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Co-operation Between Co-operatives

David Griffiths

Copyright @ David Griffiths

A history of the Co-operative Federation of Victoria Ltd is in essence about the co-operative principle of co-operation between co-operatives - about the origins, development, benefits and limits of a peak body for co-operatives.

The Co-operative Federation of Victoria (CFV) was formed in Melbourne in October 1970 as an unincorporated body.

Prior to the establishment of the CFV there were at least three preceding initiatives to establish peak bodies for co-operatives in Victoria. In 1921 a Co-operative Union of Victoria was formed and ceased. In 1939 a Co-operative League was formed in Victoria and in 1944 the League organised a Victorian Co-operative Congress.

Co-operative Development Society

The immediate predecessor to the Federation was the Co-operative Development Society (CDS) – registered on 6 February 1961 by the YCW Co-operative Movement. Throughout the 1960’s the CDS was committed to co-operative advocacy and education. In its January March 1964 Development Bulletin, the Co-operative Development Society Limited explained: "Membership of it is on an individual basis. Anyone interested in co-operatives may apply to become a member provided he or she is prepared to work for the advancement of co-operatives. The Development Society is responsible for promoting new co-operative societies and for stimulating interest in the proper development of existing societies."

According to its April/June 1961 Development Bulletin, the CDS was committed "towards developing 'whole' co-operators - not only 'one-type' co-operators."

Between 1961 and 1970 the CDS:

  • Published the quarterly Co-operator
  • Published the quarterly Development Bulletin
  • Build-up a co-operative library
  • Provided speakers
  • Organised co-operative education conferences
 

The Secretary of the Co-operative Development Society was Ted Long who subsequently became a founding director of the Co-operative Federation of Victoria.

 

The CFV was initially formed with the following objects:

  • To encourage the application of co-operative principles and methods to economic and social needs by the formation and development of co-operative organisations and associations for distribution, marketing, housing, health insurance, credit and any other services or activities to which co-operative principles and methods may be applied.
  • To carry on, encourage and assist educational and advisory work relating to co-operative enterprises.
  • To further and protect the interests of co-operatives by action in making representations to responsible authorities.
  • To print, publish and circulate any newspapers or other publication in the interest of co-operative enterprises, practise and principles.
  • To render services designed to ensure efficiency and uniformity in the conduct of the business of its members.

The August 1971 issue of the CFV's publication Co-op Digest explained in an article, Why the Federation?

It was formed by people who saw a need to co-ordinate the many types of co-operatives in Victoria. The founders believed a federation was necessary to ensure that the vast amount of money, effort, achievements, talents, knowledge, experience and hopes built up in co-operatives was developed to the fullest extent in meeting economic and social needs.

The Federation is a voluntary association of co-operatives designed to encourage the application of co-operative principles and methods. It will seek to do this without usurping or duplicating the functions of any association of co-operatives or of any individual co-operative society or corporation.

With the formation of the CFV, the Co-operative Development Society eventually ceased operating. On its establishment the CFV joined the national Co-operative Federation of Australia. The Co-operative Federation of Australia had been formed in 1944. State Federations in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia were already members.

Between 1970 and 2001 the Federation was served by six Executive Officers/Secretaries and eight Presidents/Chairmen.

Mr. John Mason, of the Co-operative Housing Societies of Victoria, was appointed the foundation President (Chairman) and Mr. Rob Maybury was appointed the foundation Secretary/Treasurer.

Between 1971 and 1974 the CFV published Co-op Digest - its first publication. The publication had originally been proposed by the Co-operative Development Society early in 1970 as a successor to its publication The Co-operator and was referred by CDS to the CFV on its establishment.

In the first August 1971 issue of Co-op Digest it was stated: "The Digest will be directed towards education of directors, committee members, employees and voluntary workers."

At the 1 November 1971 Co-op Digest had a paid circulation of 560. At the request of the CFA, from 1972 the Co-opDigest was being published by the CFV for the Co-operative Federation of Australia as a national co-operative publication. In the February 1972 issue of the Co-op Digest the CFA noted: "1972 sees a new development in the affairs of the Co-operative Federation of Australia where its youngest member has adapted its own publication to the needs of national co-operative organisation. This is practical co-operation at work and the Council of the CFA records its appreciation of the Co-operative Federation of Victoria for this gesture."

