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How to sign up for energy bill relief

<p>In the face of rising living costs, thousands of Australians have turned to their energy providers for financial assistance, highlighting the community spirit and support available during these challenging times. Energy companies like AGL Australia and Energy Australia are stepping up to help their customers manage their bills and find relief.</p> <p>AGL Australia has seen a significant increase in its financial hardship program, with 10,000 customers joining in the past year. Energy Australia receives 1,000 calls every weekday from customers seeking bill relief. These numbers reflect the proactive measures Australians are taking to manage their expenses and the readiness of energy providers to offer support.</p> <p>Crystal Noronha, who has worked at the AGL call centre for 11 years, has witnessed firsthand the growing need for assistance. "There's a lot of distress in their voice, there's anxiety," Noronha <a href="https://www.9news.com.au/national/thousands-of-customers-signing-up-for-energy-bill-relief-with-millions-more-eligible/9dc9535b-f94b-42f4-aeaf-6534dc898df2" target="_blank" rel="noopener">shared with 9NEWS</a>. "Some hide away from sharing their difficulties, but we're here to help them."</p> <p>Customers need not face extreme financial hardship to seek help, as everyone is eligible for some form of assistance.</p> <p>Gavin Dufty, from the charity St Vincent De Paul, underscores the commitment of energy companies to support their customers. "Every energy company has a legal obligation to provide support for all households regardless," Dufty explains. The assistance offered varies based on the provider and individual circumstances, ranging from bill extensions and more manageable payment plans to, in some cases, complete debt waivers.</p> <p>Adding to this support, the federal government is taking significant steps to ease the burden on households. Starting July 1, every household will receive a $300 credit into their energy account, providing substantial relief. Additionally, a free government website is available for customers to compare energy plan prices and find the most cost-effective options.</p> <p>These measures reflect a collaborative effort between energy providers and the government to ensure Australians can navigate the financial challenges of today's world. By offering practical solutions and financial relief, they are making a positive impact on the lives of many, ensuring that no one is left to face these difficulties alone.</p> <p><em>Image: Getty</em></p>

Money & Banking

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Australia can afford to bulk bill all GP visits. So why don’t we?

<div class="theconversation-article-body"> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/yuting-zhang-1144393">Yuting Zhang</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/the-university-of-melbourne-722">The University of Melbourne</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/karinna-saxby-1045932">Karinna Saxby</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/the-university-of-melbourne-722">The University of Melbourne</a></em></p> <p>Being able to afford health care is a <a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/media-centre/media-releases/more-people-putting-seeing-health-professionals-due-cost">pressing issue</a> for many Australians. And encouraging GPs to bulk bill is <a href="https://theconversation.com/cheaper-medicines-and-a-new-approach-for-mental-health-care-will-the-budget-make-us-healthier-229612">one measure</a> the government is taking to ease the strain.</p> <p>So what would it take for GPs to bulk bill everyone? In our <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-8462.12553">recent paper</a>, we calculated this is possible and affordable, given the current health budget.</p> <p>But we show recent incentives for GPs to bulk bill aren’t enough to get us there.</p> <p>Instead, we need to adjust health policies to increase bulk-billing rates and to make our health system more sustainable.</p> <h2>How do the incentives work?</h2> <p>In recent years, the government has introduced various incentives to try and encourage GPs to bulk bill (so patients pay nothing out-of-pocket).</p> <p>The most recent has been the “<a href="https://www.health.gov.au/our-work/increases-to-bulk-billing-incentive-payments#1-november-2023-changes">triple bulk-billing incentives</a>” or “triple bonus” for short. These have been in place since November 2023.</p> <p>Under these incentives, GPs in metropolitan areas are paid a A$20.65 bonus if they bulk bill concession card holders or children under 16 years. GPs in rural and remote areas are paid $31.35-$39.65 extra. These bonus payments are in addition to regular Medicare rebates GPs receive.</p> <p>But when we looked at whether these latest incentives are likely to work to boost bulk billing, we found a city-country divide.</p> <h2>City GPs may not be convinced</h2> <p>We worked out the triple bonus will not help most people in metropolitan areas.</p> <p>That’s because in these areas the bonus is much lower than what patients currently pay out-of-pocket. In other words, if GPs did bulk bill these groups, their income would be lower than what they could have charged. So the bonus wouldn’t be enough incentive for them to bulk bill.</p> <p>For example, we found in greater Melbourne, the average out-of-pocket costs for a non-bulk billed GP visit <a href="https://melbourneinstitute.unimelb.edu.au/research/HALE-Hub/data">is about</a> $30-$56 depending on the suburb. This is much higher than the $20.65 triple bonus amount in metropolitan regions. We see similar patterns across all metropolitan areas.</p> <h2>But country GPs may be swayed</h2> <p>The picture is different in rural and remote areas. Here, the average out-of-pocket cost for a non-bulk billed GP visit <a href="https://melbourneinstitute.unimelb.edu.au/research/HALE-Hub/data">varies substantially</a> – around $28-52 in rural regions and $32-123 in remote areas. The highest cost on the mainland was $79 but GP visits on Lord Howe Island were the most expensive overall, at $123.</p> <p>For patients living in areas where their actual payment is less than the bonus amount, the incentive does help. In other words, it would be financially advantageous for GPs to bulk bill these patients, but not where the out-of-pocket costs are higher than the bonus.</p> <p>Our <a href="https://melbourneinstitute.unimelb.edu.au/research/HALE-Hub/data">online map</a> shows where GPs are most likely to bulk bill. The map below shows how out-of-pocket costs vary around Australia.</p> <p><iframe id="SPzgj" class="tc-infographic-datawrapper" style="border: none;" src="https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/SPzgj/" width="100%" height="400px" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <h2>How about bulk billing for all?</h2> <p>The picture is a little more complex when we start talking about bulk billing all GP visits – regardless of location or patients’ concession card status.</p> <p>We worked out this would cost about $950 million a year for all GP services, or $700 million a year for face-to-face GP consultations.</p> <p>This is within reach under the current budget, especially for face-to-face GP consultations.</p> <p>The government has earmarked <a href="https://www.health.gov.au/ministers/the-hon-mark-butler-mp/media/budget-2023-24-building-a-stronger-medicare#:%7E:text=%243.5%20billion%20in%20bulk%20billing,40%2Dyear%20history%20of%20Medicare">$3.5 billion</a> over <a href="https://archive.budget.gov.au/2023-24/bp2/download/bp2_2023-24.pdf">five years</a> for the “triple bonus” incentives. That’s $700 million a year.</p> <h2>We can afford to, but should we?</h2> <p>Introducing free GP visits for all would require careful consideration, as it would encourage more GP visits.</p> <p>This might be a good thing, particularly if people had previously skipped beneficial care <a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/media-centre/media-releases/more-people-putting-seeing-health-professionals-due-cost">due to high costs</a>. However, it may encourage more people to see their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1574006400801675">GP unnecessarily</a>, taking away limited resources from those who really need them. This could ultimately increase wait times for everyone.</p> <p>So providing free GP visits for all may not be efficient or sustainable, even if it’s within the budget.</p> <p>But paying more than $50 for a GP visit, as many do, seems too expensive and also makes the health-care system less efficient.</p> <p>That’s because primary care is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/primary-health-care">often considered</a> high-value and preventive care. So if people can’t afford to go to the GP, it can lead to more expensive hospital and emergency room costs down the track.</p> <p>So we need to strike a balance to make primary care more affordable <em>and</em> sustainable.</p> <h2>How do we strike a balance?</h2> <p>One, concession card holders and children should get free primary care regardless of where they live. This would allow more equitable care to populations who need health care the most. Bulk bulling children is a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S016726812200292X#:%7E:text=Beside%20the%20benefits%20for%20the,and%20Kuh%2C%202002%3B%20Centers%20for">long-term investment</a>, which may delay onset of diseases, and prevent intergenerational poverty and poor health.</p> <p>Two, the government could also provide free primary care to all people in rural and remote areas. It can do this by lowering the triple bonus to match what GPs currently charge. Over time, GPs and the government can evaluate and <a href="https://www.auspublaw.org/blog/2023/4/the-civil-conscription-sub-clause-in-section-51xxiiia-of-the-australian-constitution-no-impediment-to-reform-of-medicare">negotiate</a> fair prices for GPs to charge. This can be adjusted in line with inflation and other measures.</p> <p>Three, the government can increase Medicare rebates (the amount Medicare pays a doctor for a GP visit) so patients not covered above only pay about $20-30 a visit. We consider this an affordable amount that will not result in more use of primary care than necessary.</p> <p>Four, the government can design a policy to reduce unnecessary GP visits that take away limited GP time from high-need patients. For example, patients currently need to see GPs to get <a href="https://theconversation.com/specialist-referral-rules-havent-changed-much-since-the-70s-but-australias-health-needs-sure-have-144506">referral letters</a> although they already have an established specialist for their ongoing chronic conditions.</p> <p>Five, the government can provide GPs funding needed to improve patient outcomes and reward GPs who provide <a href="https://bmjopenquality.bmj.com/content/10/1/e001127.abstract">high-quality preventive care</a>. The current fee-for-service funding model hurts good doctors who keep their patients healthy because doctors are not paid if their patients do not come back.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/230204/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/yuting-zhang-1144393"><em>Yuting Zhang</em></a><em>, Professor of Health Economics, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/the-university-of-melbourne-722">The University of Melbourne</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/karinna-saxby-1045932">Karinna Saxby</a>, Research Fellow, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/the-university-of-melbourne-722">The University of Melbourne</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Shutterstock </em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-can-afford-to-bulk-bill-all-gp-visits-so-why-dont-we-230204">original article</a>.</em></p> </div>

