Consumer Affairs Report, November 2018

By Val Cocksedge, OAM

NCWQ Consumer Affairs Adviser

From February 2019, energy retailers will be required to give customers five days advance notice of price changes in their energy contract.  More than a third of us have searched for a better energy deal in the last five years.  Inactive, lazy or loyal customers who don’t seek a better deal are most valuable to the three big energy retailers (AGL, Energy Australia, Origin).  Pay on time discounts abound.  The ACCC reports one in four miss deadlines (the higher the discount, the bigger the penalty – even if you miss payment by one day) – a big windfall for the energy companies, a big loss to consumers.

In July 2016, the ACCC released the voluntary Industry Code for consumer goods containing button batteries.  Regulators have resisted calls for these to be made mandatory.  Some companies have complied sealing the battery compartment with a simple screw, but in poorly made products, when dropped the screw may drop out or pull out easily.  Currently only toys designed for children under 3 years are required by law to have secured battery compartments.  Everyday household items containing button batteries- including car keys, baby thermometers, remotes have no mandatory safety standards.

At least ten people are injured by faulty products and require medical attention every day in Australia.  More than 4-5 million products were recalled in 2017-18 financial year.  Australians would be surprised to hear it is not illegal to supply to supply unsafe products in Australia but is in the UK, European Union, Canada, Malaysia and Brazil.

Twenty four consumer organisations from around the world have won grants for programs to promote sustainable consumption and a culture of sharing.  Funded by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation and administered by Consumers International, the grants will help deliver projects for Green Action Week –October, in Mexico, Ivory Coast, Nepal and Togo.

The Consumer Data Right (CDR) will give better access to the information that businesses collect about you.  Commencing July 2019 for the banking and energy sectors, the CDR aims to open up opportunities for consumers to find services and products that suit their needs and wants.  The CDR will ensure that data is accessible, consistent and easy to share.  It is important these opportunities are balanced with appropriate protections – must be consumer focused and ensure how businesses use consumer data for benefit.  Choice is consulting with Treasury to ensure the legislation puts people first, is simple, efficient and fair.  To learn more visit choice.com.au/policy.

The recall continues for potentially faulty air bags installed in more than one million cars in Australia.   Manufacturers were given till July 2018 to publish a recall schedule with a searchable data base and all to be corrected by December2020 with fines of one million  dollars per breach.  For further information visit https://www.choice.com.au/transport/cars/general/articles/takata-airbags-what-you-need-to-know-in-australia-230717  Choice are calling for a general safety provision  to be written into Australian Consumer Law.

All building cladding materials will have to be permanently marked with an Australian Standard in future to help prevent tragedies such as London’s Grenfell Tower blaze.  A three year Senate Inquiry into flammable cladding and asbestos building products has called for companies to carry out independent testing of high rise imported products before shipping them to Australia.  Queensland like other States is going through the process of identifying and rectifying dodgy cladding products in buildings.

Human bodies are becoming polluted with plastics, scientists have confirmed for the first time –from sources which could include the eating of fish or drinking water from plastic bottles.  The most common plastics were polypropylene and PET (polyethylene terephthalste) often found in food and drink packaging.

Mars, L’Oreal, Unilever and Coca Cola producers and waste management firms are among 250 groups pledging to end plastic waste at source.  Unilever has announced the plastic bottles used by its brands will be made from 25% totally recycled HDPE plastic packaging (a more rigid plastic) by 2019.  This will result in about 750 tonnes of plastic in Australia being recycled each year (the equivalent of 100 million single plastic bags).  This move diverts plastic away from landfill.  The bid is backed by governments, the UN, environmental charity WWF, universities financial institutions and other campaign groups.  There will be focus on innovation to ensure all plastic packaging can be easily reused, recycled or composted by 2025.  Synthetic fibres are also significant source of microplastics in the environment as fibres from clothes end up in the sea and from treated and untreated sewage being released into rivers.

The Brisbane City Council is committed to reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill – to help keep Brisbane clean, green and sustainable.  According to the Australian Government National Food Waste Strategy 2017, Australians throw out $8 billion worth of edible food.  Brisbane residents throw 97,000 tonnes of food every year.  The Council has joined the International Love Food Hate Waste Movement in order to help reduce food waste.  At home we can avoid and reduce food waste with practical changes to the way we plan, prepare and store food – plan ahead, shop mindfully, store correctly, cook with care and love leftovers.  Go to a monthly e-newsletter https://www.brisbane.qld.gov.au/about-council/council-information-rates/news-publications/subscribe-e-newsletters to subscribe and help reduce food waste at home.

A Queensland company, Nexgen Plants, has made a major breakthrough in development of drought proof crops.  An Advance Queensland grant of $200,000 will help develop commercial deals in Australia and abroad.  Nexgen Plants director said the company was able to manipulate the plants’ existing genetics to add in traits such as virus and drought resistance.  No foreign DNA has been added.

In a small greenhouse, University of Queensland’s start-up incubator lab, Russian born Nikolai Kinaeo, chief executive of agribusiness, Sustainable Organic Solutions, is testing organic fertiliser made from chicken manure on tomato plants.  Centuries of farming in Australia using inorganic fertiliser made from hydrogen and phosphorus have taken a toll on the soil and micro flora in the soil.  Farmers were encouraged by the fertiliser companies to overuse fertiliser, resulting in damaging run off in waterways.  This new soil repairing fertiliser is being trialed in Bundaberg, Townsville and the Darling Downs with outstanding yields and the reduction of nitrogen runoff by between 30 to 50%.  MFS, one of the nation’s largest sugar producers, is a trial participant.

The University of Queensland has received a $3.5 million Federal grant to create a training centre to teach local agribusiness and food producers to take indigenous communities to identify native plants and critters that could be marketed overseas.  Bush tomatoes from Alice Springs, Kakadu plums, bunya nuts from North Queensland, wattle seeds are among the products to be investigated.  With Australia’s high profile globally on safe foods there is a lot of trust to be traded on.

A report released  by Australia 21 ( independent, not for profit) think tank predicts algae farming could grow into a major new industry worth millions of dollars to regional economies providing a range of products – livestock feed, health foods, plastics, textiles, paper and petrochemicals. Algae is already hailed as a super food and a staple food of Japan, Korea and China (sushi, miso soup, seaweed, edible algae-dried snacks)

Every  week in Australia about 500 tonnes of perfectly good greenn bananas are dumped by farmers because they are too big, too straight or too bendy for supermarkets.  Queensland rural Women of the Year, Krista Watkins initiated Nutra Lock which reduces green bananas to powder in under 25  minutes to produce five key products – flour, cake pre-mixes, resistant starch, an ointment and a  vegan protein mix.  Demand is soaring locally and overseas.  The next move is to address the sweet potato market.  About 300tonnes is ploughed back into the soil in the Atherton Tableland and Bundaberg.

 

 

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