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.

 

 

Consumer Affairs, Annual Report 2018

By Val Cocksedge

NCWQ Consumer Affairs Adviser

Australia’s first national government-ordered recall focused on potentially fatal airbags installed in more than 1 million cars in Australia. Instead of deploying normally in a car accident, Takata airbags were recalled as they can propel hard fragments, causing injury or death. Car manufacturers have to publicly announce their schedule of recalls. The Government has given manufacturers until July 2018 to publish a recall schedule with a searchable database and all are expected to be fixed by December 2020 with heavy fines of $1.1million per breach. For more information, visit www.choice.com.au/takatarecall. Choice are calling for a general safety provision to be written into Australian Consumer Law.

Banks are facing a Royal Commission focusing on consumer lending practices and unsuitable insurance policies.

The ACCC has commenced proceedings against Birubi Art for selling Aboriginal cultural objects described as “hand painted – hand crafted Aboriginal Arts Australia” when they were made in Indonesia – mis-leading people when they were expecting to purchase genuine Aboriginal Art – negatively impacting on Aboriginal artists and undervaluing their authentic work.

More than $60 million will be refunded to 110,000 customers by Allianz and Suncorp after ASIC found they were selling insurance of little or no value to car buyers, and which often weren’t suitable to the people buying them – e.g. providing a warranty even though the car came with a 7-year warranty from the manufacturer. Both sold Life Insurance Policies to people such as those single or under 26.

Proposed changes to the Therapeutic Goods Laws could leave consumers misinformed by allowing a list of pre-approved “traditional use” claims to appear on ads and on labels without efficacy assessments. The government wanted to abolish the requirement for print and television advertisements of therapeutic products to be verified before being published or aired. Because of the continuing advocacy of Choice and consumer advocates, the government will now keep the pre-vetting process for ads for another two years.

A Queensland study has found that a common ingredient, triclosan, in toothpaste and handwash, may be contributing to antibiotic resistance. The US Food and Drug Administration banned the use of triclosan in soap in 2016.

Scams come in many forms – by mail, email, telephone, over the internet and door-to-door. If an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers are increasingly sophisticated in their activities, moving with the times to take advantage of new technology, communication methods, emerging products or services and major events to create plausible stories that will convince people to part with their personal details and money. As a result of thousands of scam reports received each year, the ACCC has prepared a booklet “The Little Black Book of Scams” to help consumers identify and avoid common methods used by scammers. To stay ahead of scammers, visit the ACCC’s SCAMWATCH website – www.scamwatch.gov.au where you can sign up for free email alerts on new scams targeting consumers and small businesses. Information on identifying and avoiding a variety of scams is available at the Office of Fair Trading – OFT website at www.qld.gov.au/fairtrading or call 13QGOV (137468)

More Queensland companies now have foreign owners – Billabong – US company; Castlemaine Perkins – Japanese giant Kirin (2009); Bundaberg Sugar – Belgian based Financiere des Sucres (2000); Bundaberg Rum – UK company Diageo (2000); Kirks – Coca Cola – Amatil; Pauls – French company Lactalis; MIM Holdings – Swiss Xstrata (2003); Defiance Flour – Allied Mills.

There have been many product safety recalls covering a wide range of goods – portable single-burner stoves; Finlay and Smith Chamonix bucket chairs (legs breaking); Worx dining chairs; oil column heaters; Moretti fan heaters; Bunnings unsafe pool fence latches. See www.recalls.gov.au for Australian Product Recall information.

Flushable wipes block pipes and waterways. Two manufacturers of these wipes are being prosecuted in the Federal Court. Earlier this year, the ACCC took Thermomix to court after concerns were raised about the faulty TM31 devices – the poor recall processes and the heavy-handed treatment of its customers. Seven out of eight popular trampoline models with safety nets failed to meet voluntary safety standards. There is a call for voluntary standards to be made mandatory. A petition may be signed at https://campaigns.choice.com.au/trampoline

Despite a ban on the use and importation of asbestos since 2003, contaminated products continue to be brought into Australia – particularly from China. These include not only building products, but gaskets in Great Wall motor vehicles, brake linings in some Polaris quad bikes and even in children’s crayons. The most common form of asbestos, chrysotile, is not categorised as asbestos in China.

Combustible cladding has been used in both government and privately-owned buildings. In an extension of ongoing problems, it can be revealed about 50 buildings in Queensland are being investigated for having potentially combustible cladding. An audit taskforce was established after the Grenfell Tower fire in the UK. The Princess Alexandra Hospital is in the process of having combustible cladding removed.

A property expert has revealed foam fake bricks are being used by shoddy builders. These lightweight polystyrene walls were rendered so they resembled real brick walls. It was first used for top floor of houses, town houses to make the second storey lighter and to cut costs.

During 2017, a record $1.2 million in fines was handed down against dodgy unions and industrial actions in Queensland. There were 57 compliance investigations into contractors in Queensland to check that they were meeting the new building code and fifteen audits into whether workers were correctly paid their entitlements.

More than 40 countries have banned, partly banned or taxed single-use plastic bags. In little more than 60 years, humans have managed to fill the planet with 8.3 billion tons of plastic – most of which will not break down. On average, each of us throws away 200 kg of packaging a year. Living in an age when plastics have become ubiquitous and are easier to produce than they are able to be disposed of, much cannot be recycled and ends up as landfill, polluting waterways or find their way into the oceans as microplastic fragments. Sea creatures even in the deepest places on earth have been found with ingested plastics.

