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RELATED LINKS

Co-operatives Law Report
 
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Australian National Co-operatives
National co-operatives are a relatively new phenomenon in Australia. Until the 1990's, co-operatives generally operated within state borders. In 1996, most Australian state and territory governments signed an agreement to adopt a national scheme for Australian co-operatives law.

Introduction

Australia is a federation of six states, two territories and a national government. Until 1990's, legislation governing Australian corporations including co-operatives was administered by state and territory governments.

In 1990, the federal Corporations Act replaced state companies law, with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) becoming the regulator of companies. Co-operatives, however, are still governed by state and territory co-operatives law and are regulated by state/territory agencies.

Background

In 1986, the Australian Agricultural Council's Working Party on Agricultural Co-operatives recommended that consideration be given to establishing uniform co-operatives legislation throughout Australia after identifying that legislative inconsistencies between the states created barriers to the development of internationally competitive national agricultural co-operatives. 1

At the time, there were 10 disparate pieces of state and territory laws governing co-operatives, from the NSW Co-operation Act 1923 to the South Australian Co-operatives Act 1983.

Most co-operatives law did not provide for the recognition of interstate co-operatives or allow the merger of co-operatives across state borders. Co-operatives were also subject to restrictions which inhibited recruiting members and issuing securities in another state.

In 1990, the Agricultural Council referred the matter to the Standing Committee of Attorneys General (SCAG), which established a working party to review various methods to implement a national scheme for co-operatives law.

In 1996, SCAG and the Ministerial Council of Corporations agreed that the best way to achieve uniform legislation was an intergovernmental agreement incorporating "core" legislative provisions which would be consistent across all jurisdictions. 2

1996 Co-operatives Laws Agreement

In 1996, commonwealth, state and territory governments (except Western Australia) signed the Co-operatives Laws Agreement, which was based around a number of "core consistent provisions" agreed to by the governments after extensive consultation with the Australian co-operative sector.

The Victorian Co-operatives Act 1996 formed the basis of the Co-operatives Laws Agreement, and by 2002 all states and territories except Western Australia had adopted the "core consistent provisions" contained in the Victorian law.

Some states chose to retain certain provisions from preceeding legislation (Co-operatives Council and CCU's in NSW and government guarantee co-operatives in Victoria), which weren't agreeable to the other jurisdictions. Notwithstanding these differences, the scheme achieved about 95% consistency between co-operatives legislation in Australia.

By 2012, over 20 co-operatives operated in jurisdictions outside their state of registration. A number carry on business in more than 2 states.

Co-operatives National Law

In 2007, the Ministerial Council on Consumer Affairs, now called the Legislative & Governance Forum on Consumer Affairs, agreed to fully implement nationally uniform legislation for Australian co-operatives.

Co-operatives National Law (CNL) is a uniform set of state/territory laws which replaces existing co-operatives legislation enacted under the 1996 Co-operatives Laws Agreement. CNL continues the main features of the former Victorian Co-operatives Act while removing remaining differences between state and territory legislation.

CNL updates some provisions, particularly those which apply parts of the Corporations Act 2001, and removes the additional registration and notification requirements for co-operatives operating across state/territory borders. CNL also addresses competitive disadvantages that purport to exist in comparison to companies by reducing the annual reporting requirements for small co-operatives.

The introduction and operation of the Co-operatives National Law is being managed through the Australian Uniform Co-operative Laws Agreement made between state and territory governments in 2010. Each state and territory agreed to pass a template law or an alternative consistent law as a law of its own jurisdiction. Administration of the uniform laws will continue to be the responsibility of each state and territory but with a commitment to achieve uniform administrative processes and policies.

The agreement provided that New South Wales be the lead state in enacting CNL and in May 2012, the Co-operatives (Adoption of National Law) Act 2012 (NSW) passed the NSW parliament. Other states are progressively adopting Co-operatives National Law in their jurisdictions.

LINKS INDEX

For the purposes of this directory, a national co-operative carries on business in at least three Australian states and territories. The state of incorporation of the co-operative is listed within the (brackets).

  Agriculture   Transport
  Interest groups   Wholesale Trade
  Retail Trade

AGRICULTURE

Genetics Australia Co-operative Ltd (Vic)
Northern Herd Development Co-operative Ltd (Vic)

INTEREST GROUPS

Australian Valuers Institute Co-operative Ltd (NSW)
RPH Australia Co-operative Ltd (NSW)

RETAIL TRADE

The Australian Wine Consumers Co-operative Society Ltd (NSW)
University Co-operative Bookshop Ltd (NSW)

TRANSPORT SERVICES

Peninsula Radio Cabs Co-operative Society Ltd (Vic)

WHOLESALE TRADE

Australian Travel Agents Co-operative Ltd (Vic)
Independent Toy Specialists of Australia Co-operative Ltd (NSW)
Master Butchers Co-operative Ltd (SA)
Plumbers Supplies Co-operative Ltd (NSW)
Rapid Group Co-operative Ltd (NSW)
Tertiary Access Group Co-operative Ltd (NSW)
TFP Co-operative Ltd (NSW)


1. Report of the Working Party for the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Australian Agricultural Council, 1988.
2. Co-operatives Law Report, Western Australian Parliamentary Standing Committee on Uniform Legislation and Intergovernmental Agreements, 1998.

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