CFA held its Annual General Meeting by video conference on 21 November 2011. Catriona Lowe, CFA Chair, provided an overview of CFA’s achievements during the year and our plans for the future. This is an edited version of her remarks.
It gives me great pleasure to report on the successes of CFA over another year. 2010-2011 has been an important period of growth for CFA. In 2009, we laid the foundations for the next three years through strategic planning, and we have now completed the second year of our plan.
Over the past year we focused on increasing membership and the development of our business case for government funding. In September this year we held a series of positive meetings with Ministers and officials in Canberra, and we will shortly be providing them with a formal budget submission.
The importance of consumer advocacy has been reinforced several times through the year. Rod Simms, Chair of the ACCC said expressed his support for funded consumer advocacy, and the Productivity Commission restated its 2007 recommendation that the Commonwealth should fund a peak consumer body. The challenge CFA faces is, even with the strong and widely supported case for funding, that the government faces a particularly difficult budget environment.
One of the more significant decisions made by CFA in recent times has been to decline to undertake unfunded policy work in response to government requests. The CFA Executive firmly believes that government will continue to ask for our input and assistance without providing adequate funding if we let them. How to apply this decision in practice remains an on-going challenge for the CFA given its role includes to represent its members as well as consumers, and to act as a peak body. There have been a number of occasions where CFA has undertaken advocacy in the interests of consumers despite our policy. Generally these have been on straightforward issues backing up our members, or on issue initiated directly by consumer advocates rather than in response to government processes.
During 2011 CFA reinvigorated its communications. Our work has lead to the launch of CFA’s updated website and a refreshed newsletter circulated monthly from August 2011. The website and newsletter provide the opportunity for members to showcase their work and share information with other CFA members and the public. CFA also continues to foster information sharing among members through the provision of private email chat lists – the EDR and campaigns discussion lists have enjoyed some useful and active discussions. The new website and newsletter have already proved a success and I expect this engagement with our members to go from strength to strength.
Over the next year we will focus on continuing to develop our business case for funding, presenting and advocating that case to government and philanthropic funders, and of course working to grow our membership.
Consumers advocates around Australia were collectively honoured this year when longstanding CFA affiliates Denis Nelthorpe AM and Elaine Atwood OAM were recognised in the Queens birthday honours for their service to consumers, as far as I am aware the first time this has been done.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the people who contribute to the continued success and growth of CFA during the year, particularly our standards representatives, part time staff and members of the executive committee. I am particularly grateful to Fiona Guthrie who has retired from the CFA executive after many years of service including as Chair.
We are also very grateful to Standards Australia and ASIC for financial assistance to undertake our standards representative and communication roles respectively, and to ASIC, the ACCC and all our members who contribute to our newsletter and web site.
I look forward to working with all the members, supporters, staff and executive of CFA in the year ahead.