Money & Banking

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Cancer survivor slapped with $15,000 water bill

<p>An Aussie man has been slapped with a $15,645.86 water bill after the <span style="font-family: Inter, sans-serif; font-size: 16px; letter-spacing: -0.16px; background-color: #ffffff;">Goulburn Mulwaree Council </span>claimed he had used more than 35,000 litres a day over 104 days. </p> <p>Anthony, who lives on his own in the Southern Tablelands, said that his bill is normally around $290 and that he uses about 130 litres of water a day, the average amount a person would use according to Sydney Water. </p> <p>"A 15-and-a-half thousand dollar water bill, they can go and get themselves nicked," he told <em>A Current Affair</em>. </p> <p>"I'm not paying it, no way in the world."</p> <p>The local mechanic is a cancer survivor, but the disease has made it difficult for him to communicate, so he went to a council meeting with his father, Neil, who talked on his behalf. </p> <p>"I couldn't believe it when he showed me the bill," Neil said. </p> <p>"Currently now, we're at this point in stage where we can't get any reasonable common sense from the council.</p> <p>"I said, 'It's got to be the crook meter', and she said, 'We've had a lot of meters tested and they've all come back positive. </p> <p>"And I said, 'What about this meter?' and she said, 'It'll cost you $50 to have it tested but there'll be nothing wrong with it'."</p> <p>Anthony is accused of using more than 3.6million litres of water,  which is equivalent to filling two Olympic sized swimming pools - or having five taps running all-day. </p> <p>He has received multiple emails from the local council asking him to prove his claim. </p> <p>The local mechanic also said that he received an overdue bill notice ordering him to pay it immediately. </p> <p>"I got an email saying I can have a payment plan and all the rest of it... like, get real," he said. </p> <p>"I'm not going to pay it."</p> <p>Anthony uses his own water tank to water his lawn, fill his fishpond and wash his car, and only uses town waters to wash up and shower. </p> <p>He has been asked to prepare a detailed letter of his water usage, which will be presented at a council meeting later this month.</p> <p><em>Image: Nine</em></p> <p> </p>

Money & Banking

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Kochie reveals the simple way to halve your grocery bill

<p>David Koch has revealed the simple trick to help you save big bucks at the supermarket as the cost of living crisis continues to hit hard. </p> <p>Kochie, who is the Compare the Market's economic director, calculated that Aussies can save up to $100 per trip to the grocery shop by making the switch to home brands. </p> <p>According to research of major Australian supermarkets, the average household can save big bucks by choosing not to buy well-known brands, which can lead to a saving of $5,000 per year. </p> <p>"So, when you're doing your supermarket shop, what's in a brand name? Well, let me tell you - plenty," Kochie said in a video posted to the Compare the Market Instagram account. </p> <p>"You are paying plenty more for that loyalty to a brand that you love."</p> <blockquote class="instagram-media" style="background: #FFF; border: 0; border-radius: 3px; box-shadow: 0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width: 540px; min-width: 326px; padding: 0; width: calc(100% - 2px);" data-instgrm-permalink="https://www.instagram.com/reel/C57UwVrvSZ5/?utm_source=ig_embed&utm_campaign=loading" data-instgrm-version="14"> <div style="padding: 16px;"> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; align-items: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 40px; margin-right: 14px; width: 40px;"> </div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 100px;"> </div> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 60px;"> </div> </div> </div> <div style="padding: 19% 0;"> </div> <div style="display: block; height: 50px; margin: 0 auto 12px; width: 50px;"> </div> <div style="padding-top: 8px;"> <div style="color: #3897f0; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: 550; line-height: 18px;">View this post on Instagram</div> </div> <div style="padding: 12.5% 0;"> </div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; margin-bottom: 14px; align-items: center;"> <div> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 50%; height: 12.5px; width: 12.5px; transform: translateX(0px) translateY(7px);"> </div> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; height: 12.5px; transform: rotate(-45deg) translateX(3px) translateY(1px); width: 12.5px; flex-grow: 0; margin-right: 14px; margin-left: 2px;"> </div> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 50%; height: 12.5px; width: 12.5px; transform: translateX(9px) translateY(-18px);"> </div> </div> <div style="margin-left: 8px;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 20px; width: 20px;"> </div> <div style="width: 0; height: 0; border-top: 2px solid transparent; border-left: 6px solid #f4f4f4; border-bottom: 2px solid transparent; transform: translateX(16px) translateY(-4px) rotate(30deg);"> </div> </div> <div style="margin-left: auto;"> <div style="width: 0px; border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4; border-right: 8px solid transparent; transform: translateY(16px);"> </div> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; flex-grow: 0; height: 12px; width: 16px; transform: translateY(-4px);"> </div> <div style="width: 0; height: 0; border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4; border-left: 8px solid transparent; transform: translateY(-4px) translateX(8px);"> </div> </div> </div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center; margin-bottom: 24px;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 224px;"> </div> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 144px;"> </div> </div> <p style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 17px; margin-bottom: 0; margin-top: 8px; overflow: hidden; padding: 8px 0 7px; text-align: center; text-overflow: ellipsis; white-space: nowrap;"><a style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 17px; text-decoration: none;" href="https://www.instagram.com/reel/C57UwVrvSZ5/?utm_source=ig_embed&utm_campaign=loading" target="_blank" rel="noopener">A post shared by Compare the Market AU (@comparethemarket_aus)</a></p> </div> </blockquote> <p>Compare the Market took to a major supermarket and bought 25 items from big name brands, and another 25 similar items from a challenger supermarket selling cheaper home brands.</p> <p>Based on substituting big-brand products for lesser-known labels, grocery bills would fall from $201.19 a week to $103.51, taking the weekly saving up to $97.68.</p> <p>"Now, multiply that weekly shop over a whole year and that's a saving of over $5,000."</p> <p>"Almost three return economy airfares to London."</p> <p>Everyday Aussies are continuing to struggle with the rising cost of groceries, with the price of bread and cereal increasing by 7.3 per cent in the year to March, an official monthly measure of inflation showed. </p> <p><em>Image credits: Instagram </em></p>

Money & Banking

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"There's no way": Man receives $52 billion tax bill

