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.

 

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