Government must listen to consumer voices

On World Consumer Rights Day 2012, the Consumers Federation of Australia calls on the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments make consumer rights front and centre in government policy development by implementing the Productivity Commission’s recommendations for consumer advocacy and research.

In 2009, the Productivity Commission acknowledged that there was a good case for governments to help consumer organisations make an effective input into government policy. It recommended that governments support:

  • Policy-related consumer research
  • The networking and policy functions of consumer advocacy groups; and
  • The basic operating costs of a representative national peak consumer body. (Recommendation 11.3)

However, neither the Australian Government, nor any of the State/Territory governments, has implemented this recommendation.

“World Consumer Rights Day is a day on which we can take stock of Australia’s record and commitment to consumer rights,” said Catriona Lowe, Chair of the Consumers’ Federation of Australia. “We have much to be proud of, including the recent introduction of the Australian Consumer Law, providing a truly national approach to consumer protection and new protections against unfair contract terms. But there is still a great deal of work to be done.”

“Consumer groups work tirelessly on issues of concern to their membership, but they do not always have the resources to cover each issue of importance, or to match the considerable resources of industry,” said Ms Lowe.

To take one example, the Australian government’s commitment to introduce credit reforms to stop payday lenders gouging vulnerable and low-income consumers is being overwhelmed by aggressive industry lobbying.

We know that industry have employed lobbying firms, undertaken advertising campaigns, funded complimentary research and trips to Canberra to lobby politicians. These activities simply cannot be matched by poorly resourced consumer groups

“If the Productivity Commission recommendations had been implemented, the consumer voice would have an equal opportunity to feed into the debate, and a fair outcome would be more achievable,” said Ms Lowe.

The Treasury released a discussion paper on funding consumer research and advocacy in 2009 but the government has not released any findings or policy decisions from this process.

“A funded peak consumer organisation could gather the experience of consumer and community agencies who speak to Australian consumers each day however, supporting consumer research and advocacy seems to have fallen into a black hole in Canberra. Although the government is facing economic pressures, providing the support recommended by the Productivity Commission would lead to net benefits for the community,” said Ms Lowe.

We call on the Australian Government to take up the Productivity Commission’s recommendation 11.3; thereby ensuring that Australia can develop and implement world-class consumer policy”.

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