Scientists have found these microplastics consumed by marine animals and fish find their way into the food chain. It is estimated that 6 billion plastic bags are given out in Australia every year – about 40 million end up as litter.

Single use plastic bags will be banned in Queensland after State Parliament unanimously passed laws to take effect on 1 July 2018. Included in the new laws drink containers, ranging between 150 ml and 3 litres, will become eligible for 10c refunds when returned to a designated container refund point. Plastic drinking straws have been banned by the Brisbane City Council.

Japanese experts are in talks to build revolutionary new solar-to-hydrogen development in Central Queensland. The renewable hydrogen would be shipped from Gladstone to Japan and used initially to power public transport, cars with fuel cells and in the future, households.

Consumer Affairs Report, September 2017

By Val Cocksedge

NCWQ Consumer Affairs Adviser

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) is promoting a free search tool intended to re-unite $1.1billion in unclaimed money with its owners. More than a million account holding unclaimed funds ranging from $500 – $1million have been transferred to the Commonwealth from dormant bank accounts, life insurance payouts, share dividends and other investments. ASIC is trying to find the owners of the money. The Federal Government body is alerting people to the free “Find Unclaimed Money” tool on its Money Smart website. Last year ASIC returned $89 million to 16,000 people.

Police are urging people to check on the ACCC website to see whether their car has a faulty Takata airbag (manufactured in 2015). The recalls affect models from BMW, Chrysler, Ferrari, Ford, Honda, Jeep, Lexus, Mazda, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru and Toyota. A Darwin woman is the first Australian to be seriously injured in a car accident.

Although we have been recycling in Australia for two decades, there is still confusion around what can and can’t be recycled. There is a big drive to encourage people to recycle carefully. Council kerbside recyclable materials go to a MRF facility where they are sorted by machines and staff into types (paper, plastics, glass and metals.) They are then baled and sent for reprocessing at paper mills, metal smelters glass and plastics factories. It is estimated that as many as 3 billion coffee cups are sold each year in Australia. The waterproof lining of many coffee cups means that they cannot be recycled with paper and cardboard and may contaminate a load causing the whole to be sent to landfill. Only recycle in dedicated coffee cup bins.

Recycling technology is evolving as more common household products can now be recycled, Soft plastics (cling wrap) bubble wrap, orange nets and plastic bags require specialist facilities – not council kerbside recycling streams. These soft plastics can be collected and deposited at RED cycle drop off bins at Coles, Woolworths and Safeway supermarkets.

Aerosol cans made from steel and aluminium are recyclable over and over. Planet Ark estimates well over half of the 250 million aerosol cans are unnecessarily going to landfill.

Coffee pods:  Australians are using more than 3 million coffee pods per day and these cannot be included in kerbside recycling bins. Nespresso coffee pods made from coffee grounds and aluminium have a free post back program and drop off points run by TerraCycle. Postage paid recycling satchels which hold 130 capsules can be purchased from Australia Post for $1.90 and dropped into Australia Post offices or boxes. Nestles’ Dolce Gusto pods made from varieties of plastics can be recycled through a Tetra Cycle  collection program, by requesting a pre-paid shipping label from www.tetracycle.com.au or via email.

X-ray film:  Some radiology providers and hospitals will collect old x-rays or collection points can be found through Quantum Technical Services. (http://www.quantumtechnicalservices.com.au/x-ray-film-collection/)

Paint:  Old tins of interior and exterior paint can now be dropped off at Paintback collection points. (www.paintback.com.au )

Following a long-running Choice program, the ACCC reached agreements with Australia’s major airlines to put an end to “pre-ticked extras” on online booking pages. Consumers will now have to ‘option for’ extras such as seat selection, travel insurance, luggage. Tiger Air, Virgin Australia and Qantas have ended the practice with Jetstar to “untick” the optional extras from July 2017.

Choice has partnered with National Seniors, the advocate for older Australians tp campaign for stronger “Do Not Call Register” that involves financial transactions including calling from charities seeking donations. You can join 30,000 consumers who wish to control who calls them at www.choice.com.au/controlthecalls

Compared to other regions, regulators around cosmetics labelling in Australia are lacking. Whilst other aspects of cosmetic claims and labelling are covered by the ACCC, State departments, ASIC etc, no one regulates the inclusion of expiry dates on the products. Whilst some products degrade due to age and environment, it is recommended by research and development and cosmetic experts to discard unopened products after 3 years and opened products after 6 months.

The Trans Pacific Partnerships (TPP) is a massive international trade agreement that Australia has signed and is soon to be implemented. Choice representatives told the Senate Committee meeting that TPP will put consumers’ rights at risk. Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions will allow foreign companies to take action against Australia if the Federal government changes laws or regulations that affect their commercial interests. That means that the improved Country of Origin labelling more clearly food ingredient listing or bans on imported/unsafe products could be stopped by corporate interests. The Federal government has a chance to opt out of the most harmful part of the TPP, including ISDS provisions.