Mr.Maybury continued until March 1974 when he was succeeded as Secretary/Treasurer by Mr. J.Rigby, of the Murray Goulburn Co-operative Co Ltd. Mr Mason continued as President until 14 April 1975 when he was succeeded by Mr. H.J.Lyons.

Mr. Lyons continued as President until 1976 when he was succeeded by Mr. M.Rundle, of the Security Co-operative Permanent Building Society. Mr. Rundle had been a director of the Co-operative Development Society.

Executive Officer Rawlinson

In 1978 it was agreed to re-locate the federal secretariat of the Co-operative Federation of Australia Ltd from Canberra to Melbourne - enabling the Executive Officer of the Co-operative Federation of Australia, Mr. W.W.Rawlinson, to be seconded to the CFV on a 50% time basis from 1 November 1978. The federal secretariat had been established in Canberra in 1973. Mr. Rawlinson had been appointed Executive Officer for the Co-operative Federation of Australia in 1965.

From 1978 a focus of the CFV was job creation through co-operatives.

In 1980 Mr. Rundle resigned as President and he was succeeded by Mr. J.N.Black, of the Victorian Artificial Breeders Co-op Soc. Ltd.

In 1982 the CFV decided to formally incorporate and the Co-operative Federation of Victoria Ltd was registered on 8 February 1983.

From 30 June 1983 Mr. Rawlinson resigned as Executive Officer of the CFA but continued as Executive Officer of CFV.

In 1984 J.N.Black resigned as Chairman and Mr. Brian McIntosh was appointed.

Government Controlled Co-operatives

Between 1981 and 1987 a preoccupation for the CFV were two Victorian Government initiatives - the Co-operative Development Program (CDP)and the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Co-operatives. Both initiatives were time consuming and eventually led to no ongoing outcomes.

The CDP was established in 1981.

Under the CDP, funding was provided to the CFV. In March 1981 the Ministry of Employment and Training provided the CFV with a grant of $5000 to organise a residential workshop. In June 1981 the Minister of Employment and Training authorised the appointment of a Co-operative Business Adviser employed by the Co-operative Federation of Victoria Ltd. The Co-operative Business Adviser, Mr. Brian Greer, commenced duties on 13 July 1981. The CFV was also represented on the CDP Funding Committee.

The CFV was concerned about the nature and direction of the CDP and in an October 1984 newsletter to members stated: "Uncertainty and doubt about the Ministry of Employment and Training's role in the Worker Co-operative Development Program, staff turnover, delays in administering Programme commitments to Worker Co-operatives causing, amongst other things, cash flow problems, all confirm the often expressed view that administration of this type of Programme is a function for an informed professional business organisation, accountable to Government and not bureaucratic control."

The characteristics described by the CFV were of a program that was being undermined in its own Government Department and by 1985 the CDP ceased to exist.

Ministerial Advisory Committee on Co-operation

The Ministerial Advisory Committee on Co-operation (MACC)was established in February 1984 by Mr. Ian Cathie, Minister for Housing, with the support of Mr. Jim Simmonds, the Minister of Employment and Training.

Mr Simmonds support was secured through Ministerial Adviser Joe Burke who liaised closely with the Ministry's Co-operative Development Program.

MACC was asked to review the Co-operation Act and to identify appropriate mechanisms for developing the co-operative sector. The detailed particulars of the terms of reference, however, focussed on the government rather than the co-operative movement with references to "the relationship between co-operative theory and practice and the philosophy and principles of the labour movement", "assess whether co-operatives and their development are consistent with Government policy" and "formulate sets of guidelines for the practical application of the Government's role.."

Of the ten members of MACC, only two initially and eventually three were from the co-operative movement - representing the Co-operative Federation of Victoria Ltd and the Victorian Credit Co-operative Association Ltd.

While hosting MACC, the Ministry of Housing provided limited financial and staff support. It was the Ministry of Employment and Training that provided significant support for the MACC process relying on the advice of its own Co-operative Development Program - funding a co-operative seminar, co-operative education research and the development of worker co-operative proposals.

