In a few short weeks, our entire economy has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 coronavirus, and CHOICE has gone from having a central workplace to being a virtual organisation. Our campaigners and journalists are working from their lounge rooms. Testers are putting appliances through their paces in their homes rather than our labs. Our spokespeople are doing media interviews over the internet.
With a large part of the economy shut down, you might think there's less for a consumer organisation to do – but the opposite is true. It seems that everywhere we turn, we find businesses that need to rethink how they deal with their customers.
Health insurance has become virtually worthless overnight. Elective surgery is being cancelled and most of the services provided under extras cover are unavailable.
Our team from Super Consumers Australia has unearthed life insurance policies – offered as part of super for frontline health workers – that would not have paid out if these workers died from COVID-19.
As we move from a health crisis into an economic one, people will have to face big decisions, such as whether to pause their mortgage payments or make early withdrawals from their super.
If we let the economy reset to the same old rules ... we'll miss the opportunity to address the weaknesses in our system
But while the risks that these circumstances create for consumers concern us, we're also motivated by the need to help out. This lies at the heart of what we do.
CHOICE was born out of tough times. One of our key founders, Ruby Hutchison, understood hardship from her experiences as a sole parent in the 1930s.
We've helped Australians through other crises: the recession of the early 1990s, the GFC in 2008 and more recently the devastating bushfires. And on each of these occasions, CHOICE has worked hard to ensure we emerged with a stronger economy, in which consumers enjoy even more protection.
We're in the early days of this current crisis, but we can already see areas that will need to be reformed: a taxpayer-subsidised private health system that has little to offer people when they need it most; a housing system that depends heavily on rental properties owned by private landlords; and a banking system that has turned a blind eye to people with long term credit card debts.
These are big challenges that call for big solutions. If we let the economy reset to the same old rules we've always accepted, we'll miss the opportunity to address the weaknesses in our system that have already been laid bare.
Now, more than ever, we need strong, independent consumer organisations like CHOICE to hold businesses to account and push governments to fix the system. As always, we're grateful for your ongoing support. It's what makes our work possible.