This year, leading consumer advocacy group in Australia, CHOICE, is celebrating 60 years since its inception in 1959 – a time when consumer rights and protections were practically non-existent.

It was established as the Australian Consumers’ Association (ACA) by Western Australian Legislative Council member – and the first woman to be elected to the body in 1954 – Ruby Hutchison. The first ‘CHOICE’ magazine came off the printing press in 1960. In its first year, the group attracted almost 5,000 members and by the end of the decade, there were more than 100,000 members.

The rapid uptake and success of the ACA in the 1960s were essential pre-conditions for the Whitlam Government’s consumer protection legislation – the Trade Practices Act of 1975 (which later became the Australian Consumer Law). Hutchison only saw the Act in its infancy, passing away in 1974.

In the 1960s, CHOICE started testing washing machines, food mixers and electric toothbrushes; in the 1970s, other whitegoods including refrigerators, dishwashers and upright cookers; in the 1980s, technological advancements such as VCRs and cordless phones, and in the 1990s, as the internet began to grow, CHOICE led the charge to examine internet service providers and investigate recycling and renewables. At the turn of the millennium, analysis expanded even further to scrutinising mobile phone plans, PVRs and MP3 players and in 2006, the Shonky’s made their debut.

Testing being undertaken on an oven

Today, CHOICE covers over 250 product categories and tests more than 2,500 products each year, from mattresses and BBQs to microwaves and coffee machines.

The group transitioned to the first paywall on an Australian website in the 1990s, which today is how most members receive test results, campaigns and investigations, but CHOICE maintains its legacy magazine as many people enjoy the printed copy, in addition to the online site. As a primarily member-funded organisation, the group has a cohort of 180,000 paying Australians that support change in the marketplace and over 200,000 Australians who support CHOICE campaigns.

“CHOICE has always maintained the same purpose in its constitution; to work for fair, safe and just markets that meet the needs of Australian consumers,” director of testing, Matthew Steen told Appliance Retailer.

“This has meant our independence has been a critical factor in maintaining the balance between working for consumers, but also with manufacturers, retailers, other associations, media, regulatory bodies and the government.

“It’s not hard to realise that you need all of these players in the market of product development to create better results for consumers, whether it’s performance, ease of use or safety outcomes.

“This independence is still a critical advantage as we call out both good and bad behaviour, without fear or favour. Our non-profit status lends credence to our standing, as we funnel our member funds, license and consultancy fees back into our purpose,” he said.

Testing being undertaken on a refrigerator 

CHOICE also reviews services as they become more prevalent in everyday life, such as annual insurance, monthly video streaming or new credit facilities.

“We are focused on helping consumers navigate changes to the way they consume, but also how we can help minimise the harm that consumers experience through these newer services and lead to a better experience for everyone,” Steen said.

“Most people from the industry know us through our campaigns, magazine, online site or media events such as the Shonky’s. While these are our standout areas that are well publicised, we are also carbon neutral – something we know is on the radar for most businesses. Since the Climate Active Carbon Neutral Standard came in, we have seen businesses step into a gap and push towards a broader carbon neutral goal.”

On a final note, Steen said as CHOICE celebrates its 60 years and moves forward into the next 60 years, the group will continue to look to its members, the broader Australian public and external partners to help improve the way consumers experience products.

“Whether that’s through testing, insights, surveys or product development, we are looking forward to delivering a better product experience to Australian consumers,” he said.