The MACC report was released in 1986. The response to the report by Andrew McCutcheon, the Attorney-General, was prepared for the Minister by David Griffiths, of the Department of Employment and Industrial Affairs and a member of MACC.

In a report to members dated 23 October 1987 the CFV commented on MACC: "In recent years the main emphasis has been directed to participation in the Victorian Government's Ministerial Advisory Committee on Co-operatives (MACC). This has been a very frustrating experience as MACC has become bogged down in ideological battles and administrative inertia, despite the earnest attempts of CFV to build a practical and supportive Government approach to co-operatives. The time and effort directed towards MACC by CFV has been at the cost of direct member contact and services."

MACC lingered on until May 1992 but neither its reports or its recommendations influenced Government decision-making and its existence finally ended with the State election.

From 31 December 1984 Mr. W.W.Rawlinson resigned as Executive Officer of the CFV and was replaced by Tony Miller who continued until his resignation from 7 September 1987. Mr. Rawlinson continued, however, as a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Co-operation until its closure in 1990. Before his appointment as Executive Officer Mr. Miller was employed as Special Projects Officer with the Victorian Credit Co-operative Association.

In its Annual report for the year ended 30 June 1986 the CFV noted: "A considerable amount of our Executive Officers time has been spent liasing and consulting with Government. In addition to participation in the MACC process Tony is a member of The Co-operative Development Program Funding Committee; The Legislative Review Committee and The Co-operative Societies Advisory Council. This involvement reflects increasing government interest in co-operatives and developing relationships with the Federation as a voice of the co-operative movement. The significant involvement with the government has temporarily affected the development of personal contacts with members."

Australian Association of Co-operatives

The Co-operative Federation of New South Wales (CFNSW) was dissatisfied with the CFA and decided on on unilateral action to force other State Federations to support an alternative structure.

In 1986 the Australian Association of Co-operatives Ltd (AAC)was formed - a renamed and restructured Co-operative Federation of New South Wales.

The CFV did not immediately decide to join the AAC. There was considerable debate on this issue. With the formation of the AAC, CFNSW resigned from the CFA and withdrew its secretarial support.

A subsequent meeting of the CFA with the other State Federations concluded that the CFA would be maintained as the peak umbrella body and the secretariat moved to Melbourne with Brian Macintosh as President and Tony Miller as Honorary Secretary.

A 3 March 1987 meeting of the CFV board was concerned "about the falling support for the CFV and frustration voiced about the general lack of progress. There was general agreement that the current situation should not continue, and that the option of closing down the activities of the CFV or of adopting a survival strategy with a view to re-establishing the CFV needed to be considered. The usefulness of having the CFV was recognised and concern expressed thaat the experience of Victorian Co-operatives might be lost if it were to close."

The board decided that a "Co-operative Solutions Project" being developed by the Executive Officer offered a survival strategy. By the 7 September 1987, however, Tony Miller resigned as Executive Officer.

On 21 September 1987 there was a meeting between representatives of CFV and the AAC. In a subsequent report to its members dated 23 October 1987 the CFV explained that the formation of the AAC was a "decision by the CFNSW to take an initiative in building a national co-operative body to replace the flagging CFA CFNSW had put restructure proposals to CFA but these had not been accepted by the other State Federations." At the time of this report the membership of the AAC remained in N.S.W.

The same report to members also commented: "Members have not been active in the affairs of CFV and the responsibility has therefore fallen on a very small group of committed individuals."

It was at the CFV's AGM on 14 December 1987 that it was resolved that the activities of the CFV be suspended and, therefore, an application would now be made to the AAC for establishing a Victorian Division of the AAC. The AGM Chairman, B.H.Macintosh, "Explained that the federation would be kept registered in case it could be of any assistance to Victorian co-operatives." This subsequently proved to be a wise precaution.

In 1988 the Victorian Division of the Australian Association of Co-operatives was established with Tony Gill as the State Secretary of the Division.

