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Speech: Roy - Supporting Consumers

Supporting Consumers And Building Effective Markets

Hon Heather Roy, Minister of Consumer Affairs
Friday, December 11 2009

Hon Heather Roy address to Consumer NZ 50th Board Meeting; Wellington; Friday, December 11 2009.

Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for the invitation to speak to you today.

I would like to begin by congratulating you on your 50th Anniversary. For half a century Consumer NZ has been standing up for consumers. In that time you have developed from a small quarterly magazine with a simple aim of helping consumers, to a monthly publication and a very helpful user-friendly website ( www.consumer.org.nz) that helps consumers with the whole purchase decision and advice on how to solve consumer problems.

Whether it's about getting the right number of stamps from a vending machine, comparing the pros and cons of different cellphones, or getting value for money when purchasing an appliance, Consumer NZ gets the facts. I commend you on your vocal advocacy of consumer rights. Everyone here today understands that markets only work well if there is a level playing field, and your work is of great support in making sure that our markets work well for consumers and businesses alike.

We all know that a business acting unfairly not only affects individual consumers, but also disadvantages those business competitors who are trading fairly.
As a consumer watchdog, you highlight faults and seek out those businesses and industries that are acting unfairly. You are regularly asked to comment on the particular consumer issues of the day - and your comments are valuable contributions to any debate around those particular issues. Businesses rely on consumers having confidence in their reputation and their brand, and you help ensure that this can occur. The checks and balances that you provide are important in achieving an open and effective market where both consumers and businesses can feel confident about transacting.

Last month, I released the Ministry of Consumer Affairs-commissioned 'National Consumer Survey 2009. You will be interested to know that 24 percent of respondents named Consumer NZ as the organisation or service that consumers could approach for information and advice in the event of a dispute.

Another area in which you provide practical advice is that of product comparison. As it is often not easy or practical for individuals to test claims about products themselves, consumers need to be able to take those claims at face value. Your product testing allows consumers to do this. Consumers are better able to make informed choices when the testing is rigorous and subsequent advice is evidence-based.

As times change, so too do trends in the way consumers seek help and advice. I note that Consumer NZ has responded to this and moved with the times - showing innovation around how people use your website.

I have to say that your website is informative, attractive and - most importantly - is extremely user-friendly. Not only does it have the information to answer almost every question a consumer might conceivably have, but that information is easy to find without time wasted searching endlessly. Your website demonstrates your willingness and ability to move with the times.

Of note is the new feature that allows consumers to forego a full subscription to Consumer NZ articles so they can instead simply pay to access a single article - making your well-researched and thought-out articles more accessible to the public.

It's safe to say that we all want the best for consumers, and I believe that the relationship between Consumer Affairs and Consumer NZ is a very positive one. There are many areas where working together has been of mutual benefit in getting messages out to consumers - product safety issues are one example of this.

Another example of Consumer Affairs and Consumer NZ working collaboratively is Powerswitch. This is a fantastic initiative from Consumer NZ - which hosts, develops and improves on the service. Consumer Affairs supports this through funding and the promotion of the website www.powerswitch.org.nz.

You'll be aware that the Electricity Market Review has recently been announced. We are happy to have an extra $1.5 million a year for the next three years to get the message out to more consumers that this fantastic resource is available.

With this additional funding we hope that all consumers will use Powerswitch to find the best price and that this will drive competition in the market.
Like you, I want consumers to have the best information to make their own decisions. If there is a problem, I want them to be able to easily get a resolution. This way, consumers get what they expect when they buy a product or service.

I strongly support a fair market place that respects consumer choices and which can operate effectively without unnecessary intervention by Government. That is why I have initiated the 'One Law, One Door' project.

The 'One Law' is a simplification programme for consumer law, with the goal of principle-based consumer-supplier legislation - similar to the approach found in the Privacy Act - that will see some rationalisation of the 12 consumer laws that currently exist.

'One Door' refers to a simplified complaints apparatus rather than a system that leaves the consumer to negotiate the host of complaints and disputes tribunals, ombudsmen and so on that currently serve to confuse the applicant while sometimes adding cost to the taxpayer.

As the year draws to a close, I wish to thank you all for your contribution to making New Zealand a fair and productive marketplace for consumers and businesses alike.

You continue to challenge the law makers to provide consumers with strong and enforceable legal protection, you feed into our knowledge, stretch our ideas and help to provide a great environment for consumers and respectable businesses. That's a good thing and I hope we can keep working well together into the future.

Thank you for inviting me here today, and best wishes for the next 50 years!

ENDS

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