaken by the University of Western Australia: Australia’s Leading Co-operative and Mutual Enterprises 2014 published by UWA as a standalone publication.

Top of the list were Australia’s farmer-owned co-operatives. Western Australian grain handler, CBH Group (2.8 billion) and Victorian dairy behemoth, Murray Goulburn (2.39 billion) – first and second on the top 100 list, also ranked third and fourth in the top 5 private Australian businesses in the recent BRW Top 500 list.

Non-profit health funds HCF (2.13 billion) and HBF (1.27 billion) occupied third and fourth place on the co-operative top 100.

“Co-operatives and member owned businesses are an under recognised sector of the nation’s economy,” said BCCM chair and B20 member, Dr Andrew Crane.

“Australia has 1700 member owned businesses providing numerous benefits to their 13 million members. We are pleased to highlight the contributions of co-operatives and mutuals and the ways in which they excel in creating shared value by reinvesting all profits back into the economy through their members.’’

Co-operatives and mutuals are also big investors in Australian infrastructure from ports, rail and irrigation systems, to road, housing and manufacturing plants.

Mutual ownership of infrastructure was recognised in the B20’s rcommendations to the G20 leaders,” Dr Crane said.

The report found that within the top 100, mutual insurers were the biggest part of the sector with $7.6 billion in combined turnover and $10.7 billion in assets, followed by agriculture and then banking and finance.

When ranked by assets held, the mutuals operating in the banking and finance sector topped the list (more than $84 billion).

NSW had the most co-operatives and mutuals in the top 100 list (44%) and largest contribution to aggregate turnover, but WA was the best performing state. WA had only 13% of the top 100 co-operative and mutual businesses but accounted for 27% of the combined turnover.  The top 10 co-operatives and mutuals in NSW had turnover of $5.79 billion in 2012/13 whilst the top 10 in WA had turnover of $6.71 billion.

“If Australia had a ‘ninja’ economy it would be the mutual economy. Member owned businesses excel in their chosen area of the market economy but the sector is largely unseen,” said Melina Morrison, ceo of the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals.

“For example 40% of Australia’s grain crop and 35% of the blueberry crop is marketed by co-operatives. Australia’s largest supplier of textbooks is a co-operative and almost a quarter of Australia’s automotive parts are purchased by the co-operative sector. Australia’s largest dairy company is a co-operative.

“The role of co-operatives and mutuals in a sustainable economy is starting to become part of mainstream government thinking. The Federal Government’s Agricultural Competitiveness Green Paper recommends the development of more farmer-owned co-operatives to ensure sustainable pricing at the farm gate and more competition in the supply chain,” Ms Morrison said.

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