The ACCC urged businesses to adopt the new industry code designed to reduce the number of injuries and death resulting from children ingesting button batteries. Powerful slim and light button batteries if swallowed, can cause severe internal burns and in some cases death. The Industry Code for Consumer Goods that contain button batteries has been developed with input from the ACCC, state regulators, importers, manufacturers and retailers. Large retailers – Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, OfficeWorks are on board. There are still many small retailers stocking products containing the unsecured batteries. The Code is voluntary – there is need for it to become mandatory.

The ACCC is taking action against Kimberley Clark and Pental after both companies led consumers to believe their “flushable wipes” would break down like toilet paper when flushed.

The Building Union issued a national alert on a Chinese supplier after the asbestos scare at the construction of the Queensland government’s “tower of power”. Australian building regulations will be examined in the wake of the deadly London residential tower fire that may have been fuelled by the same flammable cladding found to be responsible for the Lacrosse apartment tower fire in Melbourne 3 years ago. Regulations and supervision of cladding are essential.

Cyber criminals are targeting Queensland toll users with an email scam fraudulently claiming to come from Go Via Do Not Reply@govia.com.au Don’t click on links and delete immediately.

US regulators have banned 19 ingredients including triclosan from anti-bacterial hand wash products because of fears to the immune system.

Australians are being fleeced at the checkout by greedy multinationals charging vastly more than what Britain pay for the same products. In 2016, the Federal Court handed Nurofen a $1.7 million fine for peddling expensive products they claimed could target specific types of pain, despite containing the same active ingredient, ibuprofen lysine 342 mg. An appeal by the ACCC saw the parent company, Reckett Benckiser ordered to pay $6 million for misleading customers.

Consumer International called for Samsung to recall all of its Galaxy Note 7 phones (some had caught fire.)

NSW, ACT, Victoria, WA have imposed a ban on the sale of decorative burners which run on highly flammable methylated spirits, ethanol or biofuel. Polaris recalled children’s quad bikes after inspection revealed that 12 models were made with parts containing asbestos.

The ACCC issued a recall for all of the All 4 Bubs Lunar oval cot after it failed safety tests in the Choice labs – receiving a score of zero out of 100, failing safety tests, did not meet information requirements and a score of 30% for ease of assembly.

Product safety recalls included a Dimplex model (GDC 18R-WA.FA) Portable Air Conditioner; Eco Salt TM salt water chlorinators; updated models of Bosch freestanding gas/electric cooker 60 cm; Ardmona whole peeled tomatoes (TOM/WP 428580) packaging integrity; Blue Ribbon ice-cream (1.25 and 2 l) 28 April 2017 – 27 April 2018, potential presence o small plastic pieces; cider LAB products sold individually and in 6 and 24 packs, contain sulphites not declared on label; Big W deep fryer, handles can detach, risking oil burns; 4WD snatch straps, failure to meet safety label requirements, could cause injury; Just Jeans, girl jeans, dye can contain carcinogenic colourants; Infinity cables, becoming brittle and prematurely causing fire danger; Inspire glass tumbler large and small 4 pack, potential for glass to break with normal use.

Hyland’s baby teething tablets recalled, as could cause serious health problems in babies and infants, sold at Children’s Hospitals, Terry White chemists and Priceline pharmacies.

A project to recycle the old Kidston Gold Mine near Townsville into a renewable energy project via hydroelectricity and solar energy generation will become Australia’s third largest hydro power generator and create 500 jobs.

The Coopers Gap wind Farm is currently in public consultation and environmental impact process for a large wind farm near Kingaroy, opting to generate clean energy with potential to supply 180,000 homes, employ 350 during construction and 20 on an ongoing basis.

In the hunt for renewables, a QUT team is spearheading pioneering research to transfer crop waste,, the leftover sugar fibres into advanced biofuels for planes and helicopters. The prospect of producing greener, higher performing fuel from agricultural waste is attracting interest from across the world.

Dr Nasim Amiralian is applying cutting edge science to turn spinifex from Camooweal into products for the modern world – using spinifex nano fibres to make super strong, ultra-thin condoms, surgical gloves and more durable compounded rubber products such as cool room door seals. She has two patents on the nanofibres and their application.

Swarm Farm Robotics is helping farmers grow more and safer food. It is helpful to the environment that robots deliver a more judicious chemical spray.

Queensland start-up Oponics is set to tap into the booming Chinese and Indian supplements markets as it is preparing to open Australia’s first sustainable Omega 3 producing farm, the key ingredient in fish oil supplements with a 10 hectare pond farm by the end of 2017.

The cumulative impact of scientific advancement in recent times has opened up extraordinary possibilities for the sugar cane plant which will translate into commercial opportunities. In the Burdekin, as small business is extracting dietary fibre from sugar cane and marketing it globally. Bagasse, the residue from crushing cane is being used as a source for paper-making and becoming an electricity ,producer. The wild card is ethanol. The Cox brothers in Burdekin are well advanced in planning to build a $250 million ethanol plant, intending to be running s early as 2019.

Cultural Diversity: meeting the Challenges Forum

By Georgina Pickers, NCWQ Adviser

A recent forum organised and sponsored by the Queensland Justices Association and the Logan City Council was held in 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.

Access Community Services, an affiliate member of NCWQ, 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!

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.

Attendees at the forum also heard of 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.

QPS liaison officers and Access Community Services are making a difference in people’s lives in their daily endeavours  in that colourful yet complex community.

 

Electricity Digital Meter Conversion: New Age Billing!