<p>An American man has been left confused after receiving a letter from the government claiming he owed $52 billion in unpaid taxes. </p> <p>Barry Tangert got two letters in the mail from the state of Pennsylvania, opening the first to find a refund check from the federal government for over $900.</p> <p>His joy was short-lived though as he opened the second letter to find the income billing notice from the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue claiming that he owed a jaw-dropping $52,950,744,735.28 ($34,576,826,561.47 AUD).</p> <p>“I knew it was an obvious blunder. I don’t even make over $100,000 a year, so there’s no way I could owe anywhere near that,” Barry Tangert told local outlet <em>News 8</em>.</p> <p>The total sum was so large it didn’t even fit on a single line on the document.</p> <p>Tangert immediately knew it was a mistake, with the astonishing number being more than triple the $11 billion America’s richest man Elon Musk says he owed the government in 2022.</p> <p>How the error made it all the way to his doorstep is still a mystery to Tangert.</p> <p>“I don’t know if it was a computer glitch in the transmission or if it was an input error from my tax preparer,” Tangert said, noting that his tax preparer filed an amendment after noticing an error on his 2022 return.</p> <p>He reached out to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue’s customer service line, which also provided little help to the baffled man.</p> <p>“The first thing he said was, ‘You had a good year.’ And I said, ‘I wish,’” Tangert said.</p> <p>Fortunately, the state department has since resolved the issue, which it chalked up to wrong numbers simply being put into the system.</p> <p><em>Image credits: WGAL News 8</em></p> <p> </p>

Money & Banking

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Tourist slapped with $225k bill after simple mistake

<p>An American tourist has revealed the moment he was charged with a $US143k (AU$225k) bill after a short holiday to Switzerland. </p> <p>Rene Remund and his wife Linda went on the trip last September.</p> <p>Prior to their travels, Remund made sure to inform his mobile phone provider, T-Mobile, that he was going overseas and as a customer of 30 years, he was told he was “covered”.</p> <p>So, with no worries at all, the tourist shared photos of his moments in the Swiss countryside with friends and family via photo messages. </p> <p>Imagine his surprise when he came home to a six-figure bill, after he racked up thousands and thousands of dollars in daily roaming costs. </p> <p>“I get this T-Mobile bill and it doesn’t bother me very much because I was reading $143,” he explained, adding it wasn’t until he went to pay the bill that he realised a few more zeros were involved.</p> <p>“I look at the bill and I say, ‘excuse me’,” he said.</p> <p>“$143,000 … are you guys crazy?”</p> <p>According to the bill, Remund had racked up 9.5 gigabytes of data while in Europe, which cost him thousands of dollars each day. While it wasn't a huge amount of data, not being covered by roaming fees will cause a user to run up a huge bill very quickly. </p> <p>“I called [T-Mobile] and the girl put me on hold for a while,” he explained.</p> <p>“She said let me check this out and I’ll get back to you. She gets back and says, yeah this is a good bill.</p> <p>“I said, ‘what do you mean it’s a good bill?’ And she says ‘well, this is what you owe’.</p> <p>“I said ‘you’re kidding me … you’re crazy’.”</p> <p>After confirming that his bill was in fact  AU$225,000, Remund hired a lawyer to argue the fact that he was covered for international roaming. </p> <p>His lawyer issued a letter to the president of T-Mobile, and they only received a reply a few days ago. </p> <p>The letter from T-Mobile allegedly said that the service provider was “sorry” for the charges, and that Remund would receive a “credit” to eliminate the entire bill. </p> <p>In an email shared to local media <em>Scripps News Tampa</em>, the mobile phone provider said that customers should always “check the travel features of their plan, such as international data roaming, before departing”.</p> <p>“If a customer is on an older plan that doesn’t include international roaming for data and calling, they’ll need to make sure they’re using aeroplane mode and wi-fi when using data to be certain the device doesn’t connect to an international network.”</p> <p><em style="box-sizing: inherit; margin: 0px; padding: 0px; border: 0px; font-size: 16px; vertical-align: baseline; color: #323338; font-family: Figtree, Roboto, 'Noto Sans Hebrew', 'Noto Kufi Arabic', 'Noto Sans JP', sans-serif; background-color: #ffffff; outline: none !important;">Images: ABC Action News</em></p> <p> </p>

Travel Trouble

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Millions of Aussies set for power bill relief

<p>Millions of Aussies are set for some financial relief, with electricity costs set to drop by up to 7 per cent in the coming months. </p> <p>The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) and Victoria's Essential Services Commission (ESC) both released their draft default market offers - the maximum energy retailers are allowed to charge customers - for the 2024-25 financial year. </p> <p>Under the AER draft, residents in Sydney, Newcastle and the Hunter on the default offer will pay between 3 and 3.4 per cent less for electricity starting from July 1. </p> <p>The biggest drop is set for Victoria, with the ESC proposing a 6.4 per cent decrease. </p> <p>Those in Western Sydney, the Illawarra, and South Coast, will see their electricity bills decrease by 1.9 to 7.1 per cent. </p> <p>South Australians will receive a drop between 0.5 and 2.5 per cent. </p> <p>A number of small business customers will also benefit from lower power bill costs with 9.7 per cent for Sydney, Newcastle and the Hunter; 4.4 per cent for Western Sydney and the South Coast; 0.3 per cent for South-East Queensland; 8.2 per cent for South Australia; and 7 per cent for Victoria.</p> <p>Energy Minister Chris Bowen welcomed the news of lower power bill costs, but acknowledged that it will continue to play a part in the cost of living challenges faced by many Australians. </p> <p>"This is encouraging news," he said.</p> <p>"Encouraging for those small businesses and families who will receive lower energy bills as a result.</p> <p>"But nobody should suggest that there aren't real cost of living pressures around the world and in Australia, and energy prices are of course part of that and will continue to be."</p> <p>Not everyone will see a drop, with customers in the rest of regional NSW to get a small increase of 0.9 per cent, while the default offer for South East Queensland will increase by up to 2.7 per cent.</p> <p>While not all households are on the default offer, Bowen said that the AER's decision will also affect those not on the offer. </p> <p>"This either impacts directly or indirectly your energy bill," he said.</p> <p>"Directly for those on the default market offer. For those who aren't on the direct market offer, indirectly - the energy companies have to benchmark themselves against this, tell their consumers how they compare to this, and it provides very real pressure on them to match it.</p> <p>"If they don't, consumers will know about it and will make choices accordingly.</p> <p>"It's partly about those on the default market offer, but it actually impacts on all our bills indirectly."</p> <p>AER chair Clare Savage said that the cost of living crisis was the main contributor for their draft decision. </p> <p>"We know that economic conditions have put pressure on many Australians and the increases in electricity prices over the last two years has made energy less affordable for many households," she said. </p> <p>"In light of this, the AER has, in this decision, placed increased weight on protecting consumers." </p> <p>The draft decision is not final, with both the AER and ESC to receive consultation and feedback from stakeholders before confirming their default market offers in May.</p> <p><em>Image: Getty</em></p>

Money & Banking

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"My unexpected $223,000 overseas bill"

<p>Jeffrey Yates had just embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday with his wife to celebrate their wedding anniversary.</p> <p>Instead, he ended up racking up a whopping $223,255 bill, the biggest claim his insurance company had seen during 2017.</p> <p>The 71-year-old from Western Australia said the pair’s much-anticipated trip had started off well.</p> <p>“The trip was a particularly special one as it was our 50th wedding anniversary, so it was something we’d been looking forward to for quite some time,” Mr Yates told <strong><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><a href="http://www.news.com.au/travel/travel-advice/health-safety/my-unexpected-223000-overseas-bill/news-story/94cd850899f9e1367bf6f3fb49621307">news.com.au.</a></span></strong></p> <p>“We started in Dubai, and then went over to Athens. From there, we jumped on a cruise from Athens to Barcelona.”</p> <p>But things soon took a turn when Jeffrey was struck with a series of illnesses while in Italy.</p> <p>“We were only a week in when my health started to deteriorate,” he said. “I contracted legionnaires’ disease and pneumonia which led to me discovering that I had emphysema on the trip.</p> <p>“The experience was quite scary and my wife and our two friends had to leave the cruise early to assist during my recovery.”</p> <p>He ended up in hospital for more than a month.</p> <p>“Within three days they’d dropped us off in Naples to see a specialist hospital, which led to 16 days in intensive care. This was followed by an extended stay in hospital.</p> <p>“All up, I was out of action for 47 days. After all was said and done, the total came to well over $220,000 … It was an extremely difficult situation.”</p> <p>Jeff says that while the couple always take out travel insurance, it was more for his wife who has ongoing health issues. He hadn’t anticipated he would need it.</p> <p>“It’s not something you think about, especially given how quickly those transportation and hospital bills can add up,” he said.</p> <p>“Of course, we were disappointed that such a long-awaited trip had been cut short, but we are grateful that it wasn’t worse and that we weren’t left out of pocket.”</p> <p>He says his experience show that all travellers need to protect themselves when travelling – as you really never know what could happen.</p> <p>Jeff still has ongoing health issues that he is being monitored for, including breathing issues for which he still requires oxygen.</p> <p><em>Images: Getty</em></p>

