Long-term members of CHOICE will probably recognise the name Ruby Hutchison. Way back in 1959, she set out from Perth to travel to Sydney for a meeting that would lead to the establishment of the organisation that we now know as CHOICE.
Ruby was the first woman elected to the WA upper house in 1954 – and the only female member until she retired in 1971. It's clear that she was motivated by a vision of fairness, which she pursued on behalf of consumers, tenants, people with disabilities and Aboriginal people in WA. In one debate about equal voting rights for Aboriginal people in 1958, she said it was important to recognise that it was "the impact of the white man's civilisation that has been the cause of the present unsatisfactory conditions" and that "we should accept the responsibility and be prepared to take the step to begin to right this wrong".
Those words could very well apply to the big question that Australian voters will face in a referendum later this year on the introduction of a First Nations Voice to the Australian Parliament.
In May, the CHOICE Board decided that our organisation should support a vote in favour of a Voice. This decision built upon the Board's decision in 2019 to support the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Like every major decision that CHOICE makes, this was firmly grounded in our purpose as an organisation. That purpose, laid out in the constitution approved by our members, is "to work for fair, just and safe markets that meet the needs of Australian consumers".
Like every major decision that CHOICE makes, this was firmly grounded in our purpose as an organisation ... 'to work for fair, just and safe markets that meet the needs of Australian consumers'
This purpose requires us to think about issues that affect all Australian consumers, as well as issues that affect particular groups of consumers in acute ways. Similar to Ruby Hutchison, this has seen us advocate for justice for young people, older Australians, people experiencing mental illness, people living in regional Australia and, of course, First Nations consumers.
Today, working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advocates is an important part of our work, as you may have seen in stories we have published on sales of overpriced and poor-quality cars to people in remote communities, predatory funeral insurance products and scams affecting First Nations consumers.
Whenever we work on these issues, it's easy to find people in First Nations-led organisations who have a pretty clear idea about what's going on and what needs to be done to fix it. The missing link seems to be between these people working on the ground and our government.
That's where a Voice could make a real difference and help to ensure that the particular experiences of First Nations consumers get the attention they deserve. I'd like to think that Ruby Hutchison would be pleased to see the organisation that she helped to establish support this change to our constitution.