Report back from Consumer and Industry Reference Group Meeting

By Georgina Pickers, NCWQ

On Thursday 6th April I attended on behalf of NCWQ the CIRG’s (Consumer and Industry Reference Group’s) first meeting for the year.  The meeting was well attended by consumer advocates, including QCOSS, COTA and National Seniors

Digital Meter conversion – new age billing

The agenda focused on the introduction of digital metering scheduled to be introduced across the board on 01 December 2017.

The technology will eventually replace the old ‘disk type’ meters that have been in use since the 1930’s   The new meters will be installed in all new homes or in existing dwellings as the old style meter breaks down.  In Queensland meters will be installed at the retailers and networks expense.  They should deliver savings to principals as meters are remotely read, meaning that physical visits to the property unnecessary. As well, they offer more accurate and timely billings (no estimates), provision for shorter billings periods e.g. monthly, data streams for individual appliances e.g. pool pumps and air conditioning to identify where savings may be made as well as alleviating billing disputes.

However the new technology will depend on the reliability of the communication networks so properties and businesses not well served by existing Telcos or NBN coverage may not be well served as customers in high density urban areas and may be problematic for those communities especially in the most remote regions of the state.

Exiting customers will also have to request the new meters which is surprising given the cost savings in human resources for the energy suppliers.

A round table session recommended that the State government undertake a public information campaign to allay public suspicion that ‘new technology’ will increase energy costs’  Explain the benefits of the new smart metering technology and that the networks and retailers be urged to pass on their cost efficiencies to the consumer.  Also that a register be established for those wishing to convert to the new technology.

More information about digital meters is available at:

www.dews.qld.gov.au/digital-meters

The cost of energy for those who need it most!

Another session informed us about an undertaking called “Bright Sparks – Helping people with Disability to learn how to save on electricity bills”, jointly run by the Queenslanders with Disability Network (QDN) and the Qld. Government. The state wide seminars have been a practical and successful initiative aimed to assist those consumers who have 24/7 medical needs or disabilities.  Generally they are, by necessity, high energy users so basic information about how to read their electricity / gas bill and save money is important.  For further information go on-line at: www.qdn.org.au or by phoning 1300 363 783 or email qdn@qdn.org.au.

As a long term member of the QJA (Queensland Justices Association) I had the opportunity to attend a forum called “Cultural Diversity, meeting the Challenges” jointly organised and sponsored by the QJA and Logan City Council.

It was held in the heart of Logan city, one of the most ethnically diverse communities in Australia with over 54 nationalities and over 11 major languages spoken.  Over 26% of the Logan residents were born overseas and approximately 37% of those born overseas speak English.

A spokesperson for Access Community Services gave an overview of the wide range of services they provide to new arrivals.  These new residents are referred to Access by the Department of Immigration when they are granted residency, to help them settle in.  They assist them with housing, services, Centrelink, English language education, obtaining work qualifications or the necessary technical education.  As well, they must provide the most basic information, e.g. obtaining a driver’s licence and registering a car – something that is not strictly required or enforced in some countries!

Their funding is provided by the Federal government and private sources.

A presenter recounted his journey of a child refugee who escaped  the Congo with his family, enduring several years in a refugee camp in Tanzania with very basic facilities and food.  Luckily he was able to secure a scholarship to attend university in Dar es Salaam His qualifications enabled entry into Australia on a refugee visa where 10 years later he now has a migration services business.  Truly an amazing story that while good for the heart had a sad side because his siblings are scattered around the world.  Compared to even those living in America, he considers he has ‘won the jackpot’.  One interesting comment he made was about domestic violence.  ‘Smacking’, ‘beating’, ‘bashing’ mean the same in African languages and as it is regarded as ‘discipline’ so the nuances plus the fact it is breaking the law is not understood.  As well, the language barrier, using reliable interpreter services, especially if using family members is a challenge. There is a fear of government authorities, particularly police, believing that bribery is expected. Most do not understand the concept of JPs, thinking they have to pay them.  When so many documents these days must be witnessed this presents added delays and complications.  Although many come on refugee, asylum or family, partner, or children reunion migration visas, others come for work.  Assistance for any of these categories, especially work, can be costly and time consuming.

Another session concerned the wonderful work undertaken by the Queensland Police liaison Unit (PLOs) who work with Access explaining general laws including driving licences, domestic violence laws and other regulations.  This handful of multilingual members of the QPS attempt to bridge the gap in the Logan community, while training other police with understanding the different, diverse cultures  with whom they may need to interact.  They try to identify and defuse problems through local initiatives in an attempt to counter the little publicised anti-social behaviour problems, truancy, gang mentality, bullying and lack of respect in that community, though not unique to Logan.

One sad but unsurprising revelation was that the main ambition for most Pacific Islander boys was to become a rich and famous ARL or Rugby footballer!

With that in mind, I had to wish QPS liaison officers all the best in changing that pathway as well as many others in their daily endeavours to make a difference in that colourful yet complex community.

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