Travel Trouble

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How to avoid mobile phone bill horror stories when travelling

<p>"I'm sorry, calls to this number are not allowed, please try again later". This. Again. At 1am standing outside what I thought was our Galway Airbnb, but instead was a popular alley for Irish revellers to relieve themselves. Brilliant.</p> <p>After begging a convenience store manager, borrowing a phone and stealing some local wi-fi, we made it to bed before 3am (one-star rating for the Airbnb host, naturally). Such was the power of the phone company when you're on holiday, I still got pinged far-too-high amounts for calls and data used to attempt a check-in at the Irish abode.</p> <p>A reader recently contacted me wanting to avoid such a conundrum by asking for the best SIM cards available in Europe. Thankfully, EU law has recently shielded travellers from harsh cross-border roaming charges by ruling that providers cannot charge excessively for access to rival networks in fellow EU nations.</p> <p>You'll see the kiosks hawking pre-paid SIM packages at many major airports. If you want the dependability a SIM provides, assess your needs and shop around. </p> <p>Better yet, get to know your smartphone better and use the whole range of mobile apps that will soon make international call and text roaming redundant. Organising hotels, taxis, tours, dinner reservations as well as calling home and making your friends and colleagues jealous with holiday snaps can all be done with a wi-fi connections, which are readily available and far cheaper (if not free).</p> <p><strong>Avoid phone bill shock when you're away</strong></p> <ul> <li>Contact your mobile phone company rep about your destination and length of stay to see what add-ons and spending caps may be best.</li> <li>Only purchase local SIMs if you're in the country more than a week, have an unplanned itinerary or will have no free wi-fi at your accommodation.</li> <li>If you're on a per-day bundle, choose a few days to be on-the-grid and turn off your mobile data on other days.</li> <li>Go wi-fi only, in North American, Asian and European cities it's readily available.</li> <li>Embrace apps like Uber, Gett, WhatsApp, OpenTable and TripAdvisor to book taxis, call home and book restaurants and tours using hotel wi-fi and thus limiting calls.</li> </ul> <p><em>Image credit: Shutterstock</em></p> <p><em>Written by Josh Martin. Republished with permission of <a href="http://www.stuff.co.nz/" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><strong><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Stuff.co.nz</span></strong></a>.</em></p>

Travel Tips

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Energy bill relief to benefit just one Aussie demographic

<p>Nearly half a million older Australians will receive hundreds of dollars in energy bill relief as the federal government looks to battle rising power prices.</p> <p>Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth revealed that all Commonwealth seniors health card holders will be given up to $500 per household.</p> <p>The 490,000-plus recipients will include an extra 16,320 people granted access to the card after the federal government introduced higher income thresholds for eligibility in November 2022.</p> <p>The new income limits are $90,000 for singles and $144,000 (combined) for couples.</p> <p>The government claimed this would benefit 52,000 older people by 2026-27.</p> <p>Rishworth explained the energy relief would be available from July 2023.</p> <p>The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) released its final determination on May 25, with a revised price increase higher than the March draft that saw a 20 to 22 per cent rise.</p> <p>AER chair Clare Savage said it had been a “difficult decision” but high wholesale energy costs continued to hike up retail prices.</p> <p>“No one wants to see rising prices, and we recognise this is a difficult time, that’s why it’s important for consumers to shop around for a better deal,” she said.</p> <p>Following the AER’s announcement, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton appeared on <em>Today</em> and said Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had “lied” to Australians about energy prices.</p> <p>“Let’s be very clear about it, he promised on 97 occasions your bill would go down by $275,” he told <em>Today</em> host Karl Stefanovic.</p> <p>“I think the government’s completely underestimating how much families and small businesses are hurting at the moment.”</p> <p>The bill comes shortly after the Australian Energy Regulator revealed electric prices were set to increase by 25 per cent for about 600,000 customers across three states from July 1.</p> <p>The federal government’s latest budget committed to $3 billion in financial support for those struggling to pay their power bill.</p> <p><em>Image credit: Shutterstock</em></p>

Money & Banking

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"I'm going rogue": Kochie gives away $3000 moments after quitting Sunrise

<p dir="ltr">When <em>Sunrise </em>host of 21 years David ‘Kochie’ Koch announced that <a href="https://www.oversixty.com.au/news/news/the-world-s-best-job-kochie-quits-sunrise">he would be parting ways with the popular breakfast TV show</a>, it should have been safe to assume that that was the only shock in store for viewers. </p> <p dir="ltr">However, Kochie had other ideas, making a bold - and generous - move, all while hinting that there was plenty more in store for his final two weeks at the helm with co-host Natalie Barr.</p> <p dir="ltr">The two were running the segment known as Bill Barrel when things took a turn, with Kochie explaining how “the rising cost of living is putting pressure on Aussies right across the country”, and how the team over at <em>Sunrise </em>wanted to offer relief and support where they could.</p> <p dir="ltr">“So,” Natalie added, “we are paying your bills.” </p> <p dir="ltr">The pair proceeded to spin the barrel, before pulling out a sheet of paper with the name of their lucky recipient - Melanie Turner from Brisbane. </p> <p dir="ltr">They were quick to get a delighted Melanie on the phone, and Kochie was all too eager to declare “congratulations, you’re this morning’s Bill Barrel winner!” </p> <p dir="ltr">Melanie, of course, thanked them for the happy surprise, before Natalie asked just what it was that she needed to pay off. </p> <p dir="ltr">“It’s my car rego,” Melanie said, “[it’s] due today, as a matter of fact.”</p> <p dir="ltr">She then revealed that her bill came to a total of $520 - an amount she was immensely grateful to be receiving. </p> <p dir="ltr">But that wasn’t the end of Melanie’s good fortune, with Natalie sharing “we’re feeling generous. Kochie’s feeling generous. He’s giving away cash today. We’re going to give you $1500 to help with that.” </p> <p dir="ltr">The $1500 should have been the most Melanie could take home to help with her bill, as the competition’s own terms and conditions list the sum as the “total maximum prize value”, but fate - or one rogue TV presenter - had more in store. </p> <p dir="ltr">Before Melanie had a chance to properly celebrate, Kochie cut in, declaring “I’ve only got two weeks to go. I’m going rogue. We’re going to do three grand.” </p> <p dir="ltr">As laughter broke out across the studio, and Melanie struggled to find the words, Kochie reiterated the prize, assuring Natalie that he was sure - even as she noted that she had “someone in my ear”. </p> <p dir="ltr">“I’m going to go rogue every day,” he continued, “for the next two weeks.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><em>Images: Sunrise / Seven</em></p>

Money & Banking

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Federal Budget 2023: How to make the most of the key promises

