22 November 2011

International Year of Cooperatives Launch Including Collectible Coin Launch


Thank you and I'm delighted to be here.

I'd like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet.


  • David Bradbury, Parliamentary Secretary to Treasurer, who has done so much for cooperatives and, while he may not have the title, is essentially the Minister for Cooperatives.
  • Senator Ursula Stephens, who is playing such an important role in our not-for-profit reforms, which affect many great causes I know the people in this room care about
  • Rob Oakeshott, who does a great job standing up for his community
  • Luke Hartsuyker, who is far more constructive than many of his conservative colleagues
  • Greg Wall, Chair IYC Secretariat 
  • Mark Degotardi, Abacus
  • Rod Stowe, Commissioner Fair Trading ‐ National Co‐operatives Law

It's good to be launching the year of co-operatives, not least because they come, in large part I am proud to say, out of union action.

There was an unsuccessful strike in 1844 in Rochdale, one hundred and sixty-seven years before Qantas, and some textile workers founded a consumer co-operative.

They did it because they were against low wages, high prices, and poor quality food.

It was a new thing in the world then because it offered a fixed rate of interest, profits divided between the participants according to the amount of goods sold, and a management system of 'one man one vote' instead what has become since known as the Rupert Murdoch System, of one vote one share.

The first Australian cooperatives began pretty soon after that, in the 1850s.

Australia has boasted over time several different forms of co-operatives --- agricultural co-operatives, building societies, credit unions, workers' co-operatives and consumer co-operatives like the NRMA.

The first registered consumer co-operative in Australia was the Brisbane Co-operative Society of 1859.

The first registered credit union – the Homeowner's Co-operative Credit Society Limited – was much later, in May 1945.

Today, there are some that are functioning still and are household names – Dairy Farmers, Murray Goulburn and the roadside assistance arms of organisations such as the NRMA and RACV.

Credit unions such as CUA and People's Choice Credit Union are well known bank-substitutes, and better respected, in my estimation, than the Big Four, for the obvious reasons of looking after the customers and not paying the CEO thirty-two times the wage of Barack Obama. Customer-friendly foregatherings of mutual interest, you might say, not rent-seekers and opportunities of the working poor.

You're still around, many of you are still around, and you're doing good work, but you face, as we say, a range of challenges. You have to compete, and you have to prevail, in the finance sector. You have to punch above your weight in a year and a decade that's not looking good for fiscal flyweights.

And we in the Gillard Government are taking note of this. And despite the auguries, and the flying currency scuds of Southern Europe, we see a bright future for the mutuals, and for the credit unions here in Australia. We really do. Because we've been on the case.

We've been setting up a Fifth Pillar in our banking system, out of the combined competitive clout of the mutuals, the co-operatives and the unions' differing credit and pension arrangements.

These newly empowered and nourished entities will hopefully put competitive pressure on the big banks, some with interest rates one percent less than what the big leviathan predators are demanding now, which might impress, I think, some customers who can count.

Because, well, you are people, and you are organisations who put your members first. You are not-for-profit lenders — it has an almost miraculous ring to it, doesn't it – so you put your profits back into cheaper interest rates, would you believe it, lower fees, and better customer service.

We are doing an awareness campaign about this, which will wonderfully concentrate Australia's mind.

And it's coming off a strong base. Australia's got the third largest mutual banking sector in the world, after the US and Canada.

Australia has 1,800 co-operatives and 106 mutual banking institutions.

Which hold, impressively, and I think it's impressive, eighty three billion dollars in assets, and in trust, for four point six million Australians.

And apart from banking and finance, there's about six point five million Australian motorists in the State automobile associations, like the RACV and the NRMA roadside assistance.

Five million more have their health insurance with either a member based enterprise or Medibank, a Federal Government business entity. 

So cooperatives do have after all a big future in Australia, the land still of the fair go, to which you have contributed so much.

It's great to be here. And to recognise today, a good day, where the sector has come from and where it is going – first up, into the International Year of Cooperatives.

And, as with so many of our important financial milestones, we're commemorating this event, this notable date in the history of money, with a collectible coin.

And as Minister responsible for the Mint it gives me great pleasure now to launch the 2012 International Year of Cooperatives Collectible one dollar coin, for which I hope a nickname, or at least a collective noun, is created by the end of lunch or the end of the day.

Thank you.