Resistance is not futile: Co-operatives, demutualization, agriculture, and neoliberalism in Australia

Greg Patmore*, Nikola Balnave, Olivera Marjanovic

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Recognition of co-operatives as a legitimate business model and form of economic participation was significantly challenged by the rise of neo-liberalism in the 1980s with its emphasis on individuals and markets. This fueled an externally and internally driven push to demutualize co-operatives and convert them into Investor Owned Businesses (IOB). While the international trend to demutualize emerged from the end of the Second World War, evidence indicates it accelerated from the late 1980s until the onset of the Global Financial Crisis. Drawing on an ongoing project of historical data collection and visual analysis of Australian co-operatives, this paper explores the Australian experience with demutualization, particularly with regard to agriculture. In line with the international experience, there has been a surge in Australian demutualization since the 1980s. However, while demutualization continues to be a feature of the Australian landscape post-GFC as co-operatives tackle with the changed political and economic environment, the paper also challenges the view that demutualization is inevitable for agricultural co-operatives. Co-operative managers can make strategic choices to avoid demutualization and retain member control. Further, co-operative culture and the persistence of co-operative clusters in particular regions can blunt the push to demutualize.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)510-528
Number of pages19
JournalBusiness and Politics
Issue number4
Early online date22 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021


  • Agriculture
  • Australia
  • Co-operatives
  • Demutualization
  • Neo-Liberalism


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