<p dir="ltr">Treasurer Jim Charles has handed down his first budget for 2023/24, offering a series of measures aimed at tackling the cost-of-living crisis.</p> <p dir="ltr">Millions of Australians will receive a boost from the federal government medical care, bills and welfare payments, amid the forecast that the budget will be be in the black with a surplus of $4bn.</p> <p dir="ltr">Here’s what it means for you:</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Bill help</strong></p> <p dir="ltr">Those who are on the pension, a seniors card holder or a recipient of family tax benefits A and B will be eligible to get help with energy bills thanks to a deal between the states and Commonwealth that’s worth $1.5bn.</p> <p dir="ltr">That means over five million eligible households and one million eligible small businesses will benefit from the scheme.</p> <p dir="ltr">The relief will come in the form of credits that apply directly to their power bills rather than cash, and the amount they receive will depend on the state they live in.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Medicare Relief</strong></p> <p dir="ltr">The incentives paid to GPs who bulk bill 11.6m eligible Australians including children under 16, pensioners and other concession card holders will increase.</p> <p dir="ltr">GPs will be able to claim the incentives for in-person consultations over six minutes long and certain telehealth consultations.</p> <p dir="ltr">GPs who bulk bill patients in the city will be paid a new incentive of $20.65 compared to the previous rate of $6.60, while regional GPs will receive a $31.40 incentive, up from $10.05.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Welfare recipients</strong></p> <p dir="ltr">Over 1.1 million vulnerable Australians will benefit from a $40 fortnightly boost from September, if parliament agrees.</p> <p dir="ltr">The increased base rate will apply to people receiving JobSeeker, Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment (partnered), ABSTUDY, Disability Support Pension (Youth) and Special Benefit.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Rental assistance</strong></p> <p dir="ltr">For many renters, this budget means that rent is forecasted to increase over the next year as the market tightens.</p> <p dir="ltr">However, for those currently receiving the maximum Commonwealth Rent Assistance allowance their payments will increase by 15 per cent.</p> <p dir="ltr">Here’s what the Federal Budget will look like at a glance:</p> <ul> <li dir="ltr"> <p dir="ltr">Budget deficit of $13.9 billion in 2023/24</p> </li> <li dir="ltr"> <p dir="ltr">Commonwealth net debt to rise to $574.9 billion (22.3 per cent of GDP) in 2023/24</p> </li> <li dir="ltr"> <p dir="ltr">Economic growth to fall to 1.5 per cent in 2023/24</p> </li> <li dir="ltr"> <p dir="ltr">Unemployment rate to rise to 4.25 per cent in 2023/24</p> </li> <li dir="ltr"> <p dir="ltr">Inflation as measured by CPI to be 3.25 per cent in 2023/24</p> </li> <li dir="ltr"> <p dir="ltr">Wages to rise by four per cent in 2023/24</p> </li> </ul> <p dir="ltr"> </p> <p dir="ltr">And here are the key measures the federal budget has promised:</p> <ul> <li dir="ltr"> <p dir="ltr">Energy bill relief for five million households and one million businesses</p> </li> <li dir="ltr"> <p dir="ltr">Triple bulk-billing incentives and more funding for urgent care clinics</p> </li> <li dir="ltr"> <p dir="ltr">Base rate of JobSeeker and other payments to be raised for 1.1 million households</p> </li> <li dir="ltr"> <p dir="ltr">Commonwealth Rent Assistant rise for 1.1 million households</p> </li> <li dir="ltr"> <p dir="ltr">Housing boost including tax breaks for build-to-rent investors</p> </li> <li dir="ltr"> <p dir="ltr">$4 billion extra for renewable energy</p> </li> <li dir="ltr"> <p dir="ltr">Tax breaks for small business to write-off assets and reduce energy costs</p> </li> <li dir="ltr"> <p dir="ltr">Targeted help for jobless aged over 55</p> </li> <li dir="ltr"> <p dir="ltr">Cut to cost of medicines</p> </li> </ul> <p><em>Image: Getty Images/ Martin Ollman / Stringer</em></p>

Money & Banking

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1 in 4 households struggle to pay power bills. Here are 5 ways to tackle hidden energy poverty

<p><a href="https://energyconsumersaustralia.com.au/news/how-increases-in-energy-prices-are-impacting-consumers#:%7E:text=Energy%2520affordability%2520is%2520not%2520just,in%2520the%2520past%252012%2520months.">One in four Australian households</a> are finding it hard to pay their gas and electricity bills. As winter looms, <a href="https://www.aer.gov.au/news-release/default-market-offer-2023%25E2%2580%259324-draft-determination">energy price rises</a> will make it even harder. Cold homes and disconnections resulting from energy poverty threaten people’s health and wellbeing.</p> <p><a href="https://www.acoss.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/ACOSS-cost-of-living-report2-March-2023_web_FINAL.pdf">Income support for welfare recipients</a> and retrofitting homes to make them more thermally efficient – by adding insulation, for example – can ease the burden. And when homes are not too cold or hot, <a href="https://theconversation.com/fuel-poverty-makes-you-sick-so-why-has-nothing-changed-since-i-was-a-child-living-in-a-cold-home-201787">people’s health benefits</a>. This in turn <a href="https://apo.org.au/node/319556">eases pressure on the public health system</a>.</p> <p>However, many people are missing out on assistance as programs often do not recognise their difficulties. Their energy vulnerability is hidden.</p> <h2>What forms does hidden energy poverty take?</h2> <p><a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629623000737">Our newly published study</a> has revealed six aspects of hidden energy vulnerability. These are:</p> <ol> <li> <p>underconsumption – households limit or turn off cooling, heating and/or lights to avoid disconnections</p> </li> <li> <p>incidental masking – other welfare support, such as rent relief, masks difficulties in paying energy bills</p> </li> <li> <p>some households disguise energy poverty by using public facilities such as showers or pooling money for bills between families</p> </li> <li> <p>some people conceal their hardship due to pride or fear of legal consequences, such as losing custody of children if food cannot be refrigerated because the power has been cut off</p> </li> <li> <p>poor understanding of energy efficiency and the health risks of cold or hot homes adds to the problem</p> </li> <li> <p>eligibility criteria for energy assistance programs may exclude some vulnerable households. For example, people with income just above the welfare threshold are missing out on energy concessions. Energy retailer hardship programs also ignore people who have voluntarily disconnected due to financial hardship.</p> </li> </ol> <h2>5 ways to help these households</h2> <p>Our studies suggest trusted intermediaries such as people working in health, energy and social services can play a vital role in identifying and supporting such households.</p> <p>First, energy efficiency and hardship initiatives may be <a href="https://www.rmit.edu.au/about/schools-colleges/property-construction-and-project-management/research/research-centres-and-groups/sustainable-building-innovation-laboratory/projects/care-at-home-system-improvements">integrated into the My Aged Care in-home care system</a>. Energy poverty risk identification, response and referral could be built into the national service’s assessment form. This could leverage existing client screening processes.</p> <p>The system’s front-line staff could connect at-risk householders with energy counsellors. These counsellors could help people access better energy contracts, concessions, home retrofits and appliance upgrade programs.</p> <p>A new Commonwealth “energy supplement” could help pay for essential energy-related home modifications. This would help avoid My Aged Care funds being diverted from immediate healthcare needs.</p> <p>Second, general practitioners and other health professionals could help identify energy vulnerability among patients with medical conditions of concern. They could also provide letters of support emphasising renters’ health-based need for air conditioners or heaters.</p> <p>Third, energy providers could use household energy data to identify those that seem to be under-consuming or are often disconnected. They could also identify those that are not on “best offer” deals. They could be proactive in checking struggling householders’ eligibility for ongoing energy concessions and one-off debt relief grants offered by states and territories.</p> <p>Energy providers could also make it easier for social housing providers to ensure concessions for tenants renew automatically.</p> <p>Fourth, local councils could use their data to identify at-risk householders. They might include those with a disability parking permit, discounted council rates or in arrears, on the social housing waiting list, Meals on Wheels clients and social housing tenants. Maternal and child health nurses and home and community care workers making home visits could call attention to cold or hot homes.</p> <p>Councils could employ in-house energy counsellors to provide assistance and energy literacy training. Council home maintenance teams could develop bulk-buying, insulation and neighbourhood retrofit programs.</p> <p>Strategies to reduce vulnerability to energy poverty should be part of municipal public health and wellbeing plans. Under these strategies, net-zero-carbon funds set up by states and local councils to reduce emissions could finance targeted housing retrofits.</p> <p>We also suggest setting up a central helpline to improve access to energy assistance via local referrals.</p> <p>Fifth, residential energy-efficiency programs could become more person-centric. For example, we already have <a href="https://www.homescorecard.gov.au/">Residential Efficiency Scorecard</a> audits to assess the thermal quality of a home. These audits could also explore whether concessions and better energy deals are available to the household.</p> <h2>Building capacity at all levels</h2> <p><a href="https://cur.org.au/cms/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/tackling-hidden-energy-final.pdf">Capacity-building strategies</a> are needed at all levels – individual, community and government – to overcome the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629623000737">challenges</a> of reducing energy poverty. Current obstacles include the competing priorities of service providers, lack of time and resources, and <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2214629622003553">poor co-ordination between siloed</a> programs and services.</p> <p>Access to essential energy services should be part of state and local governments’ strategic health plans. Housing, energy and health departments could work together to include housing retrofits in preventive health programs.</p> <p>A comprehensive approach is needed to overcome hidden energy poverty. It must include public education, integrated services and well-funded energy-efficiency programs. Regulatory reforms and ongoing funding are both needed to improve the availability of energy-efficient, affordable homes for tenants.</p> <p>Our suggested strategies start with improving the skills and knowledge of trusted intermediaries. Doctors, social workers, housing officers, community nurses and volunteers can play a central role. Using these front-line professionals to help identify and act on energy poverty offers a novel, cost-effective and targeted solution.</p> <p><em>This article originally appeared on <a href="https://theconversation.com/1-in-4-households-struggle-to-pay-power-bills-here-are-5-ways-to-tackle-hidden-energy-poverty-204672" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The Conversation</a>.</em></p> <p><em>Images: Getty</em></p>

