The recent upbeat press statements
on the release of the new general insurance Code of Practice was
noticeable for the enthusiastic support of Fiona Guthrie, the deputy chair
of the Consumers’ Federation of Australia. How things have cosied up
since the early 1990s when the industry strongly resisted consumer
calls for an ombudsman and there was some tension between the sectors.

It is rather a shame that Guthrie didn’t disclose that she is a Board
member of the Insurance Ombudsman that has a responsibility for
monitoring the Code (and had recently had a paid gig as an
“independent” reviewer of the Banking Ombudsman scheme).

One wonders whether the consumer interest is really served by senior
consumer advocates being on the industry payroll. Certainly, the
Consumers’ Federation appears not to have this concern as a number of
senior executive members hold similar Board positions on industry
boards, as you can see from its website.

I guess the game’s moved on. Clearly, in this post-Vizard age of
tolerance to conflicts of interest, such things don’t seem to cause
concern. Just call me old fashioned

CRIKEY: We’ve commented several times over the years about the lack of a genuinely independent and feisty consumer sector. The Australian Consumers’ Association
does a reasonable job as an overarching advocate, but the sector
specific support for consumers is too often thin on the ground. Can
anyone think of a federal politician who’s known for putting consumers
first? Labor represents the workers, Liberal represents business, the
Nationals represent farmers, Greens represent environmentalists but the
consumer seems to be largely unrepresented in Canberra.

Peter Fray

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