Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 13 Hansard (19 November) . . Page.. 3717 ..
MS DUNDAS (12.15): The stated aim of the Cooperatives Bill is to assist in reviving cooperatives as a mode of organisation in the ACT, since the number of cooperatives in the territory, I believe, has dwindled to three. However, it is difficult to see that a piece of legislation 388 pages long, containing 478 separate sections, is likely to make a cooperative structure more attractive to groups wishing to establish a legal structure.
The bill is four times as large as the current Cooperative Societies Act and it reproduces huge slabs of the Corporations Act, which is notorious for its complexity. By comparison, the Associations Incorporation Act is a quarter of the size and is much simpler to understand. However, I do understand that the cooperative principles would well suit a large number of organisations and, for that reason, I hope that this attempt to revitalise this sector will be successful.
As Mr Stefaniak has noted, the scrutiny of bills committee did raise a number of undesirable features of the bill as introduced by the government. One such feature that I am concerned about is the proposed power of the registrar to exempt a person from many of the provisions of the act. That, of course, would get rid of the complexities, but no prerequisites or guidelines are provided for the granting of such exemptions.
To address this concern that the exemptions could be used arbitrarily, I have circulated an amendment that I will move in the detail stage, calling for guidelines for such exemptions to be put forward. But, with the amendments to be brought forward by the government and with my concerns being addressed, I would be happy to support this bill.
MS TUCKER (12.17): This debate has been long awaited, being on the third incarnation of this bill. The bill came originally from a national process and is based on Victoria's model, but it has been progressively amended to incorporate concerns of the scrutiny of bills committee. I am pleased that some of the concerns raised in the latest report will be picked up in government amendments today.
Cooperative organisation is something dear to the hearts of many Greens and there are many innovative examples of the use of cooperative forms to provide community services and promote community development. Cooperatives have also been enormous organisations, such as the dairy cooperatives and our own taxi network. The number of cooperatives in Australia was severely wound back through the 1970s and 1980s. To quote Gary Cronan in speaking at a conference in December 2000:
There's been around about $35 billion worth of assets transferred from cooperative and mutual forms of ownership into the marketplace in the last 15 years. As many of you know, it's an awful lot of cooperative development to get $35 billion worth of assets back into the community. Indeed, all of those assets have gone across to make Australia, in the words of our Prime Minister, the largest share holding democracy in the world. There's been a shift from public and mutual cooperative forms of ownership across to marketplace ownership.
I do think that that is a shame. For smaller organisations which really operate on a cooperative basis, registering as a cooperative gives greater formal protections and support to those principles than registering as an association if things go wrong.