Key figures

Research overview

Responding to challenges and existing knowledge gaps facing the cooperative movement, this mapping research seeks to provide exhaustive information on cooperatives worldwide. This is achieved through a process jointly conducted by the ICA and its four regional offices – Cooperatives of the Americas, Cooperatives Europe, ICA Africa, and ICA Asia-Pacific – using a common methodology. Each office collected the input of ICA members present in the countries within its geographic area, by using the same questionnaire, and completing it with relevant national statistics, in order to obtain an accurate picture of the national situation. Mapping out cooperatives in each country provides a more precise picture of the cooperative context at national and regional levels, enhances the movement's visibility, networking, partnerships opportunities, as well as advocacy, and empowers cooperators by providing them tools for positive change.

This webpage presents a snapshot of the research results for Australia. For more information, you can download the full report and the highlights here.


Cooperatives and Mutual Enterprises (CMEs) have been present in Australia since the 1840s when it was a British colony. In the modern day, they contribute to the national economy, distribute wealth, bring diversity, and present an alternative model of business. CMEs are broadly classified as consumer cooperatives, producer cooperatives, worker cooperatives and financial cooperatives (includes mutual banks, credit unions, and friendly societies). The largest CMEs by turnover are in the financial services, agribusiness and health insurance sectors. 


ICA has three members from Australia.

In Australia, the research questionnaire was distributed to and completed by 1 ICA member organisation in the country. The data collected was for the reference year 2017.


ICA members represent 2,134 active CMEs (1,761 cooperatives, 282 mutual enterprises, 48 friendly societies, and 43 member-owned super funds) in the country, with 29.3 million members.

CMEs are present across diverse sectors in Australia including housing, sports and recreation, agribusiness, banking and financial services, medical services, among others.

Legal framework


The legal framework analysis aims to provide general knowledge of the national cooperative legislation and of its main characteristics and contents, with particular regard to those aspects of regulation regarding the identity of cooperatives and its distinction from other types of business organisations, notably the for-profit shareholder corporation.

It aims to evaluate whether the national legislation in place supports or hampers the development of cooperatives, and is, therefore “cooperative friendly” or not, and the degree to which it may be considered so, also in comparison to the legislation in force in other countries of the ICA region, or at the supranational level.

In addition, the research aims to provide recommendations for eventual renewal of the legal frameworks in place in order to understand what changes in the current legislation would be necessary to improve its degree of “cooperative friendliness”, which is to say, to make the legislation more favourable to cooperatives, also in consideration of their specific identity. This webpage presents a snapshot of the legal framework analysis results for Australia.



This analysis exclusively deals with the Co-operatives National Law of Australia. Australia has no special laws for specific types of cooperatives. Most types can be accommodated within the Co-operatives National Law framework, except for banks, credit unions and certain types of insurance cooperatives, which are required to be registered as companies under the Corporations Act 2001.


Main laws relevant to cooperatives in Australia:

Co-operatives (Adoption of National Law) Act 2012

Co-operatives National Law (NSW) (CNL)

Co-operatives National Regulations (NSW) (CNR)

Co-operatives (New South Wales) Regulation 2014 (Local Regulations)


The Co-operative National Law includes both General and specific reference to the cooperative principles.


Cooperative friendliness

The Co-operatives National Law is quite significantly ‘cooperative friendly’ in the sense that the legislation is designed so that it is conducive to registered cooperatives operating in accordance with the first four of the cooperative principles. The legal barriers to cooperative growth and development in Australia lie in the wider regulatory and constitutional framework rather than within the Co-operatives National Law.


Key recommendations for improvement

  • Both legislative and regulatory power for cooperatives should be transferred to a single federal regulator.
  • The National expert has also recommended a single registration portal for incorporated businesses including cooperatives as a specific type of corporation.
  • Co-operatives National Law should adopt accounting standards that are tailored for cooperatives and a mandatory cooperative governance code.

These recommendations have been made in the context of Co-operatives National Law in specific, rather than the broader regulatory framework for businesses in Australia.



Co-operatives National Law is a relatively new law for cooperatives in Australia. However, Queensland (as of March 2020) has not adopted the law yet. Senate Report on Co-operatives, Mutuals and Member-Owned Firms (2016) by the Australian parliament has identified that there is an absence of statistics and data to gauge the contributions of the cooperative sector. Also, the cooperative model is invisible in business and law curriculum in education at secondary and tertiary levels. Even though this report focused on other enterprises apart from cooperatives, the core legal framework issues extrapolated from the report link to cooperative identity.


The legal frameworks analysis is a tool developed under the ICA-EU Partnership #coops4dev. It is an overview of the national legal frameworks at the time of writing. The views expressed within are not necessarily those of the ICA, nor does a reference to any specific content constitute an explicit endorsement or recommendation by the ICA. 

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