In 1992 the Victorian Labor Government introduced a Co-operatives Bill but the CFV opposed what it regarded as serious defects that would, if enacted, severely curtail the operations of co-operatives. The CFV's 1993 Annual Report described the Bill in the following terms: "The spectre of the Farrow Group of Building Societies' collapse pervaded the new Bill, with further restrictions to the operations of co-operatives and increased powers to the Registrar compared to the current Act. The Bill lapsed upon the dissolusion of the Parliament prior to the last State election."

Reactivating the CFV

In March 1993 the Australian Association of Co-operatives financially collapsed and the Co-operative Federation of Victoria Ltd was re-activated. Between 1988 and 1993 Brian H. Macintosh had maintained the CFA during its dormant years. It was a vindication of Macintosh's suggestion that the CFV be maintained - rather than wound-up.

The initial Chairman of the re-activated Federation was Brian H.Macintosh, a delegate of the Gippsland Tip Truck Hiring Co-operative Ltd, and the Secretary Mr. Anthony Gill.

The Victorian Producers' Co-operative Co and the Phosphate Co-operative Co provided critical administrative support at this time.

Subsequently in 1993, Mr. John Gill was appointed Chairman. Mr Gill was a delegate of the Victorian Producers' Co-operative Ltd.

From 1993 a major focus of the CFV was an ongoing campaign to reform co-operative legislation - an issue supported by the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Co-operation that had been dormant since the MACC report of 1986. The Labor Government had introduced a Bill in 1992 that was not supported by the CFV.

In December 1993 representatives of the Federation met the Victorian Attorney-General, Mrs. Jan Wade, MP.to discuss the legislative hiatus. Eventually, new co-operative legislation was adopted in 1996.

In the early 1990's the CFV also initiated and promoted a number of new services for members - insurance, taxation and telephone. These services, however, were not well utilised by members.

In 1993 the CFV joined with the other Federations in establishing a National Co-operative Council. Subsequently, in 1995 it was renamed the Co-operatives Council of Australia Inc.

Victorian Co-operative News

In February 1994 a new newsletter was initiated - the Victorian Co-operative News (VCN). The VCN continues to be published today as an insert within National Co-op Update. In the first issue of the newsletter the Chairman, Mr. John Gill, stated: "In order to keep members informed about what is happening in the Federation and the Co-operative Movement we intend to publish a regular bulletin, of which this is the first edition. We hope this will not be a one way flow of information and we invite members and other interested people to contribute articles. We all face many common problems and can benefit from others experience and the exchange of views."

In 1996 the CFV established the Co-operative Opportunities Project - under the leadership of its iniator and board director Vern Hughes. The project was established to explore new opportunities for co-operative enterprises in Victoria and promote interest in the co-operative model. Four co-operative opportunity papers were authored by Vern Hughes on:

 

In 1997 the CFV organised four information seminars on the new Co-operatives Act - attended by 130 representatives from 85 co-operatives.

Mr. John Gill continued as Chairman until 1997 when David Griffiths, the Secretary of Co-operative Energy Ltd, was appointed Chairman.

In 1998 the CFV was involved in two new initiatives - an agricultural co-operative directors training course and the Co-operation Awards.

It was also during 1998 that CFV issued a number of booklets authored by David Griffiths:

 

In 1999 a Membership Recruitment & Retention Committee was appointed and reported to the board. The work of the committee including reviewing membership participation in and usage of CFV services:

Activity Year(s) Number of members participating
Community Co-operative Seminar 1995 2
Parnell Seminar 1994 7
Community Co-op Seminar Registration 1996 3
Co-ops using CFV insurance service 1999 (at) 9
Co-operative Legislation sheets requested - 435 in total 1999 (at) 51
New opportunities seminar 1997 16
Telephone Advice - 195 times in total 1997-1999 53
Books purchased by members - 39 books 1999 (at) 15

 

Anthony Gill continued to serve as the CFV Secretary until 1999 when he resigned and was subsequently succeeded by Mr. Graeme Charles, the Chairman of Co-operative Energy Ltd, who was appointed as the CFV's Executive Officer in September 1999. In 1999 Mr Gill was a founding member of the Co-operative Development Services Ltd.

