When thinking about which issues CHOICE should work on today, I often reflect on the work of our founder Ruby Hutchison (pictured).
A trailblazing West Australian politician from the 1950s to the 1970s, Ruby was not only the key force behind the establishment of CHOICE; she also campaigned for justice on a range of other issues, including the rights of Aboriginal people in WA to be treated as citizens. Having seen the strength with which she campaigned on these issues, I suspect she'd be disappointed with the progress we have made in the decades since.
Over the past few months I've had the opportunity to talk with consumer affairs commissioners and advocates from across the country about the key problems they're seeing in their work. These conversations have been littered with examples of scams and rip-offs that seem designed to target First Nations consumers.
Ruby was not only the key force behind the establishment of CHOICE – she also campaigned for justice on a range of other issues, including the rights of Aboriginal people in WA
In Perth I heard about businesses that buy cheap kids' tracksuits from discount stores in the city and sell them with outrageous mark-ups in remote communities where there's no access to regular stores. Colleagues from the Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network in Far North Queensland told me about their repeated problems with second-hand car dealers who sell poor-quality cars at inflated prices, backed by shonky finance. These cars often break down within weeks of purchase, leaving somebody with an undriveable car in a community that may be hundreds of kilometres away from the car yard – and a debt they still need to repay.
Then there's the giant funeral insurance scandal that saw thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families tricked into paying money to what they thought was a community-run funeral fund, but was in reality a predatory, for-profit business. While the new federal government has moved fast to set up an emergency scheme to fund funerals while it works on a broader compensation package, the big question is how this business was able to continue signing up new customers for decades when the evidence of harm was so clear.
At CHOICE, we feel that we need to do more to stop things like this happening. Although our first priority is always to support First Nations representatives to talk about these issues, we have a responsibility to shine a light on practices that are manifestly unfair. That's a key reason why we've developed our first Reconciliation Action Plan. This will require us to work more closely with First Nations communities, to understand what they expect of CHOICE and how we need to change how we work with them. Although it won't all be easy, I'm excited about the opportunity. If we can get it right, it's one of the best ways I can imagine to truly deliver on our purpose of making markets fair, just and safe for all Australian consumers.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.