Sector News (Page 4)

2 August 2018

‘You will pay off your balance in 146 years, five months’: CBA’s century-and-a-half debt trap


IF COMMBANK had its way, Assam, a 58-year-old pensioner, would be paying off his credit card for the next century and a half.
The 58-year-old disability support pensioner, who has been unable to work since 2003 due to ill health, can barely make ends meet.

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31 July 2018

New family and domestic violence leave entitlements


From 1 August 2018, modern awards will be varied to give employees access to 5 days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave each year.

The leave can be taken by employees to deal with the impact of family and domestic violence. This includes (but isn’t limited to) taking time to:
• make arrangements for their safety, or the safety of a family member
• attend court hearings
• access police services.

This entitlement applies to all employees (including casuals) who are covered by an industry or occupation based award.

Find out more
You can find more information about domestic and family violence leave and who it applies to at
Confidential information, counselling and support for people impacted by domestic and family violence is available at

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30 July 2018

Ground zero of the mortgage crisis


Let me take you to ground zero of the mortgage crisis.
Right now the National Debt Helpline (1800 007 007) is receiving so many calls that they’re at breaking point.

The helpline refers people in the most dire situations on to community-based financial counsellors ‒ yet the demand is so intense that the wait time for someone to actually sit down in person and help has stretched out to three months! (And it’s only getting worse. As I reported last week, a study has suggested that one million people may find themselves in mortgage stress if ‒ when! ‒ interest rates move upwards by just 0.1%.)

Hang on, who are the financial counsellors and what do they do?
These guys are the unsung heroes of the financial services industry. They’re free to use. They’re independent. And in your darkest hour they’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with you and fight for you when no one else will:
For the guy who’s just been diagnosed with a terminal illness …
The mother who grabbed her kids and fled from her violent husband in the middle of the night …
The young woman with a brain injury who doesn’t understand the (deliberately confusing) payday loan contracts …
The father who was laid off from work and is just trying to keep food on the table …
Yes, the ongoing Banking Royal Commission has shown us ‒ over and over again ‒ that we need these heroes.

Yet the truth is that the financial counsellors are having their own financial crisis: there are not nearly enough of them on the ground. I believe so passionately in what they do that I’ve donated 10% of my book royalties to the Financial Counselling Foundation … yet it’s a drop in the ocean.

There is only one man who can truly help: Dan Tehan.
Dan is the man, because, as the Federal Minister for Social Services, his portfolio funds the community-based financial counsellors. Dan has made recent announcements on financial counselling funding, but this only extends existing funds and doesn’t grow the services to meet demand. You need to fund ’em, Dan … it’s a growth industry!

So here’s my call to you, Dan Tehan. The financial counsellors need someone to stand shoulder to shoulder with them and fight for them when no one else will.
Now’s your chance, Minister. Make us proud.

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11 July 2018

ACCC plan to slash South Australian household power bills by an average of $371 per year by 2021


SOUTH Australian power bills would be slashed by an average of $371 per year by 2021 under reforms recommended by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.  In the interim, an ACCC report found that SA power prices continue to be among the highest in the world.
The report raised concerns about the market power of large vertically-integrated “gentailer” power companies which have both generation and retail operations.

AGL supplies 48 per cent of SA retail electricity customers and controls 42 per cent of generation capacity.  The ACCC wants to give small SA electricity retailers access to more cheap power for their customers by forcing the big “gentailers” to buy and sell hedge contracts for electricity every day.  “The ACCC is therefore recommending market making obligations be introduced in South Australia in order to boost market activity and provide access to trading partners for smaller retailer,’’ the report said.

Mergers between large power companies would also be banned to prevent a further reduction in competition and regulators would get more power to crack down on predatory behaviour in the sector.

The ACCC found discounting by retailers could be misleading and unfair.
It said customers should be able to compare discounts to a benchmark rate set by the Australian Energy Regulator.  Changes were also recommended to make it easier and faster for customers to change to cheaper deals.
It also called for a nationally-consistent approach to electricity concessions for low-income earners.

The ACCC said the 2016 closure of the coal-fired Northern Power Station had driven up prices and made the state more dependent on electricity generated by gas.  “South Australian prices increased dramatically in the months following the closure of the Northern power station, the report said.
“Other factors such as the Victoria — South Australia Heywood interconnector upgrade occurred at a similar time which likely contributed to price outcomes.

SA’s power prices were almost as high as Germany and Denmark, which have environmental taxes on energy.  The ACCC said SA’s small businesses were struggling with high electricity costs.  “The South Australian Hotels Association reported increasing financial stress across its members, with examples of bills increasing by $500 —$600 per week, and highlighted electricity prices were a key factor in some hotel closures’’ the report said.