By Georgina Pickers, NCWQ Adviser

The Queensland Government is planning to introduce digital metering across Queensland 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.

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.

The Consumer and Industry Reference Group NCWQ representative reported that the Group 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.  The group also suggested 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

 

Bright Sparks – Helping people with Disability how to save on electricity bills.  

Seminars “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 Queensland Government 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.

Consumer Affairs Report March 2017

By Val Cocksedge

NCWQ Consumer Affairs Adviser

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) urged businesses to adopt the new industry code designed to reduce the number of deaths and injury resulting from children swallowing button batteries in Australia. Powerful slim and light button batteries, if ingested can cause severe internal burns and in some cases death. The industry Code for Consumer Goods that contain button batteries “has been developed with input from the ACCC, State regulators, importers, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers. While large retailers such as Coles, Woolworths, Aldi, and Officeworks are on board, there are still many small retailers who stock products containing these unsecured batteries. The Code is voluntary, but there is need for it to become mandatory as soon as possible.

Consumers International is calling for Samsung to adopt a worldwide approach to the recall of its Galaxy Note 7 phone. Phones have caught on fire and the company announced a recall of about 2.5 million units sold around the world.

The Trans Pacific Partnership (called the TPP) is a massive international trade agreement that Australia has signed and soon to be implemented. Choice representatives told Senators at the Senate Committee meeting that the TPP will put consumer rights at risk. Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions in the TPP will allow foreign companies to take action against Australia, if the Federal Government changes laws or regulations that hurt these commercial interests. The means that better country of origin labelling clearer food ingredient listing or bans on imported unsafe products could be stopped by corporate interests. The Federal Government has a chance to opt out of the most harmful parts of the TPP including the ISDS provisions.

Compared to other regions, regulations around cosmetics labelling in Australia are lacking. Whilst other aspects of cosmetics claims and labelling are covered by ACCC, State departments, ASIC etc. no one legislates for the inclusion of expiry dates on the products. Whilst some products will degrade due to age and environment (exposure to oxygen, moisture, bacteria, heat, light) Ric Williams (40 years’ experience in cosmetic research and development) recommends discarding unopened products after 3 years and opened products after 6 months. Cosmetic products are best stored in cool dry, dark place – Products likely to expire more quickly are those with “natural” or “organic” materials. Expired cosmetics will not do what they were designed for and in the extreme can result in skin irritation, allergic reactions and infection.

The ACCC issued a recall for the All 4 Bubs Lunar Cot after it failed safety tests in the Choice labs. The cot selling for $449 through eBay and direct through the retailer received a Choice score of zero out of 100 (failed safety tests, did not meet information requirements and scored only 30% for ease of assembly)

Choice has partnered with National Seniors, the National Advocate for older Australian to campaign for a stronger “Do Not Call Register” that involves financial transactions including calling from charities seeking donations. You can join the 30,000 consumers who want to control who calls them at: www.choice.com.au/controlthe calls

In 2016, a Choice investigation found a number of popular spice brands were labelling “oregano” tainted with olive and sumac leaves. In one case, a product contained less than 10% actual “oregano”. Recently the ACCC bought action against a number of major brands, including Aldi and Memora – they will have to regularly commission tests to prove their products are actually “oregano”

The ACCC is taking action against Kimberly Clark and Pental after both companies led consumer to believe their “flushable wipes” would break down like toilet paper when flushed in the toilet.

Following a long running Choice campaign, the ACCC reached agreements with Australia’s major airlines to put an end to “pre-ticked extras” on online booking pages. Consumers will now have to “option” for extras such as seat selection, travel insurance and luggage. Tiger Air, Virgin Australia and Qantas have ended the practice. Jetstar will “un-tick” the optional extras from July, 2017.

In 2016, the Federal court handed Nurofen a $1.7 million fine for peddling expensive products they claimed could target specific types of pain, despite all containing the same active ingredient (ibuprofen lysine 342mg). An appeal by the ACCC, the parent company Reckett Benckiser was later ordered to pay $6 million for misleading consumers.

Over 20 consumer organisations in Europe and the U.S. have sent complaints to their relevant authorities regarding the fact that the “my Friend Cayla” doll and the “I-Que robot”- smart toys manufactured by Genesis Toys, can understand and communicate with children in real time by using special recognition technology via the internet. The Norwegian Consumer Council found the products were prone to hacking, as anyone could take control of the toy without physically having access to them. An unauthorised person could talk and listen to a child through the toy, via a mobile phone.

Following various allegations re honey purity, Capilano maintains its leading brand is 100% Australian honey, but acknowledges that its secondary brand Allowrie does include honey from China, Mexico and Argentina. Capelano maintains the blend is clearly labelled.

The building union issued a national alert, on a Chinese supplier after the asbestos scare at the construction site of the Queensland government’s “tower of power”

Product Safety Recalls– Potable Air Conditioners (Dimplex GDC18R-WA and FA), Eco Salt tm (salt water, chlorinators), updated models of Bosch Freestanding Gas / Electric Cooker 60cm, Ardoma Whole Peeled Tomatoes (TOM u/P428580) packaging integrity, Blue Ribbon Ice Cream (1.25L and 2 L) (28 April 2017-27 April 2018) potential presence of small plastic pieces. The Cider LAB products sold individually and in 6 and 24 packs contain added sulphites which are not declared on the labels, were recalled due to the reaction on customers sensitive to sulphites.

