A member of the Western Australian Legislative Council, and the first woman to be elected to that body (in 1954), Ruby Hutchison MLC founded the Australian Consumers' Association (ACA) – the organisation we know today as CHOICE.
As a single mum with seven children, Ruby was only too well aware of how vulnerable consumers – particularly women – were to being ripped off by pushy salesmen peddling shoddy goods. It was her determination to see consumers informed about their rights and about products, their value and safety that in part led to the birth of CHOICE magazine in April 1960.
Times have changed a lot since 1954. When Ruby first entered the WA Legislative Council, the media noted that "the Monday wash lay waiting in a copper". And in 1959, when she founded the ACA, consumer rights and protections were practically non-existent. As Ruby herself put it:
"I am only a housewife, but I know how the housewives of [WA] are being robbed. I am not too learned in legal phraseology, but I would say that unfair trading practices would mean the taking of profits by big concerns up to a saturation point."
Ruby's hard work soon paid dividends. In December 1960, membership of the ACA was 4700. By April 1961 it was 10,000, and the end of 1961, it was double that. By the end of the decade, the organisation had more than 100,000 members.
The rapid take-up and success of the ACA in the 1960s were essential pre-conditions for the Whitlam government’s Trade Practices Act of 1975, a landmark piece of consumer protection legislation. Ruby retired from politics in 1971 and passed away in 1974, so sadly only ever saw the Trade Practices Act in its infancy.
But though Ruby may be gone, she's certainly not forgotten. Today, CHOICE continues to thrive on the principles that Ruby established: to be completely independent of government, manufacturers and other vested interests in the consumer space, and to accept no advertising or funding beyond that generated from our members or from our prolific "CHOICE Recommended" licensing scheme.
Every year on the eve of World Consumer Rights Day, a speaker is invited to deliver the Ruby Hutchison Memorial Lecture in an effort to keep Ruby's spirit alive in Australian consumer affairs.
The lecture is a CHOICE and ACCC co-project. Notable speakers have included former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, US consumer rights icon Ralph Nader, and more recently, veteran journalist Ross Gittins and former federal government minister (and now Age Discrimination Commissioner) Susan Ryan AO.