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Government Out of Touch with Consumer Sentiments on Wikileaks, Banks & Consumer Communication

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, may be ready to dismiss Julian Assange and try to remove his Australian citizenship for a national/ global crime that is yet to be determined and substantiated, however she should understand the changing tide of consumer sentiments in Australia before she takes further action.

Not only is government uninformed about consumer attitudes in a number of strategic areas, but government at all three levels in Australia is the worst offender when it comes to being accountable to Australian citizens when they complain about services or issues.

Eighty-eight percent (88%) of respondents consider government equal to or more difficult than private industry to complain to regarding consumer enquiries and complaints.

Most Australians have very low expectations of even receiving a reply to their complaints from government. Poor response rates means sometimes consumers have to wait over six months to hear back.

Eighty-four percent (84%) have a lower than 50% expectation that they will get a satisfactory resolution to their complaint from any level of government. Sixteen percent (16%) have no expectation of receiving a satisfactory resolution to their complaint.

Our studies have shown that less than 10% of consumers will use the Ombudsman, so this deflection to these specialised offices does not go anywhere near handling the issues for consumers who want answers and solutions to unsatisfactory situations created by private industry, government departments, institutions and licensed organisations like banks.

The growth of the Internet and online communication platforms readily accessible to consumers, together with increasing legislation matched by an increasing inability to contact and talk to anyone or be heard, is a major contributor to the increasing dissatisfaction of consumers with traditional information channels and one-way government spin.

The Prime Minister may well dismiss Julian Assange as a threat to society, but now that the newspapers constantly use Wikileaks as a source of reference and daily publicity, in addition to being able to equally access the source documents that Wikileaks uses, the consumers are enjoying real time information about what really goes on between governments and in governments. Witness the recent information leaked on the whaling issue which most consumers assumed was being ethically handled with a high degree of conviction by the Australian Government.

Before issuing any other edicts about Wikileaks and Julian Assange, she would be well counselled to take into account our recent Australia-wide, independent Consumer Sentiments Study results.

These show that:

  • On December 23, 2010 forty-five percent (45%) of Australians believed that Wikileaks offered an important source of additional information for individuals and communities interested in global affairs.This is almost the same result (46%) as that reported by an online study by Essential Report carried out on December 20, 2010 – at the same time we were surveying. Their question was, “The Australian Government has condemned the release of the Wikileaks material and the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has called it ‘grossly irresponsible’, and ‘illegal’. Do you approve or disapprove of the response of the Prime Minister and the Australian Government to the publication of the Wikileaks material?”
  • A further forty percent (40%) of respondents were undecided on the importance of Wikileaks for our online study.
  • Only fifteen percent (15%) of respondents did not believe that Wikileaks offered an important source of additional information for individuals and communities interested in global affairs.
  • If forty-five percent (45%) believing that Wikileaks is an important source of additional information is not a large enough number for the Prime Minister to consider the merits of Wikileaks and to hold back on her rash decision to consider removing Julian Assange’s citizenship (an unalienable right), then she should be reminded that this is higher than her approval rating for “the job that Julia Gillard is doing as a Prime Minister”, (43% on December 20, 2010).

Having studied consumer sentiments for over 30 years, it is apparent to us that government and many organisations have underestimated the rising tide of consumer resentment to unrestrained and unrealistic, mismanaged regulation, and have been dismissive of the need to handle consumer complaints and enquiries while continuing to espouse the wonderful democratic rights of consumers in the economy and the “responsive” political system.

In our study banks, a government licensed group with direct reporting to a Reserve Bank, come in for some serious “stick” that should ring bells in Canberra. On the question of:
“Do you feel the banks have too much power, especially since the Global Financial Crisis?”.
The study results show that eighty-six percent (86%) of respondents feel they have “far too much” or “too much” power.

Only twelve percent (12%) of Australians feel they have “enough” power, and two percent (2%) “not enough” power. Furthermore, seventy-eight percent (78%) of respondents of our study of December 2010 would like to see the growth of more second-tier banks that cannot be absorbed or taken over by the “Big 4” banks. Only seven percent (7%) object, and fifteen percent (15%) were undecided. Do the banks really have the consumers’ votes and support? Is it about fees Mr. Swan, or about healthy open competition?

Who is listening in government and industry, and who is really aware that the e-Society is giving consumers more power and changing the balance of power?

There is no doubt in our mind that these sentiments have been there under the surface for some time, but that the traditional channels have not given consumers the voice that online communication platforms and the Internet now provide.

It is time that government and industry track and monitor consumer sentiments thoroughly before they resort to the traditional “top down” method of over-laying their spin on what consumers’ intentions, issues, sentiments and advocacy is about key issues of importance. The GST anti-campaign result, also reported by us, shouts this loud and clear. It came and went in less than a week!

It is even more important that governments start to respond to consumer complaints and requests in a timely and informative manner because further declines in response rates and complaint satisfaction will see a dismissive consumer base that may give up on communicating with government, to the detriment of our consumer society and democracy. Understanding consumer sentiments and learning how to communicate in the new paradigm is a real challenge that must be embraced immediately.

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