Home Hints & Tips

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Million dollar baby! Video of newborn covered in money sparks outrage

<p>The bizarre moment a new father covered his newborn child in $100 bills has gone viral, sending social media into a frenzy over the strange act. </p> <p>The video shows a sleeping newborn in a crib in a hospital's nursery, while an adult covers the baby boy in $100 bills. </p> <p>Despite a blanket covering the baby's body, many were quick to point out just how many germs and bacteria live on cash notes, with many worried about the child picking up an infection from the dirty money. </p> <p>According to <a href="https://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1914560_1914558_1914544,00.html" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noreferrer noopener">TIME</a>, paper money can reportedly carry more germs than a household toilet - and hundreds of species of microorganisms can live on the cash for days. </p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Man covers his new born baby with hundreds 😳 <a href="https://t.co/AFEYajIY6N">pic.twitter.com/AFEYajIY6N</a></p> <p>— Daily Loud (@DailyLoud) <a href="https://twitter.com/DailyLoud/status/1650660162930196485?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">April 25, 2023</a></p></blockquote> <p>People took to Twitter to show their outrage at the germs, with one person saying, "Bro just created a bacteria blanket for a newborn."</p> <p>Another shared the same sentiment, writing, "Unless those are brand new bills straight from the bank, he just covered his baby in a blanket of germs."</p> <p>Another person said, "Very very unhygienic I hope baby doesn't get sick..." while a fourth added, "Money is full of pathogens, I wouldn't compromise the baby's health."</p> <p>Others cut the happy parent some slack, saying it was a strange decision to shower the baby with money, but said they could understand the person's excitement over the bundle of joy. </p> <p>One person said, "Probably a proud first-time father and isn't thinking about how ridiculous this is. Down the line he'll show his baby the picture and they'll have a good laugh out of it."</p> <p>Another wrote, "An unusual way to wish prosperity to the newborn but again different stroke for different folks!"</p> <p><em>Image credits: Twitter</em></p>

Family & Pets

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Want an easy $400 a year? Ditch the gas heater in your home for an electric split system

<p>Earlier this month, regulators <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-are-electricity-prices-going-up-again-and-will-it-ever-end-201869">flagged</a> power price rises in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Like many people, you’re probably wondering how you can minimise the financial pain.</p> <p>Getting rid of gas and electrifying everything in your home can save you money. <a href="https://renew.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Report-Limiting-energy-bills-by-getting-off-gas.pdf">Modelling</a> by not-for-profit organisation Renew showed annual bills last year for a <a href="https://www.nathers.gov.au/owners-and-builders/home-energy-star-ratings">seven-star</a> all-electric home with solar power were between 69% (Western Sydney) and 83% (Hobart) cheaper than bills for a three-star home with gas appliances and no solar. </p> <p>There are other reasons to kick the gas habit, too. As renewables form an ever-growing part of Australia’s energy mix, electrifying the home increasingly helps tackle climate change. What’s more, there are sound <a href="https://www.unsw.edu.au/news/2023/02/a-heated-debate--how-safe-are-gas-stoves--">health</a> reasons to get rid of gas appliances.</p> <p>But where do you start? And how do you get the best bang for your buck? Here, I offer a few tips.</p> <h2>A quick guide to home energy use</h2> <p>Australian home energy use can be separated into a few categories: </p> <ul> <li>space heating and cooling</li> <li>water heating</li> <li>cooking</li> <li>vehicles </li> <li>other appliances (many of which are largely already electric). </li> </ul> <p>Of the appliances that typically depend on gas, the <a href="https://www.rewiringaustralia.org/report/castles-and-cars-discussion-paper">largest component</a> (37%) is space heating, followed by hot water (24%) and cooking (6%). </p> <p>This varies between states. Victoria, for example, is particularly dependent on gas. </p> <p>But the breakdown above gives some insight into the largest contributors to energy costs in the average Australian home – particularly in the cooler southern regions.</p> <p>While both gas and electricity costs are rising, as they are now in most states, all-electric homes can expect lower overall increases. <a href="https://renew.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Report-Limiting-energy-bills-by-getting-off-gas.pdf">Analysis</a> by Renew has shown ditching the old gas heater in favour of a split system/reverse cycle air-conditioner (without solar panels) can lead to average savings of A$546 each year in Canberra, $440 in Adelaide, $409 in Melbourne and $256 in Perth. </p> <p>Heating a space with a reverse-cycle air conditioner is about four times more efficient than using natural gas. And when the electricity is generated by renewables, it can be done with zero greenhouse gas emissions.</p> <p>And what about heating water? Using the existing electricity grid, the cost of using an electric heat pump is around half that of using a natural gas water heater. </p> <p>The costs fall even lower if a household shifts to solar panels subsidised or financed by government, backed by a home battery providing the energy. In this case, heating costs are around a third of using gas.</p> <h2>So what’s the payback?</h2> <p>Buying new appliances costs money. So it’s important to examine the “payback” period - in other words, the length of time it takes for energy bill savings to equal the cost of the initial investment in a new appliance. </p> <p>The payback period can vary depending on:</p> <ul> <li>cost and quality of the appliance</li> <li>an appliance’s energy rating</li> <li>size of the system</li> <li>for space heating, whether a split system is replacing an existing ducted system or being added on externally.</li> </ul> <p>A <a href="https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/CC_MVSA0323-CC-Report-Gas-vs-Electricity_V4-Single.pdf">report</a> last year by the Climate Council calculated the approximate cost differences between higher and lower-end electric appliances. Lower-end hot water heat pumps, reverse-cycle air conditioner and induction stoves were priced around $7,818 all together, while higher-end appliances cost around $14,936 together.</p> <p>Both scenarios included installation costs and $3,000 for electrical upgrades and other costs. </p> <p>The payback period for low-priced appliances ranged from five years in Hobart and Canberra to 15 years in Perth and Sydney. Higher-priced appliances were in the order of eight to ten years for most cities and 12, 16 and 19 years for Melbourne, Perth and Sydney respectively.</p> <p>Rolled out at scale, household electrification is also a feasible way to reduce gas demand. It may be the only practical option available to decarbonise residential energy. </p> <p>As research <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0196890422013802#b0130">recently suggested</a>, so-called “green” hydrogen – made by using low-carbon electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen – is unlikely to emerge as a cheap replacement for gas boilers. And why look for a technological solution to a problem we already know how to solve?</p> <p>Modelling by <a href="https://environmentvictoria.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Vic-Gas-Market-Demand-Side-Study-Final-Report-1.pdf">Environment Victoria</a> has shown installing heat pumps for heating and cooling would reduce statewide gas use by 48 petajoules a year, compared to the relatively minimal 0.5 petajoules saved by installing induction cooktops. </p> <p>At the same scale – and using a similar technology – replacing gas hot water with heat pump hot water reduces household gas use by 10 petajoules each year. That’s an enormous saving of gas.</p> <h2>The bigger picture for all-electric homes</h2> <p>Existing homes can benefit from a combination of electrification, rooftop solar and batteries. They can also benefit from energy efficiency measures such as installing insulation, stopping draughts, closing off rooms and wearing the right clothing for the season.</p> <p>We can work together to speed up the transition to renewable energy and reduce the demand for gas.</p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> <p><em>This article originally appeared on <a href="https://theconversation.com/want-an-easy-400-a-year-ditch-the-gas-heater-in-your-home-for-an-electric-split-system-201941" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>

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Explainer: Why are electricity prices expected to rise, yet again?

