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Julian Morrow keeps check on Aussie rights

AAP logoAAP 12/08/2016 Danielle McGrane

The Checkout is currently in its fourth season of teaching Australians what their consumer rights are.

One of its creators and hosts, Julian Morrow, explains why the ABC show has lasted as long as it has.

Q. Did you think when you started you would have enough material to keep going for this long?

A. I remember having a conversation with Chas Licciardello (The Checkout producer) in the middle of the first season and he thought that probably two seasons was about as much as was viable for The Checkout. Obviously it's turned out not to be the case.

Q. Why do you think it has run on so much longer?

A. It's because of a few things. Firstly, we've got huge viewer feedback so we're always being pointed in the direction of stories.

Secondly, each year there's a mix of new products, whether it's Pokemon Go or mobile phone plans. New issues always arise.

Q. Are you surprised at how little people are aware of their rights when it comes to consumer issues?

A. We're all very busy and it's hard to keep up to date with things like consumer protection law, but I think that's really one of the fundamental purposes of The Checkout: it's to take what's a good situation, the fact that Australia has really good consumer protection laws, and try to spread the word about that so that people can use it in ways that they weren't aware of.

Q. When do you know something will make a good story for The Checkout?

A. One of the things I most enjoy is when we send a letter to a company and the way that they don't answer the question suggests that we've asked the right question.

And to me it's when you actually get your head around the slyness of a particular marketing technique or business model and we can elucidate that in a fun way and also show the impact that it has on real people.

Q. It must be a good feeling to bring about change or shake up the system?

A. I think probably the most we do is help individual consumers get a better result with their complaints and maybe help people avoid getting into those situations in the first place.

Part of the reason we call the show The Checkout is about trying to convey ideas that will occur to people when they are at the checkout, to stop problems happening and to put them in a better position if things do.

Q. Has working on the show made you more cynical and aware of potential scams?

A. You could make a whole spin-off series on offers that The Checkout falls for. Our staff are constantly making the mistakes that we advise people not to make. We've got a section called Checkout Chumps where we try to admit we've made mistakes ourselves.

The thing is, no matter how much we try to be rational, humans just can't be robotic, rational, decision-makers. We're as flawed as everyone else.

Q. What's been your favourite Checkout story?

A. I love what Kirsten (Drysdale) and Zoe (Norton Lodge) do in their consumer psychology section. Their gendered marketing piece from a previous season is without doubt the most viewed Checkout item we've ever had. It got picked up on YouTube in America and it's had millions of views now.

Going back to the stuff that we did in The Chaser, I always like the idea of making a serious point in a silly way. And it probably naturally brings together the training of me and Chas and Craig (Reucassel). We all did law degrees, I practised as a lawyer for a while, but we also started a satirical newspaper writing jokes so in a way it's just bringing together those two aspects of what we've done. And it's cheaper than therapy.

I think The Checkout does hit a nerve with audiences in a good way and we're pretty hopeful that it will be back for a fifth season next year.

* The Checkout airs on Thursday on ABC 1

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