The CHOICE Story
In 1959, Australia was experiencing an explosion of mass consumer markets, giving consumers access to many household goods for the first time. But while these goods were now more readily available, they were also expensive, and people needed to be confident in making the right choice on products that would stand the test of time.
So how to equip consumers with the information they needed to avoid being ripped off? How to arm them with objective, unbiased advice on the things that mattered?
Enter Ruby Hutchison – a trailblazing campaigner with a vision for an organisation that would put power into the hands of consumers.
Formed at a meeting at Sydney Town Hall in September 1959, the Australian Consumers' Association started out with about 50 members and 50 pounds in the bank. By April 1960, the first edition of CHOICE magazine was sent to 500 subscribers. There was clearly a need – within a year, the magazine had 10,000 subscribers and by the end of the decade, more than 100,000.
From the early days, CHOICE reviewed everyday items like aspirin, detergents and instant coffee – but also major purchases like cars and washing machines. In response to consumers' hunger for more and more information about products, we built our own testing laboratory, where we could do our best to bend, break and burn them out in the name of research.
Still thriving today, CHOICE's accredited laboratory is one of the few places in the world where you'll see staff strapping strollers to treadmills, baking hundreds of scones in a week or subjecting toys to torture – all in the quest to find out what consumers really want to know.
When the internet arrived, we were fast to jump on board – while we still publish magazines, today most of our supporters prefer our digital tools and information. But CHOICE has always been more than just a source of product information. From the beginning, Ruby Hutchison wanted us to lead the charge against shonky practices and inadequate consumer protection laws.
Since those early days, we have exposed unfair bank fees, dodgy medications, dangerous appliances and insurance rip-offs. And we've had some historic wins: in the 1970s, we played an important role in the drafting of the Trade Practices Act, Australia's first national consumer protection law; and almost 40 years later we campaigned for the introduction of the Australian Consumer Law, which guarantees the consumer rights we all enjoy today.
We have taken on some of Australia's biggest businesses, and put a lot of noses out of joint. We've been bullied, threatened and even sued, but never successfully.
Along the way, we've also had some fun – introducing the CHOICE Awards for outstanding products and services and our annual Shonky Awards for the worst offenders. Over the last two years, we have also helped to entertain and inform millions of Australians on ABC TV's The Checkout.
Today, CHOICE is still as versatile, adaptable and relevant as it was over 50 years ago – fighting for consumers and uncovering the truth.
We remain fiercely independent, proudly not-for-profit and non-partisan. And with more than 160,000 members, we're Australia's largest and loudest consumer movement.