<div> <div class="copy"> <p>Households in three states could be facing electricity price increases of up to 23.7% from July following a report from the Australian Energy Regulator.</p> <p>The increase will affect customers on standard power plans, known as the “default market offer” in South Australia, New South Wales and south-east Queensland. </p> <p>Small businesses could be facing price increases of between 14.7% to 25.7% depending on their location.</p> <p>The default market offer represents the maximum price is an electricity retailer can charge retail customers for their electricity in those states which have opted in to the system. There are around 540,000 household and 91,000 business customers in NSW, SA and Qld on the default market offer.</p> <p>In Victoria, an <a href="https://www.esc.vic.gov.au/electricity-and-gas/prices-tariffs-and-benchmarks/victorian-default-offer/victorian-default-offer-price-review-2023-24#toc--victorian-default-offer-2023-24-draft-decision" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">equivalent default offer</a> set by the Essential Services Commission is expected to rise by 31.1%. In Australia, energy is largely the domain of state and territory governments, and other states have different approaches.</p> <p>Price changes are likely to apply from 1 July 2023 to 30 June 2024.</p> <p>According to the Australian Energy Regulator, the <a href="https://www.aer.gov.au/news-release/default-market-offer-2023%E2%80%9324-draft-determination" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">largest factor driving the price increase</a> is the higher cost and volatility of generating electricity.</p> <p>In announcing the increase to the default market offer, AER Chair Clare Savage said the regulator carefully considered the need to protect consumers from unjustifiably high prices.</p> <p>“We know many households and businesses are already struggling with cost-of-living pressures. This is certainly a challenging environment for people to hear that further electricity price rises are on the horizon.</p> <p>“Energy prices are not immune from the significant challenges in the global economy right now; that’s why it’s more important than ever that we strike a balance in setting the [default market offer] to protect consumers as well as allowing retailers to continue to recover their costs and innovate.</p> <p>Energy Consumers Australia CEO Lynne Gallagher says the slated increases come “on top of double digit increases the previous year” and are a blow for consumers struggling with cost-of-living pressures.</p> <p>“These electricity price increases will hurt, heaping more pressure on household budgets and on small businesses,” she says.</p> <p>The default market offer represents a safety net for consumers, not the best price available. </p> <p>Savage and Gallagher both encouraged customers to <a href="https://www.energymadeeasy.gov.au/" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">look for a better deal from electricity retailers</a>.</p> <h3><strong>What does my electricity bill pay for? </strong></h3> <p>A <a href="https://www.accc.gov.au/regulated-infrastructure/energy/electricity-market-monitoring-inquiry-2018-25/november-2022-report" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">November 2022 report</a> by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says average household electricity costs comprise:</p> <ul> <li>49% network costs (the poles and wires that deliver the electricity from power plants to consumers)</li> <li>28% wholesale costs (the cost of generating electricity from solar, wind, hydro, gas or coal-fired power stations)</li> <li>11% environmental costs</li> <li>10% retail costs</li> <li>2% electricity retailer profit margins.</li> </ul> <p>These relative shares change over time. The Australian Energy Regulator says generation <a href="https://www.aer.gov.au/news-release/default-market-offer-2023%E2%80%9324-draft-determination" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">makes up around 30 – 40% of the price</a>, a larger share than the ACCC reports.</p> <h3><strong>Generation driving up costs now</strong></h3> <p>The cost of generating electricity – from solar, wind, gas or coal – is reflected in the wholesale energy cost.</p> <p>According to the energy regulator, wholesale price increases reflect higher prices for gas and coal, reliability issues with ageing coal-fired power stations and the expected closure of Liddell Power Station in NSW in April 2023. Some regional issues also affected prices, such as SA’s extreme weather in November.</p> <p>Energy economist Bruce Mountain is Director of the Victorian Energy Policy Centre.</p> <p>He says the volatile price of generating electricity is due to a range of factors. These include developments in Europe like the shift away from reliance on Russian gas which is increasing global demand for fossil fuels from other countries including Australia.</p> <p>Mountain says the combined demand from export contracts and local coal and gas use is higher than supply. Which is why when prices increase overseas, those higher international prices flow through into higher domestic prices.</p> <p>“We’ve got plentiful gas and coal, but we don’t have enough gas on our south and eastern seaboard to meet both domestic consumption and export demand,” he says.</p> <p>“And then on top of all of this coal and gas producers, power producers are profit-maximising. They will look for opportunities to take advantage of constraints to exercise market power.”</p> <p>While new renewable electricity are adding to supply, and reducing reliance on coal and gas, it’s not yet enough to counteract these effects.</p> <p>Mountain says the effects of higher coal and gas prices aren’t limited to fossil-fuel reliant states like Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Interstate connections mean electricity prices in renewable-dominated states like South Australia and Tasmania are influenced by market prices elsewhere.</p> <h3><strong>In the future, transmission </strong></h3> <p>Getting off fossil fuels might ultimately reduce generation costs and exposure to international prices for coal and gas.</p> <p>But Mountain expects current proposals for new major transmission lines (<a href="https://aemo.com.au/en/energy-systems/major-publications/integrated-system-plan-isp" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">connecting to new Renewable Energy Zones</a>) will “cost a fortune”, and factor in to future prices.</p> <p>He doesn’t believe the Integrated System Plan outlined by the Australian Energy Market Operator – involving a complete redesign of electricity infrastructure – will actually be fully implemented. </p> <p>“It’s of such huge magnitude, and it will have such massive implications for the environment and for landowners. I cannot imagine it’s going to be built.”</p> <p>Mountain says he thinks this could delay the transition to renewable energy. He says, a better, more achievable approach would be to maximise wind and solar resources as close to existing demand as possible minimising the need to build enormous transmission lines. </p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> </div> <div id="contributors"> <p><em>This article was originally published on <a href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/explainer-why-are-electricity-prices-expected-to-rise-yet-again/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Petra Stock. </em></p> </div> </div>

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Dad’s horror at six-year-old’s massive bill

<p>A young boy from Michigan has learned a tasty lesson in money management.</p> <p>Six-year-old Mason Stonehouse had been playing on his dad’s phone when he discovered his soon-to-be favourite app - food delivery service Grubhub. </p> <p>After putting his son to bed, Mason’s father Keith was shocked to find delivery drivers began to frequent their doorstep, one after the other leaving something behind. Keith likened the strange evening to a<em> Saturday Night Live</em> skit, and in doorbell camera footage he could be heard asking one of the drivers “what the hell is going on?” </p> <p>A look at his phone confirmed that Mason had pulled off a parent’s nightmare - the boy had ordered almost $2,000 (AUD) of food from restaurants all across their town. </p> <p>Speaking with <em>TODAY.com</em>, Keith explained that the two were having father and son time in front of the TV when Mason asked to use Keith’s phone. Mason often uses his dad’s phone to play educational games, so Keith thought nothing of it, allowing Mason 30 minutes with the device. </p> <p>Keith recalled how Mason made his way downstairs to play, and went to bed without a fuss when his half hour was up. </p> <p>“A 6-year-old going to bed is not normally an easy thing but he was surprisingly really good,” he said. “There was no fight, no ‘I’m hungry’, or making up stuff to stay up. He just went to bed, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is amazing, I wish Mom was here to witness this’. And all of a sudden I hear the doorbell.”</p> <p>To various news outlets, Keith has mentioned how it was “car after car” that kept “coming and coming” to the family’s home in Chesterfield Township. In his own Facebook post about the incident, he shared Mason’s shopping list, telling his friends “if you’re hungry and you’re in the mood for 5 orders of jumbo shrimp, salad, grape leaves, rice, 3 hanis, several orders of chilli cheese fries, chicken shawarma sandwiches, and plenty of Ice cream - swing on by SMH.”</p> <p>Keith saw Mason’s delectable adventure to an end when his bank declined an order of $635 (AUD) for pepperoni pizza. As he told <em>Good Morning America</em>, this “would’ve been on top of the $1,000 worth of food that was piling in my kitchen.”</p> <p>This wasn’t even Mason’s first order of the evening from the same establishment - Happy’s Pizza for a happy Mason - with a sizable jumbo shrimp delivery already having made it to their doorstep. </p> <p><em>MLive.com </em>heard from Keith that he tried to speak to Mason about what had happened, but soon discovered that their priorities weren’t exactly aligned, “I was trying to explain to him that this wasn’t good and he puts his hand up and stops me and says, ‘Dad, did the pepperoni pizzas come yet?’”</p> <p>“I had to walk out of the room. I didn’t know if I should get mad or laugh,” he admitted. </p> <p>Whether the entire situation prompted more amusement or exasperation from the Stonehouses, they assured everyone that none of Mason’s bouncy went to waste, with the food going to their neighbours, and their phones well away from Mason’s sneaky shopping. </p> <p><em>Images: Facebook </em></p>

