A spotlight on change for Indigenous consumers

With our new partnership, CHOICE is hoping to highlight some under-reported rip-offs affecting Indigenous Australians.

I recently had the pleasure of joining with National Indigenous Television (NITV) to announce a new partnership that aims to shine a light on the particular issues faced by Indigenous consumers.

There are many reasons why this is a good thing.

The first is that CHOICE, as Australia’s largest consumer organisation, has a responsibility to understand the experiences of Indigenous consumers and ensure that they are represented in our work. To do that effectively, we need strong relationships with Indigenous organisations.

The other reason is that when it comes to ensuring that Indigenous consumers enjoy their rights, there’s no shortage of work to be done. Far too often we see sales practices targeting Indigenous communities that wouldn’t be tolerated elsewhere.

Funeral insurance is a great example. This is a product that almost always leaves consumers out of pocket – because once you take it out, you’ve got to maintain payments, often over many years, in order for your family to receive any benefit. This means it’s a totally inappropriate product for young people.

However, when ASIC examined funeral insurance in 2015, it found that 50% of Indigenous policyholders were under the age of 20. This was no accident – it was clearly the result of sales tactics targeting younger consumers, who were unlikely to understand what they were buying and were pretty much guaranteed to lose money.

We saw similar problems when the previous government opened up the vocational education sector to private providers. This saw many students signed up to loans for courses they were never likely to complete and while the broader scandals have been well documented, the particular impact on Indigenous students has had less attention.

In the three years after these changes were introduced, the rate of enrolment of Indigenous students rose at almost five times the rate of increase for non-Indigenous students, and they ended up with debts for course fees that were on average 40% higher.

These examples highlight the broader problem of unsolicited sales in Indigenous communities. From baby photo scams to student tutoring programs, scamsters rely on the ability to pin down an unsuspecting consumer on their front door step or at the kitchen table, keeping them talking until they sign up to recurring payments.

CHOICE has argued, in partnership with the Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network, that the best solution is to ban unsolicited sales. This would make many consumers – Indigenous or not – much happier and safer at home.

But in the meantime, we’ll have to rely on naming and shaming shonky businesses that are making money out of ripping off Indigenous communities. And NITV is the perfect partner to help us do that.


Price of goods in remote communities might be another thing to investigate, while we know the price of providing goods (particularly perishable goods) in remote areas is higher, some prices are insanely inflated … some scams are obvious and specific, some one might argue are institutionalised …


Great suggestion Draughtrider.

I spoke to a plumber at a remote community (Yuendumu) who had driven 700km each way to change a washer. He added the cost of 2 days travel to the cost of his work, rather than undertake the more difficult tasks of training local people how to do it.

Governments are ripped off through their failure to ensure that Aborginal people acquire and are rewarded for simple skills that 20 years ago were common knowledge. But people in remote communities suffer most when their plumbing fails and they rely on outside experts to perform basic tasks.


While visiting many communities in the NT years ago, a common and often not responded to problem was “Book Up”. Many communities in the Barkly are smallish, around 2 sq km, and located on or very near Stations. The Station owners/managers would provide goods, and record the transactions in a book/ledger, to the community members during the fortnight and got repaid on Centrelink payday, this is what is called “Book Up”. This occurred elsewhere in the NT but I was more familiar with this area.

The community members at times could even buy vehicles through “Book Up”. Prices were set by the Station and the debt was sort of a disincentive for Community members to leave as they “needed” to pay the “Book Up” before they left. Generally they were always in debt and the Centrelink payments would not cover all the balance every fortnight. I am not sure how prevalent it is now but suspect it is still an issue.

It is not a talked about subject in media or Government but even now with the Basics Card (or whatever iteration it is now) I am sure the Stations still are able to leverage “Book Up” by EFT against the card’s balance and even holding the card and pin for safe keeping (This may be me being a little tongue in cheek). Maybe this is something Choice might be able to investigate further and place a “spotlight” on.


Thanks for the suggestions everyone, I’ll be sure to highlight them to our investigators.