Five salmonella outbreaks across the state have prompted a ministerial warning to stop playing Russian roulette with uncooked eggs and meat. Infection with the food borne bacterial could lead to death in people with weakened immune systems.

Imports Recalled – Infinity Cable (becoming brittle prematurely, causing fire danger), Hover boards – (21 recalls relating to fire and shock risks), Big W Deep Fryer (handles can come off risking oil burns) 4WD Snatch Strap (fails to meet label requirements could cause serious injury), Just Jeans girls jeans (dye may contain carcinogenic ago colourants)

The passing of the Australian Building and Construction Bill gives greater powers than the current Fair Work Building and Construction Act. Unions will be hit with bigger fines for contraventions. It will end private settlements between employers and unions in civil disputes. It will bring a Building Code imposing tough requirement if employers wish to tender for Commonwealth funded building work.

Mediation is needed to settle the impasse between North Queensland cane farmers and the International Commodities giant Wilmar which has a monopoly ownership of sugar mills in the Townsville-Ingham region before this year’s crushing season.

Scientists have sought Federal Government permission to create a GM super banana to plant up to 6 ha of GM bananas to be more disease resistant in the Northern Territory.

A project to recycle the old Kidston Gold Mine near Townsville into a renewal energy project via hydro-electricity and solar energy generation will create 500 jobs and become Australia’s third largest hydro power generator.

The Coopers Gap Wind Farm is currently going through public consultation and environmental impact process for a large wind farm near Kingaroy opting to generate clean energy with potential to supply 180,000 homes and employ 350 people during construction and 20 in an ongoing basis.

In the hunt for renewables, a QUT team is spearheading pioneering research to transfer crop waste, the left over sugar and fibres into advanced bio-fuels capable of powering planes and helicopters. The prospect of producing greener, high performing fuel from agricultural waste is attracting interest from across the world.

Queensland start up Oponics is set to tap into the booming Chinese and Indian supplements market as it prepares to open Australia’s first sustainable Omega 3 producing farm. Omega 3 the key ingredient in fish oil supplements on a S.E. Qld. Algae farm -10 hectare pond farm by end 2017.

Call to stop raw prawn imports – The case of the white spot virus in prawns has wiped out the Logan River prawn area. The importation of large quantities of raw prawns from Asian countries where white spot and contamination is common calls for stricter bio-security measures.

 

Consumer Affairs Report October 2015

By Val Cocksedge

NCWQ Consumer Affairs Adviser

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                  Currently, around a quarter of consumers entitled to Compensation as a result of bad advice on investments, life insurance and superannuation have not been compensated. These victims of poor financial advice have faced another setback in attempts to access compensation with many of Australia’s largest bank pushing back on a call to fund a “last resort” compensation fund.

Choice along with six other consumer groups including the Consumer Action Law Centre and Financial Counselling Australia are calling for the government to place a levy on financial institutions to develop a “last resort” compensation fund. This scheme is designed to assist people (ruled by the Financial Service Ombudsman). They should be compensated for their losses, when their adviser or licensee is insolvent or cannot be traced.

The ACCC has warned scammers cold calling people, claiming to be collecting debt for telecommunications land energy providers or even government departments and using the threat of disconnection from essential services, arrest or court action. If you receive such as call, do not provide any personal information or financial details. Contact your provider immediately using the phone number provided on your bills or on the website. If it turns out to be a scammer, report to the ACCC via www.scamwatch.gov.au or by phoning 1300 795 995.

Insurance customers renewing their policies are likely to find most insurers offer better deals to new customers than to the existing ones. Check your quote against online quotes from your and 3 other insurers. Call your insurer checking your premium and ask for a better deal, a loyalty discount if not satisfied.

When moving home contents by a removalist, Fair Trading recommends you understand what is covered by the insurance – conditions vary. Some removalists’ insurance covers only their vehicle in an accident. Understand what is covered, if you pack or unpack yourself and if something is damaged, removalists generally won’t accept responsibility.

On line scams pose a threat at the click of a keystroke – cash windfalls, free vouchers, enticing deals. To avoid online scams, if in doubt, do not click. In the first half of this year Australian consumers lost $650,000 to online scams – these being the only ones reported to the ACCC Authority. Only pay by secure methods where you have some means of redress if required. If the

Web-site does not have “http” in the URL and a padlock sign on the site be wary – call the company direct. If you’ve been scammed, given away important details concerning bank account, drivers licence, and Medicare information contact the relevant authorities immediately. If credit card details have been given contact your financial institution and you have rights of restitution.

The Queensland Aged and Disability Advocacy (QADA) has produced an information pack in a 2016 Diary format for Seniors. The diary covers a range of important topics from wills, neighbour disputes to aged care regulation, consumer issues, seniors’ rights and available support services. The diary is available from QADA at cost of $10.

Product Recall When a product is recalled in Australia on average only around half of the products will be returned to the company / manufacturer. Defective products continue to be in consumers’ kitchens, laundries, garages, children’s’ toy boxes and have the potential to kill. The ACCC warned consumers about the danger of Infinity substandard electrical cables with poor quality plastic insulation, in danger of becoming brittle and could electrocute or cause a fire. Samsung’s recall of 144,000 washing machines due to the potential risk of fire, 207 fires and other incidents have occurred since 2013 with 70,000 machines still unaccounted for.

