Australia’s peak consumer body, the Consumers’ Federation of Australia, today welcomed a finding from the Productivity Commission to plug the funding gaps in consumer research and advocacy.
The finding, made in the Commission’s Final Report on Consumer Law Enforcement and Administration, recognised that the current funding gaps were hampering sound policy decision making.
“Consumer advocates from around Australia often work on a voluntary basis to give a voice to all Australians. We’re at a significant resource disadvantage when coming up against well-funded industry lobbyists. It’s not uncommon to be the only consumer representative in a room full industry, deciding on vital consumer policy,” said Consumers’ Federation Chair Gerard Brody.
“We’ve seen the positive impact funding has had on specific industries with greater investment in consumer advocacy in areas like energy and telecommunications. This has led to more informed policy making, contributing to better consumer outcomes and more inclusive growth. There remain significant gaps, especially in coordinating a consumer voice at the national level,” says Mr. Brody.
“The lack of public funding is severely hampering the work of consumer advocates in some areas of vital importance, for example superannuation policy. This $2 trillion industry, which almost every Australian is invested in, is currently undergoing massive reform. Yet there is no dedicated consumer organisation to ensure the voice of consumers is heard in these debates,” says Mr Brody.
Other important policy reform areas which lack consumer voices include education and training, digital rights, and newly deregulated areas like disability services and aged care.
Consumers’ Federation of Australia, the peak body for consumer organisations nationally, also operates without any government funding.
The Productivity Commission also recognised the important role consumer organisations play in bringing attention to poor behaviour by businesses. It sees merit giving consumer groups a ‘super complaint’ power. This would allow a consumer group to bring issues directly to regulators and ensure they get fast-tracked and prioritised.
“Consumer organisations in the United Kingdom already have access to a ‘super complaints’ power, which provides a useful check on the regulators to ensure they remain accountable to consumer representatives. We’ve seen the international example and some state-based trials of this power, it’s time to expand it to the national level,” says Mr. Brody.