It said the cost of solar feed-in tariff schemes, which subsidise household solar panels, should be met through state government budgets instead of higher power prices for other energy users.

Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said they would discuss the recommendations with the states.  “We will consider the recommendations in detail and consult with stakeholders and jurisdictions as part of developing the Commonwealth’s response before the end of 2018,’’ Mr Morrison and Mr Frydenberg said in a statement.
Federal Labor energy spokesman Mark Butler said power prices had skyrocketed under the Turnbull Government.  “For too long, recommendations for sensible change have been lost in the fog of the civil war being waged in the Coalition Party Room over energy policy,’’ Mr Butler said.

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10 July 2018

Thermostats, Locks and Lights: Digital tools of domestic abuse


Nellie Bowles investigates the quiet rise of domestic abuse through home control technology.
Updated 2 July
By Nellie Bowles

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SAN FRANCISCO — The people who called into the help hotlines and domestic violence shelters said they felt as if they were going crazy.
One woman had turned on her air-conditioner but said it then switched off without her touching it. Another said the code numbers of the digital lock at her front door changed every day and she could not figure out why. Still another told an abuse helpline she kept hearing the doorbell ring, but no one was there.
Their stories are part of a new pattern of behaviour in domestic abuse cases tied to the rise of smart home technology. Internet-connected locks, speakers, thermostats, lights and cameras marketed as the newest conveniences are now also being used as a means for harassment, monitoring, revenge and control.

Abusers would remotely control everyday objects in the home, sometimes to watch and listen, other times to scare or show power.
In more than 30 interviews with The New York Times, domestic abuse victims, their lawyers, shelter workers and emergency responders described how the technology was becoming an alarming new tool. Abusers — using apps on their smartphones, which are connected to the internet-enabled devices — would remotely control everyday objects in the home, sometimes to watch and listen, other times to scare or show power. Even after a partner had left the home, the devices often stayed and continued to be used to intimidate and confuse.
For victims and emergency responders, the experiences were often aggravated by a lack of knowledge about how smart technology works, how much power the other person had over the devices, how to legally deal with the behaviour and how to make it stop.
“People have started to raise their hands in trainings and ask what to do about this,” Erica Olsen, director of the Safety Net Project at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said of sessions she holds about technology and abuse. She said she was wary of discussing the misuse of emerging technologies because “we don’t want to introduce the idea to the world, but now that it’s become so prevalent, the cat’s out of the bag.”
Some of tech’s biggest companies make smart home products, such as Amazon with its Echo speaker and Alphabet’s Nest smart thermostat. The devices are typically positioned as helpful life companions, including when people are at work or on vacation and want to remotely supervise their homes.
No groups or individuals appear to be tracking the use of internet-connected devices in domestic abuse, because the technology is relatively new, although it is rapidly catching on. In 2017, 29 million homes in the United States had some smart technology, according to a report by McKinsey, which estimated the number was growing by 31 percent a year.
Connected home devices have increasingly cropped up in domestic abuse cases over the past year, according to those working with victims of domestic violence. Those at help lines said more people were calling in the last 12 months about losing control of Wi-Fi-enabled doors, speakers, thermostats, lights and cameras. Lawyers also said they were wrangling with how to add language to restraining orders to cover smart home technology.
Muneerah Budhwani, who takes calls at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, said she started hearing stories about smart homes in abuse situations last winter.
Graciela Rodriguez, who runs a 30-bed emergency shelter at the Center for Domestic Peace in San Rafael, California, said some people had recently come in with tales of “the crazy-making things” like thermostats suddenly kicking up to 100 degrees or smart speakers turning on blasting music.
“They feel like they’re losing control of their home,” she said. “After they spend a few days here, they realise they were being abused.”
Smart home technology can be easily harnessed for misuse for several reasons. Tools like connected in-home security cameras are relatively inexpensive — some retail for $40 — and are straightforward to install. Usually, one person in a relationship takes charge of putting in the technology, knows how it works and has all the passwords. This gives that person the power to turn the technology against the other person.
Emergency responders said many victims of smart home-enabled abuse were women.
Connected home gadgets are largely installed by men, said Melissa Gregg, a research director at Intel working on the implications of smart home technology. Many women also do not have all the apps on their phones, said Jenny Kennedy, a postdoctoral research fellow at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, who is researching families that install smart home technology.
(One in three women and one in four men have been victims of physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner, according to a 2010 Centers for Disease Control report.)
One woman called it ‘jungle warfare’ because it was hard to know where the attacks were coming from.
The people who spoke to The Times about being harassed through smart home gadgetry were all women, many from wealthy enclaves where this type of technology has taken off. They declined to publicly use their names, citing safety and because some were in the process of leaving their abusers. Their stories were corroborated by domestic violence workers and lawyers who handled their cases.
Each said the use of internet-connected devices by their abusers was invasive — one called it a form of “jungle warfare” because it was hard to know where the attacks were coming from. They also described it as an asymmetry of power because their partners had control over the technology — and by extension, over them.
One of the women, a doctor in Silicon Valley, said her husband, an engineer, “controls the thermostat. He controls the lights. He controls the music.” She said, “Abusive relationships are about power and control, and he uses technology.”
She said she did not know how all of the technology worked or exactly how to remove her husband from the accounts. But she said she dreamed about retaking the technology soon.
“I have a specific exit plan that I’m in the process of implementing, and one of my fantasies is to be able to say, ‘OK Google, play whatever music I want,’” she said. Her plan with the smart thermostat, she said, was to “pull it out of the wall.”
When a victim uninstalls the devices, this can escalate a conflict, experts said. “The abuser can see it’s disabled, and that may trigger enhanced violence,” said Jennifer Becker, a lawyer at Legal Momentum, a women’s rights legal advocacy group.
Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, said disabling the devices could also further cut off a victim. “They’re not sure how their abuser is getting in and they’re not necessarily able to figure it out because they don’t know how the systems work,” Galperin said. “What they do is they just turn everything off, and that just further isolates them.”
Legal recourse may be limited. Abusers have learned to use smart home technology to further their power and control in ways that often fall outside existing criminal laws, Becker said. In some cases, she said, if an abuser circulates video taken by a connected indoor security camera, it could violate some states’ revenge porn laws, which aim to stop a former partner from sharing intimate photographs and videos online.
Advocates are beginning to educate emergency responders that when people get restraining orders, they need to ask the judge to include all smart home device accounts known and unknown to victims. Many people do not know to ask about this yet, Becker said. But even if people get restraining orders, remotely changing the temperature in a house or suddenly turning on the TV or lights may not contravene a no-contact order, she said.
Several law enforcement officials said the technology was too new to have shown up in their cases, although they suspected the activity was occurring.
“I’m sure that it’s happening,” said Zach Perron, a captain in the police department in Palo Alto, California. “It makes complete sense knowing what I know about the psychology of domestic violence suspects. Domestic violence is largely about control — people think of physical violence but there’s emotional violence, too.”

