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.

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