In one month alone 45 products were recalled across Australia – from Kombucha tea drinks containing alcohol to mountain bikes with defective frames. Theme parks recalled toys containing deadly button batteries. There are requirements on how a recall notice should look and what we need to be included under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL). Direct contact with consumers rather than newspaper notices is more effective for larger items, requiring owner information (Warranty registrations, loyalty programs), access to customers’ details through credit and debit sales records (potential privacy implications). Companies can decide what remedy they offer consumers as long as it fixes the problem. Under ACL, if the problem constitutes a major product failure, the consumer has the right to choose between a refund or replacement. Consumers may sign up for recall updates from ACCC’s product recall website in ACCC app.

Online subscriptions – You may be committing to a long minimum term without realising it. Once you sign up, it is your responsibility to remember to unsubscribe if you stop using it, as most models renew your subscription automatically often without any notifications. It is important to keep track of all things to which you subscribe.

Unsuspecting shoppers are being “conned” by traders selling underweight goods. Shortfalls of up to 50% (spices) were uncovered before or after products hit the shelves. The federal regulator allowed more wholesaler and retailers to escape financial penalty for breaches due to inaccurate scales, labels and relatively minor blunders. The National Measurement Institute said following non-compliance notices; most were corrected by the trader. Half of the infringement notices issued last year related to pre-packaged items.

Australians send more than a million tonnes of plastic waste to landfill every year, where it will sit for generations, as ever so slowly breaks down. In an effort to overcome the growing waste product, biodegradable plastics, which will break down more readily, are being used in supermarket shopping bags, (4 billion a year according to Planet Ark), bin liners, cling film, sandwich bags and nappies.

Plastic debris (1mm defined here as micro-plastics are accumulating in marine habitats. Ingestion of micro-plastics provides a potential pathway for the transfer of pollutants, monomers and plastic additives to organisms with unfortunate consequences for their health. Micro-plastics contaminate the shorelines of 18 sites worldwide with more than material in densely populated areas and having more harmful effects on marine animals. Forensic evaluation of micro-plastic from sediment showed that proportions of polyester and acrylic fibres used in clothing resembled those in wastewater from washing machines. As more synthetic figures are used by the increasing populations contamination of habitats and animals by micro-plastic is likely to increase.

Whilst Gina Rinehart is expanding her agricultural holdings in Queensland through her Hope Dairies and expansion into Wagu beef for domestic and international markets, the Chinese are now the biggest foreign acquirers of Queensland property ($463 million 2013-2014) for primary production attracted by the clean green environment offered, food safety and high quality processing system , buying pastoral empires, abattoirs, dairy. Austrade, our overseas trade agency recently reported as many as 300 Chinese firms are looking to invest in agribusiness and rural properties with the soaring appetite for red meat and fresh organic produce in Asia.

With the soaring world population and increasing impacts of climate change pointing to water shortages, Queensland farmers are pushing the boundaries to find innovative ways to weather the challenges – Vertical farms, drones assisting farmers in paddocks, robots selecting the best crop of the day for market, underground dams, smart irrigation all in an effort to meet the nation’s growing food demands.

 

Consumers and the Food Industry

By Val Cocksedge

NCWQ Consumer Affairs Adviser

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Clearing land for palm oil plantations has resulted in mass de-afforestation, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia, where more than 80% of the world’s palm oil is produced. This has destroyed habitat of animals (orang-utans, tigers, rhinos and elephants) pushing them in some cases to the brink of extinction. Indigenous people are being displaced, depriving them of their livelihood, culture and way of life. It has also resulted in large volumes of greenhouse gas emissions.

Favoured by the food industry because of its relative low cost, versatility and function, palm oil is in about half of all packaged items in the supermarkets and according to W.W.F. accounting for 65% of all vegetable oil traded internationally. Palm oil is popular with food manufacturers because it maintains its properties under high temperatures – it is stable over long periods of time extending the self-life of foods. Its smooth creamy texture and neutral taste and smell make it a great ingredient for many recipes from margarine and chocolate spreads to baked goods such as biscuits. It is relatively cheap being the highest yielding vegetable oil crop and requiring less land than other crops to produce the same amount of oil. It is also used in personal care items such as lipstick and shampoo.

Choice is calling for mandatory labelling of palm oil. This would help consumers make informed decisions and give companies incentives to source sustainable palm oil and those who already using sustainable to promote this. FRANZ is reviewing the Blewett Review’s recommendation for palm oil labelling. If this issue is important to you take action at: www.choice.good.do/palmoil

 The Australian Dietary Guidelines identifies palm oil as one of the saturated heavy fats we should replace with predominantly polyunsaturated and mono-saturated fats.

Health professionals have flagged concerns about the effects of “fasting” on medication management as fasting diets become popular for losing weight, “detoxing” and for other perceived health benefits. Concerns cover altered absorption and increased gastrointestinal problems from taking medication on empty stomachs.

Choice has called for the financial regulator to be given more resources to monitor industries proven to be dangerous to consumers e.g. the financial planning industry.

