The consumer “movement” has been foaming at the mouth over recent commentary in Crikey about its ineffectiveness, but many consumer advocates can’t go public because of their inherent conflicts.

The 7.30 Report certainly confirmed the view with Tuesday’s story getting stuck into The Financial Industry Complaints System over its inaction following the $300 million Westpoint collapse.

Don’t expect the likes of Jenni Mack (Ted’s daughter) to come riding to the attack on the scheme on behalf of aggrieved Westpoint consumers. She is a paid board member of FICS, which is financed by the very finance industry she is meant to be keeping in check.

Perhaps it is time ASIC told the government to converge all the schemes into one and bring them under clearer statutory control, as is the UK Financial Services ombudsman scheme. If the UK, with its larger population, can have one scheme, why not Australia?

Then again, ASIC itself is not exactly free of conflicts. For instance, ASIC’s head of corporate and public affairs, Jeanette McLoughlin (ex Mayne, Brambles, ANZ and Colonial), is married to the head of corporate and public affairs at AMP, Matthew Percival.

McLoughlin gets to filter all ideas and communications, both written and verbal, coming out of ASIC. She even sits in on Commission meetings when important strategy decisions are made.

So, will ASIC do anything further in relation to bringing AMP to heel on this issue of financial planners? There are many observers who reckon AMP should have been taken to court earlier this year rather than just cop an enforceable undertaking after ASIC’s review of 300 files by 30 AMP financial planners revealed a raft of problems.

We look forward to ASIC’s next public pronouncement asking financial planners about accounting for how they make decisions about devoting fair shelf space to all products, particularly if it involves the AMP.

Peter Fray

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