October at CHOICE is Shonky Awards season – time to dress up in silly costumes and tell the stories behind this year's 'winners'.
There is often a comedic theme running through the awards. Some of my favourite winners across the years are downright stupid – like the Dick Wicks 'Premium Australian Wool Blanket Underlay' that won an award last year for claiming to relieve pain through the power of magnets.
In 2016, we recognised Sydney-based company Green and Clean for selling bottled air – from a choice of sources including Tasmania and the Blue Mountains. And in 2014 Kmart was recognised for its swimwear that became see-through when wet.
There is of course a serious edge to some of our sillier awards. The Dick Wicks blanket is an example of many pain relief products we've highlighted over the years. As ridiculous as they seem, they prey upon people who are sometimes desperate for a solution to chronic pain and often try to convey credibility by charging high prices.
And then there are the downright serious awards.
In 2013 – more than three years before the banking royal commission hearings began – we awarded the Commonwealth Bank of Australia a Shonky for presiding over one of Australia's worst financial planning scandals. Little did we know that there were many more revelations, and millions more dollars of compensation, to come.
In 2016 we called out payday lenders for exploiting loopholes in the law to take advantage of people struggling to make ends meet. Three years later, we're still waiting for the government to act on its own report calling for further reforms in the sector.
And just last year we gave timeshare operator Marriott Vacation Club a gong for using pushy sales tactics to lock people into 40-year contracts with exorbitant fees. CHOICE continues to push financial services regulator ASIC to do more to clean up this industry. See our story on John and Linda Booth. Their children will inherit their timeshare deal and be liable for payments until 2076.
Lest these examples make you think we're bashing our heads against a wall, our Shonkys often lead to action by regulators. Just a few weeks ago we were pleased to see one of the doctors behind the Medical Weightloss Institute, which won a Shonky in 2016, found guilty of professional misconduct.
We may enjoy a laugh at some of our Shonky Awards but there is always a serious message behind them. Far too many people lose money or suffer impacts to their health and wellbeing due to products that are overpriced, ineffective or downright dangerous. We all deserve better.
Pictured: Managing editor Margaret Rafferty and CEO Alan Kirkland at the 2019 Shonky Awards.