EXPLAINED: Major changes coming in 2019
THE New Year is upon us.
Like its July cousin, the first day of the calendar year brings with it a number of changes including new laws and regulations, fees and charges, taxes and benefits.
Here's what you need to know for January 1, 2019.
TRAIN FARES UP
Train, tram and bus fares across Victoria will increase by 2.2 per cent from January 1 in line with the consumer price index, in what the state government says is the lowest fare rise since 2014.
A two-hour, full-fare ticket will increase from $4.30 to $4.40, while an all-day ticket will increase from $8.60 to $8.80. Concession rates will increase from $2.15 to $2.20 and $4.30 to $4.40 respectively.
A seven-day, full-fare Myki pass will increase from $43 to $44, while the concession pass will increase from $21.50 to $22. An annual full-fare Myki pass will increase from $1683.50 to $1,722.50, while the concession pass will increase from $841.75 to $861.25.
For regional Victorians, the cost of getting around town will remain unchanged, with trips within the same zone capped at $2.40 for the fourth consecutive year.
Meanwhile, students will no longer have to pay for and carry the Public Transport Victoria School Student ID and will instead be able to use an approved school student ID to access concession travel.
Brisbane commuters will see their costs increase the following week on January 7, with TransLink announcing a 1.8 per cent rise in adult and concession fares.
An adult, single-zone ticket will increase from $4.70 to $4.80 but the concession rate remains unchanged at $2.40. The rate for an eight-zone ticket will increase from $28.40 to $28.90 for adults and from $14.20 to $14.50 for concession.
Users of the cheaper TransLink Go card, which offers further discounts for off-peak travel, will see a single-zone adult fare increase from $2.60-$3.25 to $2.65-$3.31, while concession fares will increase from $1.30-$1.63 to $1.32-$1.66.
The maximum eight-zone fare will increase from $15.69-$19.61 to $15.97-$19.96 for adults and $7.84-$9.81 to $7.98-$9.98 for concession.
NSW introduced its annual fare adjustments in July, increasing Opal fares by 2.2 per cent, adding about 39 cents a week to the average commuter's bill.
'TAMPON TAX' AXED
Feminine hygiene products will become cheaper from January 1 after Treasurer Josh Frydenberg secured agreement from state and territory treasurers in October to axe the so-called "tampon tax".
Sanitary items like tampons and pads will finally be exempted from the 10 per cent GST - joining other health products including nicotine patches, sunscreen and even Viagra - in a move that will cost $30 million in lost revenue a year.
"We think this is an unfair tax. We think it should be scrapped," Minister for Women Kelly O'Dwyer told Channel 7 at the time. "Millions of Australian women will benefit."
Greens Senator Janet Rice said it was a "huge win for all Australians who menstruate and shows the power of grassroots movements when we work together".
"I'm so pleased that finally, both major parties have listened to the huge groundswell of Australians who knew from the start how sexist and unfair this tax was," she said.
Liberal MP Craig Kelly, while supporting the change, warned that the GST was originally designed to apply across the board and the tampon tax would "push the line further still".
"When you carve exemptions out, there will always be a grey area about where it should be," he told Sky News. "The barbecue chicken versus the uncooked chicken. The sandwich versus the bread - the sandwich has the tax on it, the loaf of bread doesn't."
Liberal Democrats Senator David Leyonhjelm welcomed the decision but called for a total overhaul of the tax system to address the "arbitrary nature of the application of the GST".
"Unlike New Zealand's comprehensive GST, Australia's GST is highly discriminatory," he said. "If we must have a GST, then have it applied to all consumer goods and lift the income tax free threshold to $40,000 and cut personal and company tax rates to a flat 20 per cent to compensate."
POWER PRICE CUTS
AGL customers in Victoria will see their electricity prices come down by 1.6 per cent from January 1 for an average saving per household of $23 a year and $60 for small businesses.
Gas prices will come down by 0.9 per cent for residential customers and 1.2 per cent for small businesses, resulting in an average saving of $11 and $56 respectively.
The modest relief comes on the heels of price cuts in NSW, Queensland and South Australia in July, following AGL's eye-watering hikes of up to 20 per cent in 2017.
Origin Energy will hold all prices flat in Victoria and will continue to offer a 26 per cent discount for concession card customers and 17 per cent discount for other residential Victorian standing and non-discounted customers.
In NSW, ACT, Queensland and South Australia, an estimated 230,000 concession card holders on standing offers or non-discounted plans will get an automatic 10 per cent discount on electricity from January 1, for an average saving of $169.
EnergyAustralia will also hold electricity prices flat in Victoria from January 1, having already announced earlier this year no change to prices in NSW, South Australia and ACT and price reductions in Queensland in the new year.
