National Reform Series 2016

Reviving the Co-op Movement:
Cooperatives, Mutuals and Community Self-Help

Monday 23 May 2016

Red Tory. Blue Labour.
Transforming Australian Politics

Tuesday 24 May 2016 

Reviving the Co-op Movement:
Cooperatives, Mutuals and Community Self-Help

Monday 23 May 2016

In the 1880s, Australia was known as the 'social laboratory of the world'. We were perhaps the most innovative, egalitarian and democratic country on earth. Community self-help through co-operatives and mutuals, and an early achievement of parliamentary democracy, combined to drive this reputation.

Large parts of Western Queensland, the Riverland in South Australia, and rural NSW were developed through community settlement cooperatives - member-owned, community-oriented property development associations backed by their own supportive colonial/state legislation. Today, we allow nouveau riche property developers to dictate community settlement patterns on the fringes of our cities and to bankroll political parties to protect their business model. Australians are not quite as innovative and egalitarian as we used to be.

From the middle years of the nineteenth century, Australia had a flourishing social movement of credit unions, housing societies, bush nursing associations, community pharmacies, adult education centres (mechanics' institutes), retail stores, mutual insurance societies, farmer-owned businesses, community clubs, musical and arts societies, building societies and subscription-based medical care. Today, this social movement has all but disappeared.

Many of the societies and businesses still exist, but the movement does not. Some societies were captured from without in the 1980s, through takeovers and demutualisations. Most, however, were defeated from within, through management capture of the operations and then culture of the societies, in part to satisfy external regulators who were unsympathetic to the mutual model, and in part to 'fit in' with the managerial ethos of the wider corporate and public sector world. When governments, politicians and journalists were immersed in the binary world of public sector/private sector identities, strong leadership from the societies was needed to uphold their distinctive cultures.

And yet, Australians, like citizens and communities around the world, are now crying out for businesses that integrate financial sustainability and social obligations, and create market advantages for local communities. Policy makers are now searching for approaches to social and economic reform that are anchored in communities, build ownership and mutual responsibility, and generate social capital. At the very time when our cooperative movement is most needed, we are unable to find it.

This conference will explore what happened to Australia's once flourishing movement of cooperatives, mutuals and community self-help, and examine how this social movement might be revived. It will explore initiatives and strategies which can drive a revival. It's format is part conference and part design lab, with an emphasis on strategic initiatives for change.

CLICK HERE to register for the 23 May 2016 national conference.

CLICK HERE for the conference program.

CLICK HERE to register your interest in reviving the co-op movement.

Red Tory. Blue Labour.
Transforming Australian Politics

Tuesday 24 May 2016   

In the UK, reform movements in both the Conservative and Labour Parties have emerged in the last 10 years to rediscover the civil society traditions of both parties as the key to tackling the crisis in contemporary British politics.

On the Conservative side, Phillip Blond's
Red Tory was published in 2007. It was a critique of both Thatcherite neo-liberalism and welfare state managerialism. It sought to revive the tradition of Tory opposition to industrial capitalism and social disintegration in Britain, and revive a Conservative commitment to the Common Good. Blond's work informed the efforts of Conservative Leader David Cameron in broadening the social and economic outlook of the British Conservative Party.

In response, Maurice Glasman formed a parallel movement in the British Labour Party called
Blue Labour. It sought to recover Labour's origins as a partly progressive and partly conservative working class response to industrial capitalism, influenced as much by Wesleyan Methodist values of faith, self-help and small group mutuality, as by socialism. It critiqued Labour's post-war embrace of big government and managerialism, and sought to revive its earlier commitment to contributory forms of self-help and reciprocity.

Red Tory and Blue Labour are both responses to the top-down managerialism of neo-liberalism and welfare state socialism. Both draw upon a common tradition in the UK of ethical and religiously-informed critiques of industrial capitalism, commodification of labour, urban degradation and statism. Both movements seek the renewal of Conservative and Labour Parties through rediscovery of, and reconnection with, civil society.

Australia's political parties lack the intellectual and cultural traditions of their British counterparts. The Liberal-National and Labor Parties face similar existential challenges as their UK colleagues (detachment from grassroots society, ideological exhaustion, and loss of a sustaining narrative) but have yet to begin the critical self-assessment and grassroots reinvention that both Red Tory and Blue Labour movements are associated with.

This conference aims to explore the implications of Red Tory and Blue Labour thinking for the renewal of Australia's political parties and their capacity to reconnect with civil society.

It is open to members of Liberal-National and Labor Parties, members of other parties and none, civil society and community activists, social movements, researchers and policy makers.

CLICK HERE for a reading list of key Red Tory/Blue Labour material.

CLICK HERE to register for the 24 May 2016 national conference.

CLICK HERE to submit a suggestion or proposal for reform.


The Angliss Conference Centre is located in the Melbourne CBD, on the corner of LaTrobe and King Streets, on the fifth floor.

It is close to train and tram services. Flagstaff railway station is one block away in LaTrobe St, and Southern Cross station is three blocks away in Spencer St. Trams 23, 24, 30, 34, and City Circle run along LaTrobe Street.

There are numerous accommodation options close by, to suit all budgets.

Start and Finish Times

All events begin at 9.15am, finishing by 5.00pm.

      Who Should Attend?

This series is open to individuals, groups and organisations with an interest in civil society, mutual self-help and the shaping of Australia's public culture.

to register

Registration Fees (Fee includes GST)
Member CSA 

  Individuals and users of services (self-funded, not paid for by their employer) $88 $55 $110 $99

  Groups (self-help, advocacy, community, cooperative) $165 $132 $286 $253

  Service providers $275 $220 $495 $440

  Academics, researchers $275 n/a $550 n/a

  Commercial (trainers, consultants, planners) $275 n/a $550 n/a

  Government $440 n/a $770 n/a


CLICK HERE to register

Further information

Vern Hughes
03 5629 8400 
0425 722 890

  Civil Society Australia 2015-16