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Let your voice be heard on World Consumer Rights Day

World Consumer Rights Day: It’s time to make yourself heard

“Their voice is not always as loudly heard in Washington as the voices of smaller and better-organized groups – nor is their point of view always defined and presented. But under our economic as well as our political form of democracy, we share an obligation to protect the common interest in every decision we make.”

John F. Kennedy was writing on March 15, 1962, on what is now known as World Consumer Rights Day, in a “special message to Congress on protecting the consumer interest”. But swap Sydney or Melbourne for Washington and the then US President’s words are just as true for Australian consumers in the 21st century. If not more so.

Technology has changed the consumer experience in a way that JFK could never have imagined. Even though he was prescient enough to write about “the march of technology increasing the difficulties of the consumer along with his opportunities”, the law has struggled to keep pace with this new world order.

How, for example, do you protect a consumer in Perth who has bought an item in Japan via a payment system built in the United States? What about an Adelaide consumer who only speaks English, and has been scammed by a Brazilian company?

Digital platforms now have their tentacles in all aspects of our lives. Yet, the regulation to protect Australian consumers is inadequate. Moreover, there is no clear way to ensure consumer voices will even be heard.

JFK’s vision of consumer rights covered four key areas: the right to safety; the right to be informed; the right to choose, and the right to be heard.

We want you to be heard

While all remain important, it’s the right to be heard that drives everything we do at HMC:

“The right to be heard - to be assured that consumer interests will receive full and sympathetic consideration in the formulation of Government policy, and fair and expeditious treatment in its administrative tribunals.”

We want consumers to be heard - it’s our reason for being, in fact. It’s why we take consumer complaints and elevate them so that their rights are respected.


A happy customer


It’s also why, this World Consumer Rights Day, we’re urging you to raise your voice and ask the government to take action. The more of you who speak up and demand better protection, the stronger your rights as consumers will be.

What is World Consumer Rights Day?

Every year on March 15, World Consumer Rights Day celebrates “the rights of all consumers, to voice their concerns and seek redress when they have been wronged”. The day was first observed in 1985 after the resolution was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.

This year the theme is Fair Digital Finance. It aims to generate new consumer-centred insights and campaigns for digital finance that is inclusive, safe, data protected and private, and sustainable.

While it could be seen as just another day on the calendar, we’d urge you to use it as a time to take stock. Think about the rights that matter to you as a consumer and ask some key questions. What are my rights? Who can help ensure I am protected? What can I do if I have a complaint that isn’t being heard?

What are our consumer rights?

Consumer rights in Australia are enshrined in the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), which sets out your rights when you buy goods and services.

The ACL covers everything from the quality of goods and services to refunds, warranties, and dealing with problems. It also gives you specific rights when you buy things online or via digital platforms.

In a nutshell, Australian consumers have the right to:

    • Be safe and protected from faulty products
    • Information about goods and services before you buy them
    • Refunds, replacements, and repairs for faulty products
    • Fair treatment by businesses, including being able to complain without fear of retribution
    • Not to be deceived or misled by businesses
    • Privacy when using digital platforms
    • Access goods and services in a way that is accessible and appropriate for you

How do Australian consumer rights apply in the digital world?

The world has changed a lot since JFK delivered his vision 60 years ago and with it the consumer landscape. Australian consumers are spending more and more of their lives online. We are using digital platforms for everything from shopping to banking to socialising.

We’re having food delivered to our door, instead of going out to restaurants. We are buying produce boxes or meal kits instead of going to the market. We’re meeting a potential life partner through any number of platforms. Moreover, we're doing almost all of our financial transactions via them, as well.

The pandemic has even pushed those who may have been reluctant to try these platforms to make them part of their daily lives.

But what happens when something goes wrong? What are our consumer rights when it comes to the internet and digital platforms? Which agency should you turn to?

These are questions that have been asked more and more in recent years, as we’ve seen an increase in scams, fraud and other digital problems facing Australian consumers.

The digital world is a complex place. So the law is constantly playing catch-up. In 2010, the ACL was amended to specifically include protections for Australian consumers when they buy goods and services online or via digital platforms.

