Towards a wellbeing approach to consumer policy in Australia

Consumer choice Consumer protection Consumer behaviour Consumers Australia

We are in the midst of a very tough period for our fellow citizens and the Australian economy as a result of COVID; it has already become something of a policy cliché to say that the nation needs to ‘build back better’. This needs to be a consumer-led recovery, with an emphasis on consumer protection and empowerment, trust, business responsibility, competition and sustainable consumption.

To do this requires an understanding of what it’s like to be a consumer in Australia today – but decision-makers have relatively little insight into consumers’ lives and the challenges they face. Only a limited amount of consumer research and engagement is conducted by governments, regulators businesses and public bodies – and most focus on individual markets and particular topics, rather than taking a ‘whole of consumer’ approach. Such work is likely to miss insights about the collective impact of different markets on consumers. Where cross-economy consumer research is commissioned, it is often very infrequent.

Most consumer insight also centres on potential problems in markets – looking for the negative rather than framing it around a positive articulation of what positive consumer experiences might look like. This approach, while necessary to target policy and regulation efforts, can come at a cost. By not setting out what good looks like, policymakers aren’t then able to say how close they are to achieving it.

By understanding the outcomes consumers want, government, regulators and industry understanding can be more responsive in an increasingly fast-paced environment. Consumer policy, informed by a wellbeing approach must also learn from the experience of others who have already thought deeply about wellbeing in a wider context and in some cases developed indices.

This two-part report offers insights for policy-makers on changing the expectations and experiences of Australian consumers, as well as what market governance might look like when a wellbeing approach is applied.

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