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10 July 2018

Debt trap: People imprisoned for crime are being punished twice


‘Do the crime, do the time,’’ they say. But often it isn’t that simple.
Being incarcerated is not the only punishment faced by those who are convicted and jailed. Prisoners are often punished financially. It is almost impossible for them to do simple things such as cancelling direct debits for an electricity or gas service; cancelling leases on rental properties; or paying mobile phone bills. When they leave prison, they can be hit with unexpected debts.

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28 June 2018

Independent monitor investigates banks’ Code breach reporting

Source: MEDIA RELEASE Thursday 28 June 2018

The independent Banking Code Compliance Monitoring Committee (CCMC) has today released a report examining, in detail, banks’ reporting of Code breaches in compliance with the Code of Banking Practice.

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21 June 2018

Fears of housing ‘fire sale’ as interest-only loans roll into principal plus interest

Source: ABC News

As property prices in Australia have climbed over the past few years, thousands of Australians desperate to get a foothold on the property ladder have used interest-only loans.
But the interest-only period on these loans doesn’t last forever.

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4 June 2018

18-163MR ASIC warns consumers about paying high fees for credit repair and debt advice services

ASIC is warning consumers about companies that claim they can fix a poor credit rating. ASIC is running a month-long campaign, with other Commonwealth, state and territory agencies, to help consumers understand that by using credit repair and debt management firms they may end up paying high fees.
Consumers should be aware these companies often fail to fix credit and debt issues, which can leave people in a worse financial situation.

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25 May 2018

18-149MR Cash Converters pays $650,000 due to poor debt collection practices

An ASIC surveillance found that Cash Converters Personal Finance Pty Ltd (‘Cash Converters’) had systematically failed to meet regulatory guidelines on debt collection practices, including by too frequently contacting consumers.
ASIC found that as a result of poor internal controls and policies Cash Converters routinely breached Regulatory Guide Debt collection guideline: for collectors and creditors (RG 96), which recommends that consumers be contacted regarding a debt not more than three times per week or 10 times per month. These guidelines are based on legislative prohibitions on harassment and coercion.

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