In 2000 CFV entered an agreement with Words in Time, the publisher of National Co-op Update (NCU), for producing and printing the VCN as a four page insert within NCU. The arrangement began with the March/April 2000 issue of the VCN. In the March/April 2000 issue of VCN CFV Executive Officer Graeme Charles stated: "Members will no longer need to subscribe to NCU in order to receive it. I am certain that this strong link between NCU and CFV will result in an improved channel of communication between the federation and its members."

This arrangement, however, was dependent on using funds provided by the Victorian Government. When the funds were no longer availlable the arrangement would cease.

While the CFV was busy developing services, there was an ongoing concern with limited membership involvement. In the September/October 2000 issue of VCN the CFV Executive Officer, Graeme Charles, lamented: "In my article last issue, I presented some questions that another member-based organisation had developed to help their members think about the future of their body. The response to that article has hardly been deafening. No one has mentioned it to me, in any shape or form. Is anybody really concerned about these issues?"

On the 14 May 2001 the CFV organised a Marketing Our Co-operative Advantage seminar in Warrnambool attended by 46 participants from 16 co-operatives.

In 2001 Co-op Advantage: Developing Directors of Co-operatives Kit and the Co-op Start-Up Manual were published.

The Co-op Dictionary: Co-operation A to Z
htm version
pdf version

The Co-op Start-Up Manual
Summary
Full copy, pdf 483KB

In September 2002 NCU ceased publication after 40 issues citing a lack of interest and financial support from the co-operative movement with the notable exception of the Co-operative Federation of Victoria Ltd. A precipitating factor was that the publication subsidy provided by the Victorian Government was no longer available. All issues of NCU are now available on australia.coop.

National Co-op Update

In 2003 The Co-op Dictionaryl - Co-operation A to Z, an australia.coop and a Member Benefit brochures were published.

New Chair

On 9 October 2002 Tony O'Shea, from Avoca District Co-operative Ltd,succeeded David Griffiths David Griffiths as Chair.

Griffiths resigned after five years as Chairman to focus on his responsibilities as Secretary.

A major focus for the Secretary has been the establishment of the co-operative portal web site.

australia.coop was established in January 2003 with financial support from Consumer and Business Affairs Victoria. australia.coop was the first .coop country portal established in the world. Access information about .coop

Between 7 January 2003 – 31 December 2004 a record of use and growth:

  • Total hits 350,985
  • Total pages viewed 207,530
  • Total visits 99,187
  • Megabyte (MB) downloaded 22,144

Online and hard copy distribution of co-operative publications 7 January 2003 – 31 December 2004. These figures need to be set within the context of information collected in the 1990's about publications distributed by CFV - 39 books and 495 legislation information sheets.

NCU( Issues 1-40) 5614
The Co-op Dictionary 3336

The Co-opAdvantage Director Kit 2247
The Co-op Start-Up Manual 2465
What is a co-operative feasibility study? 2063
The Co-operative Formation Decision 1319
Why do co-ops fail as co-ops? 2004

For a fuller list in Excel.

Between 2003 and 2004 the following submissions were made:

Local Government Victoria on Community Strengthening and the role of local government (2004)

In 2004 Graeme Charles was elected by the board as Deputy Chair. As Deputy Chair, he has pioneered liaison with the Co-operative College in the UK. Graeme met with the Co-operative College in the UK . On the 10 September he met with the Chairman of the Co-operative College, Stephen Yeo, when he was visiting Australia.

Conclusion

There are consistent and fluctuating themes in the brief history of the Co-operative Federation of Victoria Ltd:

  • the unceasing search for improved co-operative legislation
  • the critical importance of co-operative education to member ownership and control of co-operatives and public policy debate and decisions
  • an ambivalent relationship with Government
  • an ongoing struggle to obtain and maintain members
 

Qualification: This is an evolving history that will be updated with additional information and, when, necessary corrected.
Sources: Archives of the Federation including Annual Reports, minutes of AGM's and board meetings and publications such as Co-op Digest and the Victorian Co-operative News. A searchable database of all documents in the archives is being prepared.

Last updated: 04-Aug-2005