Co-operation is key to Getting Australia Growing: Fiona Simson’s address to the National Press Club

15 July 2020

The Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM) welcomes the vision outlined by National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) president Fiona Simson today for a regionalisation and regional manufacturing-led recovery, but warns that value could leak from regions where local ownership and corporate diversity is not preserved.

“As a key player in agriculture, the Australian co-operative sector is committed to playing its part to help rebuild regional economies and communities hardest hit by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said BCCM CEO, Melina Morrison.

“Addressing barriers to growth, such as the need for investment in new value-added processing ventures, is vital but should not come at a cost to local ownership of supply chains and long term prosperity in regions.

“Co-operatives handle and store 40 per cent of our grain, package and export 40 per cent of our blueberries, process and market 60 per cent of our almonds and process and export most of our rock lobsters. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis agricultural co-ops large and small have reinvested back into their local members and communities via their member benefit structures.”

“Co-operative structures offer some distinct advantages when it comes to value-adding to farm incomes and scaling smaller enterprises to compete in global export markets.”

“We wholeheartedly agree with Ms Simson about the need for capital to invest in modern facilities and to support local enterprises that are committed to their communities to resist unfair competition from overseas firms that strip employment, assets and value from our regions.”

“The co-op sector has always been for free trade, while preserving local ownership, employment and procurement,” said Ms Morrison.

“Co-operative businesses should be a key contributor to the effort to grow a successful, sustainable and domestically owned manufacturing sector.”

“Co-operatives can help build an even stronger local manufacturing sector.”

Australian farmers and fishers have many years’ experience of owning and managing vertically integrated food and beverage processing and manufacturing facilities through their co-ops.

By expanding existing co-operatives and establishing new co-operatives to process dairy, horticultural, fish, and meat products, there is the potential for more, high quality, value added production to feed both the domestic and export markets.

Authentic Australian agricultural producers prioritise quality, competing on value, not cost.

Australia’s clean growing environment and quality food has a strong market value potential, which forms an alliance of interests between Australian consumers and producers.  Co-operatives guarantee that this bond is maintained.

Co-operatives facilitate and improve access to export markets for small and medium enterprises.  A significant proportion of produce handled through co-operatives is exported and contributes to Australia’s export earnings.

“BCCM has identified where co-operatives could offer projects to capitalise on this value-adding opportunity. A number are ready for immediate support, and the co-operative sector is prepared to redouble efforts to grow these,” said Ms Morrison.

“Government can help to reduce the hurdles co-operatives face when they are seeking to grow such as the funding received from the Commonwealth for Co-operative Farming, a program of support for Australian farmers, fishers and foresters to access advice and education for setting up and running successful farming co-operatives.”

“Australia needs a business environment that supports the domestic production of high-quality foods with local provenance alongside the opportunity for increased investment in co-operative processing and manufacturing.”

“Helping self-help is the best way to achieve these objectives. Providing support to the co-operative sector to grow its own enterprises will deliver rapid and lasting results,” said Ms Morrison.

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