Palcohol, a solid alcohol product that contains more than one and a half standard drinks per packet is due to reach Australian shores by June or July this year. Federal authorities are unable to ban the powdered alcohol with loopholes in the law blocking both the Australian government and the Therapeutic Goods Administration from acting, but the states have the power to regulate it. The Victorian government hopes, other states will join with them in preventing its introduction.

Comparing clothing sizes between different brands could be a thing of the past should retailers and consumers embrace a new sizing tool – the world’s first fully automated 3D mapping tool. This was launched in April throughout seven Westfield Centres. It is envisaged every Westfield will have access to the 3D body imaging within twelve months. The ‘m Pods’ use non-invasive safe infrared technology to track more than 200,000 points in the body to determine a correct sizing of the individual. The company behind mPort wants to reduce the rate of online returns and frustration over size variations between retail stores.

A World Health Organisation (WHO) report has linked a chemical in household weed killer, Roundup with Cancer. WHO’s report concluded that glyphosate, a chemical found in a range of common herbicides is “probably carcinogenic to humans”. Glyphosate has been detected in blood and urine of agricultural workers. Monsanto, the company behind Roundup has disputed the evidence.

Consumers are being warned against giving personal information to people claiming to represent the National Broadband Network (NBN).

The Governor of the Reserve Bank, Glenn Stevens has announced that the next generation of Australian banknotes will include a “tactile” feature to assist people with vision impairment.

Glue, gel pads and even a fat-free ingredient for baking are being tested to make the most of the increased blue jelly fish plague. The bladders are being trialled by researchers as an adhesive to paint and as fertiliser, fisherman are harvesting them for export to Asia.

An ABC program – 4 Corners – uncovered a disturbing trend of “slave labour” and exploitation of workers on 417 working holiday visas. Properties in Queensland and South Australia were at the centre of the investigation. Migrants were used and paid below legal wage and working extremely long hours – 22 hours shifts, processing chickens, packaging tomatoes and salad vegetables. These were supplied to Woolworths, Coles, IGA, Aldi, Costco and fast food chains FKC, Red Rooster and Subway.

Food Standards Australia figures show an average of 59 products are recalled each year and two-thirds of them are produced within Australia. Meats and poultry prosed the biggest risk of listeria – particularly dangerous for pregnant women and elderly people. Raw egg-based dishes caused salmonella at several catering functions. Frozen berries were linked to this year’s highest outbreak when people contracted hepatitis A. These berries were partly processed overseas. The real source of origin of imported frozen foods is not always clear, with many travelling between countries for processing – this was dealt with in more detail in my February report.

ACCC advises that food grown or sourced in Australia bear the “grown in” or “product of Australia”. Products with “Made in Australia” may contain ingredients from other countries.

The ACCC has published a message to consumers about “Door-to-Door Energy Sales”. The Australian Consumer Law protects your rights as a consumer when Door-to Door salesperson come to your home. Origin Energy Electricity Ltd and Sales Force Australia Pty Ltd. have been ordered to publish an article listing what a salesperson must disclose and what they must not do, following court action by ACCC. For more information visit: www.accc.gov.au

 Named by Time Magazine as one the world’s 25 best Inventions for 2014, research by Distinguished Professor James Dale showing bio-fortification of bananas to improve the health of East Africans. Each year some 700,000 children worldwide die from pro-vitamin A deficiency.

Adviser Report Consumer Affairs May 2015

The Modern Consumer in 2015

By Val Cocksedge

NCWQ Consumer Affairs Adviser

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Consumers have been alerted to the risks of consuming imported frozen fruit. Authorities have named brands of frozen fruit products which have been imported from China. There are 2 main issues – firstly the level of scrutiny applied to imported foreign produce. No routine testing is carried out for microbiological agents such as salmonella, hepatitis or E coli on imported vegetables and fruits. The Department of Agriculture admitted just 5 out of every 100 consignments is checked for risks to human health. Food items that pose a “medium” or “high” risk to human health are tested at a rate of 100% until a good compliance history is established. They are then tested at a rate of 25% of consignments, dropping to a minimum of 5% for continued compliance. The berries grown for two of the brands originated from the Shandong province where agriculture co-exists with chemical plants and water pollution and ground pollution.

Secondly we need clear information to comprehend the labelling of all imported foods – details of the actual country of origin, the ingredients used. Some importers bring the goods to New Zealand, then sell the products in Australia as being sourced from across the Tasman. Every time lone voices in the Federal Parliament try for more informative labelling, they have been defeated by the powerful food retail lobby.

Frozen vegetable mixes, seafood, seeds are among products grown and processed overseas – the source of origin is not always clear. Fish caught in the Atlantic Ocean by South Korean trawlers, processed in China and N.Z. are being marketed as “Made in Australia” because they are repackaged here (the transformation rules the act of repacking, labour involved as more than 51% the “Made in Australia” could apply.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce made a pledge at the “crisis meeting of health, agriculture and industry chiefs” promising new simple food labelling that clearly states the country where the product was grown. A total review of border testing of imported frozen produce for contaminants is being discussed.

Telstra has had to pay a $102,000 penalty after the ACCC accused the telco for misrepresentations made in advertising its iPhone6 offering. An advertisement in September 2014 ran an image of the new iPhone6 and highlighted a plan that cost $70 only to disclose in some rater fine print that customers had to pay an extra $11 a month for the phone. According to the ACCC this contravened the Australian consumer Law (ACL). Businesses must be careful about using attention grabbing ads – that they do not mislead the customers about the actual price they will have to pay. This is especially the case for bundled goods and services like phones and plans.

