Ripped Off

If we’re so well off, why do we feel so ripped off?

Every major economic indicator points to Australia being the Lucky Country. The Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report ranks us the wealthiest people in the world.

We should be dancing in the streets.

Yet from bus stop to boardroom, on talkback and the tele, all the talk from our politicians is negative.

“Households are doing it tough,” says a stony-faced Prime Minister.

“The cost of living keeps going up and up,” drones Dr. No.

The federal opposition wants us to blame the government, while Labor wants to appear in touch with ‘working families’.

But a comprehensive analysis by the Bureau of Statistics late last year found, in real terms, we’re richer than we were six years ago.

(Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Those on fixed incomes, such as pensions, are doing it tough.)

So why do we feel so poor?

It’s because every time we turn around, someone has their hand in our pockets.

Everyday rip-offs like:

*The $2 fee to use a foreign ATM, which costs the bank 74c. (Actually, pretty much any banking fee from account keeping to overdrafts to finding out your balance. For a comprehensive list, check out http://banksinaustralia.com.au/bank-fees-you-probably-didnt-know-about)

*Telstra charging $30 a month for the privilege of having a home phone.

*CBD parking rates of up to $200 a day.

*Eye-watering council fines for overstaying at a parking meter.

*Airport parking almost double the cost of a domestic flight.

*Late fees exceeding the cost of the inconvenience, especially for phone bills, DVDs, and credit cards.

*Replacement fees. Why does it cost $25 for a new driver’s licence?

*Incremental charging. You need a magnifying glass to read telecommunications bills these days.

*Insurance companies charging exorbitant premiums then refusing to pay out. (This will only get worse with a means test on the private health insurance rebate.)

*A dress at the shopping mall costing three times as much as the same item in the US.

*Coles and Woolies jacking up the price of petrol to protect profits from discount vouchers.*

*Hidden costs. I discovered last week my dentist had been charging $10 each visit for an “oral hygiene talk”. At the age of 44, I have managed to work out how to brush my teeth.

The list goes on.

And when you have a problem?

There’s no one there to listen.

Seniors often say they didn’t have a lot of money, but still felt rich.

It could be because, back in the day, all the household transactions you made were with a real person.

You knew the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker… and the insurance man and the banker.

‘Service’ was the other half of the bargain you struck when you made a ‘purchase’. (With real notes and coins. Not a piece of plastic.)

Years ago, companies like T.A. Sampson & Sons went door to door in inner Sydney, selling rabbits.

You handed over the money and got the rabbit.

No middlemen. No supply chain. No waiting on hold.

We’re not buyers anymore – we’re ‘consumers’, or the latest euphemism from a corporate re-branding exercise.

Of course the past is a place we can’t visit.

But it’s the intangible nature of our expenditure today that contributes to our feelings of poverty.

So perhaps we’re not whingers after all. Maybe we just want value for money.

Aside from the Bureau of statistics data, there’s a wealth of evidence proving we’re richer than ever before.

Compared with other OECD countries we have the highest minimum wage, the third lowest government debt as a percentage of GDP, and the sixth lowest tax rate.

Because of the high Aussie dollar appliances, home wares, clothing and cars are cheaper.

Not to mention overseas holidays: Australians made a record 7.8 million short-stay trips overseas last year, double a decade ago.

After crunching the numbers for the website Crikey, political commentator Possum Comatitus wrote, “Never before has there been a nation so completely oblivious to not just their own successes, but the sheer enormity of them, than Australia today”.

That success does bring challenges.

Those on fixed incomes will struggle with power price hikes of 37 per cent over the next three years, to pay for infrastructure and the carbon tax.

And mortgage repayments have recently risen by twice the CPI, due to an undersupply of housing.

These are the complexities we expect our federal pollies to address.

Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan is urging Australians to switch banks, after they raised interest rates without a signal from the Reserve Bank: “It indicates to me… that they are treating their customers badly.”

It’s a start. But we deserve more.

How about opening a real conversation about value-for-money, levels of service, and the impact of the Coles-Woolies duopoly.

It’s no wonder we all feel ripped off.

*There isn’t enough space in this column to deal with the myriad crimes of this dreaded duopoly.