This paper aims to explore the availability of new legal models for social enterprise development in Australia, asking the question: what does a distinctive focus on legal form add to the scholarly exploration of social enterprise? The paper has a dual purpose: firstly, to present a general empirical review of the fact, possible causes and implications of the absence of new legal models for social enterprise in Australia; and secondly, to make a polemical argument highlighting some of the advantages of developing a distinctive legal structure for social entrepreneurs in Australia.
The paper reconciles two contending accounts. One would stress the absence of new legal models (the “gap” analysis). The other would acknowledge the absence of new legal models, while stressing the relevance of existing legal models for pursuing social enterprise goals. Both accounts are descriptively true, but the tension between them relates in part to the level of analysis (legal-political, collective voluntary action or bottom-up individual actors) and, in part, to longstanding tensions in the conceptualisation of social enterprise.
The paper provides evidence of the rising salience of existing cooperative legal forms, rising diversity in the legal model choices of individual social enterprises and the emergence of two significant bottom-up developments in voluntary model rules. The legal-political bottleneck that remains is related to the constitutional structure of federal and state power, key macro-political policy trends in the late 1990s and the distinctive nature of the Australian “wage-earners” welfare state settlement.
The paper highlights that what may appear as a “gap” in the legal landscape of Australian social enterprise is more nuanced. Despite the striking absence of any distinct new legislated legal models, the overall situation is a complex landscape providing multiple threads for weaving together diverse forms of social enterprise. Although legal frameworks may not be as salient as governance design choices, they generate three important second-order effects: signalling, legitimation and professional networks. Taken together, these may support a case for the distinctive value of a specific hybrid legal model for social enterprise.
Morgan, B. (2018), "Legal models beyond the corporation in Australia: plugging a gap or weaving a tapestry?", Social Enterprise Journal, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 180-193. https://doi.org/10.1108/SEJ-02-2017-0011Download as .RIS
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