Mobile Muster and the Salvation Army have teamed together for Old Phones for Good – a campaign urging consumers to recycle their old phones. Hand-sets left in drawers and boxes should be recycled to help reduce the problem of e-waste and allows precious metals to be re-used. The Mobile Muster has recycled and diverted more than 1010 tonnes of old mobiles and accessories from landfill in 15 years of operation.

Research has revealed that almost half of all Australians travelling overseas choose to leave their phones at home due to the fear of “bill shock”. Consider buying a SIM Card on arrival at your destination or a pre-paid roaming SIM card before you go. If planning to use global roaming with your usual provider make sure to turn off voice mail and check how much the cost is to make and receive calls, send and receive text and picture messages and to use data.

Consumer advocate Choice has warned that millions of dollars are being squandered on gift cards that are not used before the expiry date. Shoppers should check the terms and conditions before buying these cards. Time limits vary from 3 months to Bunnings with no expiry limit, Coles and Myer – 2years, Woolworths–12 months plus a grace period.

Hi-tech readers skim ATM Cards. Protect yourself by checking that there is nothing suspicious about the ATM, if suspicion is raised, do not use it and alert the ATM owner. Any card skimming scam should be reported to Police, Crime Stoppers. Check your bank account and credit card statements – any unexplained transactions should be reported to the bank or credit union. Only use cards on secure online sites.

Many of us have received an email or letter offering to share in a large sum of money by sending bank account details. Delete all suspicious and unsolicited emails – never send your personal card or online accounts through email. Seek professional advice if tempted.

Protect yourself from Identity Thieft – which may be used to open bank accounts, take out loans and conduct illegal transactions. Shred all documents containing personal information, log directly on to web-sites rather than clicking on links provided in an email, never send money or give personal details to people you don’t know or trust.

Consumers can be lured into paying more than they expect when shopping online through a trend known as “drip pricing”. From airlines, hotels, concert tickets and car hire the practice of promoting one price but then charging you with extra costs is growing. The ACCC has been targeting “drip pricing” and is warning people to be vigilant. These extra charges can include booking fees, postage, insurance, luggage and choosing a seat on a plane. Online shoppers should watch out for pre-selected “tick boxes” that may automatically add insurance and other services not required.

Extended warranties on purchased white goods are more often than not unnecessary and costly. Choice has been campaigning to increase consumer awareness about extended warranties for years. Before you commit to buying an expensive extended warranty, ask the sales person how the warranty provides protection beyond what the Australian Consumer Law already provides. Make sure you read the fine print.

More than 22,000 car seat covers sold by K Mart were recalled across Australia as they can prevent side airbags from being deployed.

Concrete cancer has been found in high rise walls, balconies, walkways and underground car parks. Those worst hit are buildings constructed in the 1960, 70s and early 80s. the cost of repair to some buildings was greater than the value of the building – they face demolition.

Concrete cracks when the steel embedded in it rusts and take us to 3 times the original volume, exposing more reinforcing steel and concrete to the elements. Slight rust stains coming out on concrete surfaces are often the first sign of “splalling” or concrete cancer.

Asbestos test results released recently show no increased health risk for people living near the old Wunderlich factory in Brisbane, but residents still harbour fears.

Corporate giants are pumping millions of dollars into schools to make their brands part of student education. Technology behemoths such as Telstra, Google, Microsoft are entering into arrangements with schools. Other large corporations such as National Bank, Coles, Bunnings and McDonalds have invested in major school programs. Woolworths petrol has sponsored youth road safety program “streetsmart”. Coles delivered sports equipment valued at more than 10 million to 7500 schools across the nation. Globally, Microsoft is spending 500 million over 10 years on a schools technology programs. Australia snared a 20% share. Bunnings is involved in numerous activities with schools including store visits, school yard makeovers, and do-it-yourself workshops. The hardware chains School Sustainability Program is aimed at increasing awareness of energy and water saving, recycling and highlights simple easy ways to make a difference to the environment.

Unilver Australia is teamed up with education charity Learning Links to develop and run a program designed to help primary school children to become better readers.

A study on the effects of reading light-emitting devices in darkness before bed time found that e-readers took longer to fall asleep, had lower quality of sleep and were less alert in the morning compared to those who read printed books. The blue light is known to suppress the production of melatonin disrupting circadian rhythms.

A company, Chrisco is being taken to court by the ACCC because an unfair contract term in its 2014 lay-by agreements to continue debiting customers’ accounts even after they had fully paid for their Christmas hampers, required them to “opt out” to avoid these payments. Lay-by termination charges also exceeded Chrisco’s reasonable costs and did not deliver on price or hamper contents, costing consumer over 20% more than buying identical items online from Coles and Woolworths, including delivery

From January 1, 2015 the deeming rules used to assess income from financial investments for social security and Veterans’ Affairs pensions and allowances have been extended to include superannuation account-based income streams. If changes were made to a new product since 01 January 2015 the new product will be assessed under the new rules. For more information visit the website and down load the deeming booklet www.dss.gov.au/our-responsibilities/seniors/benefits-payments/age-pension. Email questions to: deeming@dss.gov.au

Adviser Report NCWQ Consumer Affairs Feb 2015