INDUSTRY peak body, the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM) will receive $2.5 million in government funding to help grow and develop the co-operative model in Australia, particularly within the agriculture sector.
Federal Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie said the co-operative model was essential to give Australia's smaller growers and farmers a competitive advantage through its collective bargaining power.
"It's a really powerful model for Australian farmers who are very lean operators, to get more money back to the farmgate," Ms McKenzie said when in Perth recently.
"If you're interested in a sustainable agricultural sector, then you need to be reinvesting in the farmers, the farms and their productive capacity, which is exactly what this model does."
Ms McKenzie said conversations had started with universities about incorporating the model into their curriculums, with Southern Cross University also receiving a $500,000 grant.
"One of the things we found in the Senate inquiry was that you could do a law, commerce or economics degree in this country and you won't hear the word co-operative and mutual once," she said.
"That's a shame, because this is a model that can give market power to our farmers, in particular, and our fishers.
"All lawyers and economists should understand and appreciate the advantages of setting up these sort of models."
BCCM chief executive Melina Morrison said the investment was much needed to fund education in advisory services to expand the knowledge base of the co-operative as a commercial economic model.
"An investment in co-operatives is an investment in communities," Ms Morrison said.
"This model can help us leverage our homegrown produce into export markets and the national market."
Although State and Federal governments hadn't given grants to co-operative organisations over the past few years, Ms McKenzie said the model was one for the future.
"We see there was this unintended bias towards the co-operative and mutual model, right throughout corporate Australia, as an old fashioned model that belonged to the 19th and 20th century, and not the 21st century," she said.
"But this is actually a modern, fit for purpose model of doing business that cuts out the middleman and delivers back to growers if you're an agricultural co-operative, or your members if you're any other social enterprise."
The government had taken up the recommendations of the Senate inquiry, Ms McKenzie said, to put power back in the hands of growers and increase the number of co-operatives in Australia.
"Right now out of the top 100, we've got $30 billion worth of turnover in the co-operative model and 2000 businesses that are delivering real returns, which is great to see," she said.
"There are some great examples of what can be achieved when, particularly farmers and primary producers collaborate and work together to provide commercial outcomes back to the farmgate."
One such success story is Australia's biggest co-operative, CBH, Western Australia's grain storage and handling business that is owned and controlled by more than 4000 WA farmers.
CBH chief executive Jimmy Wilson said the organisation had been delivering real returns back to its members and communities for more than 80 years.
"Fundamentally, a bunch of growers got together a long time ago and decided that, collectively, they could get the product to market more efficiently than they could individually," Mr Wilson said.
"The co-operative models are particularly essential in our case, because if we went away from it, being export orientated in WA, we would get ourselves into a lot of bother, as you've seen a little bit over east."
The Sweeter Banana Co-operative in Carnarvon, which was formed in 1993 by a group of growers to develop a recognisable brand so that its produce could be sold into major retail stores, has also been labelled as a saviour of WA's banana industry.
Sweeter Banana business manager Doriana Mangili said before the co-operative formed growers were throwing away 60 per cent of their produce and had been unable to turn a profit.
"The co-operative model enabled us to, as small farmers, remain on our family run farms and by working together on our marketing, distribution and packaging and making it all consistent as a group, we are able to supply the major retailers," Ms Mangili said.
"Without the co-operative model, we wouldn't have a banana industry in Carnarvon."
With the demise of Murray Goulburn Co-operative which was formed by a group of dairy farmers in 1950, Ms McKenzie said the dairy industry was another sector that could really benefit from the creation of a new, large co-operative.
"The sky's the limit, and I know with the drive and passion of BCCM to get more co-operatives started, I'm confident that we will see a real flourishing of this model," Ms McKenzie said.