Since then, there have been a number of high-profile cases that have helped to clarify the law. For example, in 2017 the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) took action against Apple. Apple was seen to be misleading consumers about their rights under the ACL when they bought goods and services from the company online or via digital platforms.

More recently, in April 2021, the ACCC won a case against Google for misleading customers about the collection and use of location data.

Consumer protections are inadequate

Despite all the developments in consumer law, regulations have not kept pace with the way we use digital platforms. While the Digital Industry Group (DIGI) launched a misinformation complaints portal, it’s limited to the signatories of the code and the spread of misinformation, such as having false or misleading content on their site.

Certainly, we’re not the only ones who think there is inadequate protection for consumers in the digital era. According to a recent study published by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), 74 percent of Australians wish there was an easier way to complain about digital platforms.

While we firmly believe that the government needs a regulatory body where consumers can seek redress. It’s also not that simple.

Consumers need a central body where they can easily lodge their complaints about digital platforms. So that data can be independently gathered for regulators. It is difficult to create meaningful legislation protecting consumers in the ever-evolving digital era. Especially if you are not equipped with the right information.

What changes are needed?

Australian consumer law has not been updated since 2010. And we don’t need to tell you how much the world has changed since then.

Aside from not keeping pace with the proliferation of digital platforms, Australian regulations do not adequately address some of the fundamentals of consumer rights.


A man voicing out his complaint


Consumers International, a global membership organisation for consumer groups, has built on JFK’s original vision for consumer rights.

They are advocating for:

    • The right to satisfaction of basic needs. To have access to basic, essential goods and services. Such as adequate food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, public utilities, water and sanitation
    • The right to safety. To be protected against products, production processes and services that are hazardous to health or life
    • The right to be informed. To be given the facts needed to make an informed choice. And to be protected against dishonest or misleading advertising and labelling
    • The right to choose. To be able to select from a range of products and services, offered at competitive prices. Above all, with an assurance of satisfactory quality
    • The right to be heard. To have consumer interests represented in the making and execution of government policy. As well as in the development of products and services
    • The right to redress. To receive a fair settlement of just claims, including compensation for misrepresentation, shoddy goods or unsatisfactory services
    • The right to consumer education. To acquire knowledge and skills needed to make informed, confident choices about goods and services. While also being aware of basic consumer rights and responsibilities and how to act on them
    • The right to a healthy environment. To live and work in an environment that is non-threatening to the well-being of present and future generations

We believe Australian consumer protection needs to be bolstered considerably. That is to reflect and adhere to the above principles. As well as to provide specific redress for consumers who are entitled to compensation.

How do I make a difference?

HMC has been solving complaints for over a decade across a variety of industries. Our mission is to make it fast and easy for consumers to get fair outcomes. We also understand that for each complaint, the effort of organisations to resolve it is equally taxing.

Our system makes it fast and easy for consumers to make a complaint, then present the information to the organisation in a clear, actionable way. We are perfectly positioned to be the intermediary to resolve issues with digital platforms quickly and fairly.


A woman raising her voice for World Consumer Day


But to do that, we need to hear your voices so we know the issues you want resolved. Or, put more simply: Tell us and we’ll tell them.

Clearly, our governments need to develop consumer protections that better reflect the digital age.

But in order to understand what regulations are required, they really need to hear from us. We can feel powerless as individuals. But together our voices can be a catalyst for change.

After all, we are all affected, as JFK said 60 years ago:

“Consumers, by definition, include us all. They are the largest economic group in the economy, affecting and affected by almost every public and private economic decision. Two-thirds of all spending in the economy is by consumers. But they are the only important group in the economy who are not effectively organized, whose views are often not heard.”

We want to ensure your voices are heard

Help bring about meaningful change for all Australians by lodging your complaint with HMC. We will help you raise your voice.

Remember, not just on World Consumer Rights Day, but every day you have the right to a fair settlement of just claims. That includes compensation for misrepresentation, shoddy goods or unsatisfactory services. So don’t be afraid to stand up for your rights!