Consumer Affairs Adviser Report March 2014

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By Val Cocksedge

Financial institutions and telcos do not send emails requesting passwords account verification, credit details or other personal information by asking you to click on to a link.

            ‘Protecting Your Identity’ is a new booklet from the Australian Government that aims to help you protect yourself from identity theft.  It can be downloaded from www.ag.gov.au/identitytheft.  It details how to avoid scams and viruses that can compromise your personal information, as well as offering tips to protect yourself.

            The Australian Bankers Association (ABA) has assured customers that all bankers and other deposit taking institutions are required to reimburse money liberated from accounts via card skimming or other unauthorised means.  Banks computer systems monitor transactions and will investigate any suspicious activity. Customers are urged to be vigilant in checking their statements.

Unclaimed consumer money will find a safe haven under recent Federal legislation changes.  The amendments reduces the time from 7 years to 3 years in which money left untouched in banks, superannuation and other accounts is transferred to the government at which point it is protected from fees and market fluctuations.  “Choice” called for an obligation that all institutions inform customers of any unclaimed accounts in their name.  Also recommended was an on-going bi-annual reporting by government on all categories of unclaimed money with details how to reclaim the lost funds and disclosure of any deducted fees.

In Australia, the independent supermarket group (MGA) has called on the ACCC to investigate

whether Coles and Woolworths are misusing their market power.  MGA has accused the duopoly of subsidising loss making supermarkets in order to stamp out local competition.  The ACCC is looking into the impact of supermarket fuel discount dockets and the sharing of price information between petrol retailers which may be lessening competition.

In the aftermath of the 24th April Bangladesh clothing factory collapse which killed more than 1100 people; most clothing retailers have signed a binding agreement called “The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh” which includes safety regulations which includes safety regulations.  The Accord requires retailers to pay for factory repairs.  Signatories include Hand M, Zara, Benetton, Aldi, Kmart and Calvin Klein.  US retailers Walmart and Gap are negotiating their own non-binding safety standards.

Choice is campaigning for energy companies to make it easier to compare plans and to make bills clearer.  Visit www.choice.com.au/campaignsupporter for more details.

Commercial sunbeds will be banned in Queensland from late next year – a move Cancer specialists say will save lives.  Salons will be paid $1000 for their machines.  They can choose to sell them to private buyers in pursuit of higher returns with backyard operators already snapping up these machines.

            Costs will soon be reduced for Queenslanders building or renovating a home with the establishment of the new independent Queensland building and Construction Commission by the end of the year.  This, the biggest change in 22 years will replace the Queensland Building Services Authority.  The ten point action plan is to reform the state’s building regulations and focus on the right balance between consumers and contractors.  Included is a Rapid Dispute Resolution during construction and enhances education for consumers entering a building or renovation contract.

A ground breaking experiment that uses algae to absorb carbon dioxide emissions is set for a large scale trial.  Government owned Stanwell will test the Clean Energy technology developed by James Cook University.  The trial includes trapping carbon emissions from the power station and pumping them into water used to grow algae which doubles in mass every one to two days and I vast quantities can be used to produce either bio-diesel or cattle feed.

Former Qld. Treasurer, Keith DeLacey is behind a project Integrated Food Energy and Development in the Etheridge Shire, which will build water storage facilities and grow 75,000 hectares of sugar cane in the Gilbert River farming district.

A second North Queensland bio-energy (NQBE) project has won support from Chinese investors – the potential $500 million project at Ingham.  China’s Nanning Good Fortune Heavy Industry Co Ltd (GFHI) signed a memorandum of understanding for the provision of equity and supply of plant.  The Chinese Company has built more than 100 major sugar facilities and more than 200 power projects.  NCBE, predominantly owned by 220 Herbert River sugarcane farmers, requires 23 million tonnes of cane annually for the mill, which will produce sugar crystals, power, ethanol, paper and bio-plastics.

Foreign investment is growing in Queensland with Chinese acquiring Cubbie Station, Tully Sugar Mill, Palazzo Versace on the Gold Coast plus development property in Queensland and W.A.  Foreign land holders and developers include UK, Canada, USA, NZ, Switzerland, Singapore, South Korea, Middle East and Brazil.

Food security can be a real issue with foreign countries growing food in Australia but under no obligation to sell to us.

People are concerned over the potential impacts from the looming mining and coal seam gas industries on Queensland’s agriculture and the impact on aquifers, the process of ‘fraccing’, salt deposits, water issues and vast areas of prime grazing and crop areas becoming surrounded by wells.

