So, two and a half weeks after the federal election, we have a result. And now that the politicians have stopped trying to woo each other, perhaps they’ll start trying to woo us again.
During this peculiar political hiatus, when Ministers and MPs have been horse trading behind closed doors, I have spent a lot of time out of the office listening to consumers in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.
Last week I was on the Sunshine Coast and while there I visited an IGA in Coolum beach, where owner Mel Luke is facing eviction from Coles (the landlord and supermarket giant); a great local business providing healthy competition, but the latest casualty of the duopoly in groceries. At a business breakfast the next morning I heard from local meat producers who were on poverty incomes because of the very same duopoly.
This week I’ve just come back from Melbourne, where I spoke to a Probus group and listened to their consumer concerns – these events are always lively and great fun.
Wherever I go, I hear from people struggling to pay their exorbitant energy bills and frustrated by banks that are putting up their interest rates. For many consumers and local businesses things are getting worse not better and there is a growing and palpable sense of anger and determination that things must change.
Many people are already voting with their wallets, joining local campaign groups and turning to CHOICE for help. To my surprise and to thunderous applause, I was even asked at one event whether CHOICE would move from being the people’s watchdog to the people’s political party. The answer was no by the way!
Earlier this week I became the first consumer leader in Australia to formally extend the hand of friendship to farmers and seek to work on a common agenda. People around Australia are passionate about where their food comes from and the inequity created by the market structure in Australia – farmers squeezed at one end, consumers milked at the other. There is more uniting consumers and farmers than dividing us and by standing together we will attempt to achieve more than politicians have. You can read here what I had to say. (Farmers speech.pdf)
Although I heard people say they enjoyed the recent state of political flux, because if the politicians weren’t doing anything, then at least they couldn’t do anything wrong, this state of suspension could not go on indefinitely. So power is returned to those we have elected to govern, in the hope that after this period of uncertainty, they will talk less, listen to you more and never take voters for granted again. For consumers who are impatient for change, this can’t come a moment too soon.