The company said it was absorbing more than $15 million in additional costs in Victoria that would have worked out to a 1.9 per cent increase per household, adding $39 to the average annual bill.
Gas prices will increase by 4.2 per cent, or about $69 a year per household, but EnergyAustralia said customers could avoid the increase by switching to the Secure Saver plan, locking in 2018 rates for two years.
CREDIT CARD CRACKDOWN
The country's 10 largest credit card issuers, American Express, ANZ, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, Citi, CommBank, HSBC, Latitude, Macquarie, NAB and Westpac have agreed to clean up the way they deal with debt-laden customers.
The trial is in response to an ASIC report earlier this year that found more than one in six consumers, nearly two million people, were struggling with credit card debt - Reserve Bank figures show the nation owes nearly $52 billion.
In response, a number of providers are now trialling proactive measures such as tailored communications or structured payment arrangements to help consumers with potentially problematic debt or who are failing to repay balance transfers.
Other measures include restricting the amount by which consumers can exceed their credit limit to 10 per cent, taking a fairer approach to balance transfers such as allowing interest-free periods on new purchases, and enhancing disclosure about cancelling old credit cards.
Each provider is at different stages in implementing the voluntary changes.
A number of mandatory law reforms also come into effect from January 1, including a three-year responsible lending assessment. That means banks must not provide a credit card with a limit that the consumer can't repay within three years.
They will also be banned from providing unsolicited credit limit increase offers, backdating interest charges on balance transfers, and must offer the ability to request a credit limit reduction or card cancellation online.
"We will be monitoring lenders over the next two years to make sure they have taken action to address our concerns, and to ensure that consumer outcomes are improving in the credit card market," ASIC commissioner Sean Hughes said.
BAG BAN PENALTIES
Penalties for Western Australia's plastic bag ban come into effect on January 1 with retailers facing potential prosecution and fines of up to $5000.
Plastic bag suppliers and manufacturers who provide misleading information to retailers also risk being prosecuted and fined. The ban applies to all retailers, not just supermarkets, and all bags with handles with a thickness of 35 microns or less, even if they are biodegradable or compostable.
Queensland and Western Australia introduced plastic bag bans on July 1, bringing them into line with South Australia, the ACT, Northern Territory and Tasmania, but retailers in Western Australia were given six months to phase out their existing stocks.
Victoria's government has said it will ban plastic bags by the end of 2019, but NSW refuses to follow suit. Most major retailers including Coles and Woolworths instituted nationwide bans on July 1.
"Western Australia's plastic bag ban has been well supported by the community and I commend those who have backed the government's initiative and got on board - using alternatives to plastic bags," WA environment minister Stephen Dawson said in a statement.
"From January 1, 2019 it will be an offence for retailers to supply lightweight plastic bags - this includes small retail shops, takeaway food outlets and markets. Consumers can help by remembering to take their own reusable bags when they go shopping. Taking lightweight plastic bags out of the litter stream is a significant step towards protecting our environment."
'NO JAB NO PLAY'
Meanwhile in Western Australia, the state government is ramping up its vaccination crackdown with the introduction of a "No Jab No Play" policy.
From January 1, childcare centres, kindergartens and schools will be required to collect and report on the immunisation status of all students and may be shut down by the state's chief health officer in the event of an outbreak of vaccine-preventable contagious disease.
The health department will use the data to chase up families for vaccination and if necessary exclude the children in the event of a disease outbreak, with potential fines of $1000 for the person in charge if they permit a banned child to attend the facility.
Under the second phase of the plan, the state government will introduce a bill seeking to ban under-vaccinated children from enrolling in childcare from 2019, and kindergarten from 2020.
NSW, Victoria and Queensland have already introduced similar laws, and South Australia is planning to proceed in the near future. The federal government already withholds family payments for parents of unvaccinated children under the "No Jab No Pay" policy.
Western Australia's immunisation rate is lower than the national average, with two-year-olds in the state recording the country's lowest immunisation coverage of 89.1 per cent.
To achieve herd immunity, 95 per cent of children must be fully immunised to effectively prevent outbreaks of highly infectious diseases such as measles.
"In Australia, we are lucky to have an immunisation program which protects children from 16 vaccine preventable diseases, yet we are still seeing children who are not fully immunised, putting other children and the broader community at risk," Western Australia health minister Roger Cook said in a statement.
TAXPAYER BABY BUNDLE
In NSW, new parents discharged from hospital from January 1 will receive a taxpayer-funded $300 "Baby Bundle" filled with baby products and information to help parents "welcome their newborn into the world".
The non-means-tested "bundle of joy", which includes a sleeping bag, play and change mats, thermometers and a first aid kit, is part of the government's $157 million parents package announced in the state budget.