NCWQ – Consumer Affairs Mid term March 2014

Rural and Remote Women Adviser Report February

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By Beryl Spencer, NCWQ State Coordinator

Rural and Remote Women Adviser

From drought to flooding rain and back again.  It is a cycle of life and weather in this wonderful and ever changing Nation of ours.  With drought still covering over 70% of our state, in reality the long term impacts on not only the land but also the lives of many rural families will be felt for years to com. The rain will come again and water and wonderful regeneration will initiate “overnight” growth of grass in land that has been long rested, the real challenge is though that lives take so much longer to experience return to normal.  Some families have already had to ‘walk away’ from generations of establishing their properties and nurturing their land.  It has all become too much for some.  Following are some comments from across the inland:

  • ·         “There are reports on a regular basis of individual situations in the bush from lack of water, to no feed, to pressure from banks with many of our families being stretched to breaking point.  There is such a cry coming from the people of the Outback and we know that our job this year is bigger than we would have originally comprehended.   The need to get aid in the way of food hampers and toiletries to these families or even a voucher to use at their local stores is greater than ever.”
  • ·         Cunnamulla: ‘The 10kg bags of rice & catering size cans of peach/apple pie filling etc have been gratefully received beyond our expectations.  Because the difficult financial situations many are experiencing this donation could not have come a better time.
  • ·         The costs involved in purchasing hay, cotton seed etc to keep stock alive are almost unbelievable with amounts of $20-40,000 monthly commonly stated.  Even those that in the past have said “We are doing OK; there are others far worse off than us. Give it to them” have readily accepted goods.
  • ·         What an eye opener and a heart string puller we experienced whilst visiting some of the properties in the Cunnamulla area. Some of the comments spoken to us include:  “I`ve been raising cattle for 50 years and if there isn`t rain then I am going to have to make some very hard decisions.
  • ·         “Just recently I was within a hairsbreadth of giving up”
  • ·          “The Warrego River has broken the record for the length of time it is since there has been a flow in the river. The water that is left is unsuitable for irrigation and causing problems for our crop of grapes”
  • ·          ” I have never lost so many sheep in a drought as I have this time”
  • While farmers are thankful assistance is finally on its way, most have said it’s too little, too late.
    Farming families in Coonamble who’ve had to sell or put down their livestock, say it’s been dry for months. They fear the entire town could collapse.
  • Re the promise of Government assistance: Too little to late
    already too many animals have died, too many farmers have done suicide!
  • Right now, our family property is in an EXTREMELY bad place.. My family are making very hard choices right now. (This refers to having to sell off the young stock)
    The drought, the economic collapse, everything is working against us to make life almost unbearable…Except for taking joy in the ‘little things’ in our case, some little things are such huge victories that I just want to dance. 
    Here is one such little thing. Remember my prolapsed cow? I had to bring her down from the back paddock and dad operated on her in the tiniest hope that she would recover and calve safely. Well here she is! Against all odds she fought the biggest battle, against infection, disease, weakness, and illness, and she gave birth alone without help, and after 2 weeks is still here, happy and contented raising her tiny baby calf all by herself!! 
    Oh and while I was getting ready to go find her the temp dropped a few degrees, and I rode out on the bike, getting just a little bit damp! Those specks you see in the photo are hopeful spits of rain. The skies were clear while it fell, and it has stopped now, nothing measurable in the rain gauges, but still, it is like liquid hope falling from the sky… perhaps a little more tomorrow.

At the risk of bring only bad news, there are some beautiful stories too, and the work of Baked relief and QRRRWN (and all involved) has become a glimmer of hope, a life line to many.  While Baked relief is delivering food and some personal needs other farmers is providing fodder to starving cattle.  It has become a combined effort and lifting the emotions of farmers across the country.  Some of the beautiful verses written by city children to their country cousins have just been so beautiful.  They really are making a difference. In neither the South Burnett area many who have barely recovered from the devastating floods are nor supporting the drought relief.  One lady commented: “it is when you help others that your own problems seem less and you feel so good about it.”

I said at the beginning that the impacts  would last for years to  come, and they will but  these gifts of hope are softening the pain for so many and I  believe to  degree, will lessen the emotional impacts on health.

Rain is now falling in some areas but it is still scattered.  Many hope that this will start to break up what has been a devastating drought pattern across the state.

 Baked Relief & QRRRWN. https://www.facebook.com/bakedrelief   and http://www.qrrrwn.org.au/

A few tears as our last #lovetothewest for this round is loaded into the truck bound for Tara. The guys at St George Freightlines are our heroes.

https://www.facebook.com/voiceofthebush. Here is a challenging link to have a look at how the drought areas are going.

Another good news story:

A note from RFDS (Royal Flying Dr Services): “We are significantly expanding our social and emotional well-being program in recent years, particularly towards Longreach and the areas affected by the drought.  We are also providing a lot of women’s health programs ‘in Western and Northern QLD, where there are very few female GP’S.” http://www.flyingdoctor.org.au/

Key Issues that impact Financially

  • ·         One other key issue for the Agriculture sector remains the dumping of produce in this nation.  Some coming directly from Europe, Asia and some via Asia through New Zealand and marketed as New Zealand when the origin of much of it is very unsafe production in Asian Countries.  New Zealand negotiated a free trade agreement with China quite some time ago and this has enabled this dumping to further impact on Australian agriculture. Italy and Europe are also dumping vegetable foods on Australia.  

Some of the impediments faced by Agriculture in QLD:

  • Costs of pumping water   Electricity & Diesel
  • Bank interest

Key Health Issues:

  • Mental health and financial stress
  • Access to allied health and diagnosis
  • Ageing and Disability
  • Travel and other expenses of treatment

What can be done?

These issues and impacts for QLD Regional and Remote Families  are, I believe, beyond  Local, or State approach, I believe that there  is a desperate need for National approach to managing  the drought an flood cycles in our Nation to better provide food and financial stability for the whole nation.