How we got started
In 1959, Australia was experiencing an explosion of mass consumer markets, giving people access to many household goods for the first time. But while these goods were easier to buy, they were also expensive. People needed to be confident they were buying 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.
The early days
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. In 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 a growing desire for more information about products, we built our own testing laboratory – a space where we could do our best to bend, break and burn out products, all in the name of research.
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.
Big wins for consumers
Since those early days we've 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. Almost 40 years later we also campaigned for the introduction of the Australian Consumer Law, which guarantees the consumer rights we all enjoy today.
We've 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.
CHOICE in the new millennium
When the internet arrived, we were fast to jump on board. While our monthly magazine is still a core part of our mission, most of our audience also uses our digital tools and information.
Along the way we've had some fun – introducing the CHOICE Awards for outstanding products and services and our annual Shonky Awards for the worst offenders. We've also helped to entertain and inform millions of Australians on ABC TV's The Checkout.
Our accredited laboratory is one of only a few places in the world where you can 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 need to know.
After 60 years we remain fiercely independent, proudly nonprofit and non-partisan. And with a community of over 400,000 people, we're Australia's largest and longest-running consumer organisation.