Described as "a major win for families in NSW", it also includes a muslin wrap, baby toothbrush, breast pads, board books, face cloth, baby wipes, hand sanitiser and barrier cream.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the Baby Bundle would provide parents and caregivers with products and information to support the health, development and wellbeing of their babies.
"We know there are lots of expenses associated with having a child, so this bundle will help alleviate some of those cost pressures," she said in a statement.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard added, "A new baby coming home is a great time but it also can be challenging and this bundle aims to help parents enjoy the moment rather than stressing out."
If your baby is born at home, you can request a Baby Bundle when you register your baby through NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages. If your baby is born interstate or overseas, and you have a current NSW home address, you can request a Baby Bundle via email.
It will be delivered to your nominated NSW address free of charge.
Just under 96,000 babies were born in NSW last year. The NSW government anticipates that around 50,000 Baby Bundles will be given out in the first six months of the year by 87 public and private maternity hospitals across NSW.
QANTAS GOES HUNGRY
Qantas Frequent Flyer members will no longer be able to earn points by booking meals from January 1 with the airline shutting down its Qantas Restaurants scheme launched in 2014.
The partnership with TripAdvisor-owned platform Dimmi.com.au allowed members to earn points by booking at more than 4000 restaurants, earning 100 Qantas Points for each member of the group.
"Due to changes in the program, from January 1, 2019 you will no longer be able to book a table or earn points via Qantas Restaurants," a brief notice on the website said. "You can book a table up until December 31, 2018 and dine until January 31, 2019."
It's understood Qantas and Dimmi came to a mutual decision to end the partnership and that the airline was in discussions about new ways for members to earn points for dining out.
Qantas Frequent Flyer members can still earn points at Rockpool Dining Group's 60-plus restaurants at a rate of two points per $1 at 'premium' and 'casual' locations like Rockpool Bar & Grill, Spice Temple and Fratelli Fresh, and one point per $1 at 'fast casual' locations like Burger Project, Fratelli Famous and Sake Jr.
"Members can still earn Qantas Points when they dine out by paying for their meal with a
Qantas Points-earning card at any cafe or restaurant," a spokeswoman said. "They can also earn points and use them to pay their bill at Rockpool Dining Group venues across the country."
NAB'S ATM 'GRINCH'
Starting on January 1, National Australia Bank customers will be forced to pay $2 to take money out from more than 3000 ATMs they previously used for free since 2009.
The move comes as a result of the bank parting ways with the RediATM network, which are owned and operated by payments provider Cuscal.
CommBank, NAB, ANZ and Westpac all announced last year they were ditching the hated ATM withdrawal fees charged to customers of other banks that cost consumers an estimated $500 million a year.
RediATMs - typically located in places like convenience stores and pubs - were left out of the fee waiver announcement, as was CommBank's network of Bankwest ATMs mostly located in 7-Eleven stores.
Now even NAB customers will have to go back to paying to use them. "Just when you thought the days of ATM fees were over, NAB customers will soon have to pay to access the 3000 or so Redi ATMs," Mozo spokesman Tom Godfrey told the Herald Sun.
"With ING, Macquarie and ME Bank happily refunding customers who use private ATMs, if you're sick and tired of these fees it's time to move your money."
A NAB spokeswoman defended the move in a statement to the paper, saying customers could still withdraw cash free-of-charge from more than 7000 ATMs nationally.
"For this reason NAB has decided to no longer be part of the RediATM network from January 1, 2019," she said. "The way Australians are using cash is changing fast with ATM use declining by 20 per cent over the past five years."
DISABILITY SUPPORT PRISON
Thousands of disability support pension recipients who wind up behind bars will be able to continue receiving the payment after they're released.
While prisoners can't get the DSP while they're locked up, they are able to "suspend" the payment for up to two years. The federal government had planned to reduce the maximum suspension period to 13 weeks from January 1, bringing it in line with other welfare payments including Newstart.
The change was announced in the 2018 federal budget and was expected to save the government $5.2 million over five years. An estimated 2200 people would have been affected, including those who had pleaded not guilty and are still awaiting trial.
They would have been forced to reapply for the DSP under new, tougher requirements, which legal rights groups said would lead to many being pushed onto the lower Newstart payment, increasing their risk of returning to prison.
Following a sustained lobbying campaign by Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, the government quietly backflipped on the change in December's mid-year budget update.
"The result of the pressure we managed to bring has resulted in the government retaining the existing arrangements with a suspension period of two years," AFDO CEO Ross Joyce said in a statement.
"This would have had a significant detrimental effect on the lives of any person with disability on the DSP who it would apply to, and the original change just made no sense and was bad policy."