Australia Day honours for unit pricing advocate

More consumer advocacy left to do, says recipient Ian Jarratt

Consumer champion Ian Jarratt has been recognised for his consumer advocacy with an award on Australia Day.

Jarratt was awarded the Order of Australia in Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove's 2017 Australia Day honours. He was recognised for "his service to community, particularly to the rights and protection of consumers".

"It's not very often that consumer advocates get awards, so it helps publicise the valuable role they play," says Jarratt. "It demonstrates consumer advocates make a worthwhile contribution."

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Ian Jarratt, recipient of the Order of Australia, 2017
He has been fighting for consumer rights since he joined the Queensland Consumer Association in 2002, where he focused his efforts on Queensland's energy sector. 

"I decided I would try to work in areas where there were very few resources, so I started doing most of my consumer advocacy in energy. In Queensland we had no one who could act as the consumer advocate in the electricity area."

But his greatest win came in 2009, following years of campaigning, research and study, when it became mandatory for supermarkets to display unit pricing on price tickets.

"The highlight, definitely, is my work with unit pricing, because it has had such an impact on so many people and so often.

"When you think about it, the most decisions you make in a week as a consumer is when you go to the supermarket."

Unit pricing is a quick and easy way to discern the value of different sized products. It works by comparing the cost of each product according to the same unit of measurement. Two different sized bottles of detergent, for instance, will show the cost per 100ml as well as the price of a bottle.

A colleague of Jarratt's mentioned the use of unit pricing overseas, and he couldn't understand why it wasn't used in Australia.

He studied unit pricing in the USA and Europe after winning a Churchill scholarship in 2006, and partnered with organisations (including CHOICE) to lobby the federal government. Supermarkets resisted the move at first. 

"The supermarkets had successfully said to the politicians 'Look, consumers don't want this and they won't benefit from it'. The politicians said 'the market will decide'. That was a hard obstacle to overcome."

Disruption from a certain German supermarket chain skewered the climate in the favour of unit pricing, as did an enquiry by the ACCC.

"Aldi entered the market and voluntarily introduced unit pricing into stores about the time I submitted the Churchill report. That pulled the rug from the supermarkets' feet."

Jarratt's work is far from done. The retired consumer advocate wants the federal government to review unit pricing practices – a review more than two years overdue.

"The last we heard, the federal government was going to wait for the ten-year sunset review, but we don't think it's good enough," he says. "We'd like to see improvements in the presentation of the unit prices and improvements to the units of measure, to make sure they're consistent and relevant."

Currently Coles, Woolworths and Aldi list unit pricing, but Jarratt would like to see it standardised across more supermarkets.

CHOICE recognised Jarratt's consumer advocacy in 2010, when the organisation named him the inaugural CHOICE Consumer Champion.