Money & Banking

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Aussies set for power bill relief just before Christmas

<p dir="ltr">The Albanese government has introduced a bill to help battling Aussies feel some relief during the ongoing cost of living crisis by bringing down the cost of unsustainable energy prices. </p> <p dir="ltr">Treasurer Jim Chalmers says Australians need “urgent, targeted, meaningful action” to take some of the sting out of the increasing power costs, which will be addressed through a new energy package to give households and small businesses some relief.</p> <p dir="ltr">MPs and senators were recalled to Canberra for a special session of parliament on Thursday to debate the government’s package, as it will now sail through both houses after Anthony Albanese secured the Senate support of the Greens, David Pocock, and the Jacqui Lambie Network. </p> <p dir="ltr">Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has confirmed the Coalition will not support the Bill, saying it would be “catastrophic” for Australian economic policy.</p> <p dir="ltr">Once passed, gas prices will be capped at $12 a gigajoule for 12 months, which the government says will slash power bills by about $230. </p> <p dir="ltr">The Queensland and NSW governments will also enforce a cap on coal for the same amount of time, at $125 a tonne.</p> <p dir="ltr">The package also includes $1.5 billion of additional relief to small businesses and some households.</p> <p dir="ltr">In introducing the Bill in the House on Thursday morning, Dr Chalmers said without urgent market intervention, retail gas prices were tipped to increase by a further 20 per cent and electricity prices by 36 per cent in the next financial year.</p> <p dir="ltr">“That’s why urgent action is needed … And when we vote today, every member of this place will make a choice,” he said. </p> <p dir="ltr">“To help Australians with rising energy bills – or to make it even harder for them.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“To save Australian jobs – or to surrender them. “</p> <p dir="ltr">“We choose to protect households and small businesses. We choose to defend our local industries. And we choose to save local jobs.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p>

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Banksy: who should foot the bill to protect his work in public spaces?

<p>When a mural by artist Banksy <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-46617742">appeared on a garage wall</a> in Port Talbot, the building’s owner, Ian Lewis, had no idea just <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-46771722">how many people</a> would want to get a good look at it. The mural has attracted <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-46759349">thousands of visitors</a> and Lewis has been keen to <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-46617742">protect it</a>, by employing guards, and building a see-through covering over the work.</p> <p>But should there even be security on a piece of graffiti? After all, <a href="https://hyperallergic.com/38778/occupying-the-walls-graffiti-as-political-protest/">the essence of graffiti</a> is that it is temporary and subject to the possibility of being covered over with the next slogan or image. It has long been one of the means by which people can <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/cities/gallery/2017/may/17/writing-wall-political-graffiti-banksy-brexit-trump-in-pictures">make their views known</a> in a very public way without official sanction. It is a form of protest that visually takes up public space and asks for no endorsement and often no individual credit.</p> <p>The list of graffiti artists who have gained recognition in the contemporary art world is not a long one. Shepherd Fairey, who <a href="https://www.artic.edu/artworks/229396/barack-obama-hope-poster">designed the Obama “Hope” poster</a>, and <a href="https://www.theartstory.org/artist-basquiat-jean-michel.htm">Jean Michel Basquiat</a> are two of the most well known. Banksy himself has been quoted as saying that he never craved commercial success and that it’s actually <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2013/10/09/village-voice-exclusive-an-interview-with-banksy-street-art-cult-hero-international-man-of-mystery/">a mark of failure for a graffiti artist</a>. </p> <p>A lofty sentiment, but whether he wants it or not, the popularity of Banksy’s work is phenomenal. The pared down stencil style coupled with often highly astute political commentary and visual puns is easy to read. It is enough to satisfy even those for whom art should consist of a “proper picture of something”.</p> <p>It also lends itself very well to reproduction and copying. I actually have a mug emblazoned with Banksy style rats sitting on my desk as I write. This is what happens when an iconoclast becomes an icon. What started out as a practice that deliberately subverted the concept of art as an exclusive, costly investment, has now become just as commodified as the latest piece by <a href="https://www.theartstory.org/artist-hirst-damien.htm">Damien Hirst</a>.</p> <h2>Banksy’s bankability</h2> <p>I’m personally on the fence about some of Banksy’s more recent work. I’m completely on board with the political nature of the imagery and most definitely share a lot of his ideological sentiments, but there is a degree to which he is becoming a parody of himself. For example, while it’s easy to appreciate the point he was making with the recently auctioned self-destructing drawing “<a href="https://theconversation.com/banksy-i-was-in-the-room-when-his-painting-shredded-and-enhanced-his-brand-104660">Love is in the Bin</a>”, no one could convince me that he was unaware of the effect that the action would have on his bankability.</p> <p>Given he knows the impact his work can have, was it selfish of Banksy to impose this latest piece on the unsuspecting garage owner? Or was it an act of extreme philanthropy, bestowing on Port Talbot a gift that can be used either to benefit the individual or the community? He must have known that Lewis would be plagued with attention, and the inevitability of this imposed cultural responsibility must surely have at least crossed Banksy’s mind. </p> <p>Public art comes in many diverse forms, from the monumental statues commemorating historical figures, to the temporary and often illegal murals created by contemporary graffiti artists. My own practice is informed by an ethos of inclusion that places the nearby community at the centre of decisions about how it is created, themed and managed.</p> <p>Because of that philosophical background, I do find Banksy’s imposition of his work without regard for its effect on the local community to be irritatingly entitled. However, the <a href="https://www.theartstory.org/artist-banksy-artworks.htm">issues he highlights</a> such as the <a href="https://theartstack.com/artist/banksy/i-remember-when-all-this-was-trees">capitalist obsession with growth</a> over sustainability, and <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/banksy-port-talbot-graffiti-wales-michael-sheen-steel-pollution-environment-a8692821.html">industrial air pollution</a> are relevant and important to a much wider community, so I appreciate that by using his fame to draw attention to them he is carrying out a form of community service.</p> <p>The Welsh government <a href="https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/banksy-collector-willing-pay-six-15656998">has since confirmed</a> it will be taking over security for the Port Talbot artwork, and is discussing the future of the piece. Whether by design or because he just isn’t interested in how the work is used, it’s part of Banksy’s artistic practice to leave the work to the mercy of others when it’s complete. However, it could be argued that he could have used <a href="https://www.artspace.com/magazine/art_101/close_look/how-does-banksy-make-money-or-a-lesson-in-art-market-economics-55352">some of his own money</a> to help protect the work, and mitigate against any grief <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-46810787">he’s caused the garage owner</a>.</p> <p>I’d personally like to see the work sold, and the proceeds used to address some of the social and political issues that Banksy highlights with his work. It worked for Dennis Stinchcombe who, when a mural entitled Mobile Lovers appeared on the doorway of his Bristol youth club in 2014, sold the work and used the funds <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-46810787">to save the struggling organisation</a>. </p> <p>Whatever happens now, one thing is certain: Banksy certainly knows how to get his work in the news.</p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p> <p><em>This article originally appeared on <a href="https://theconversation.com/banksy-who-should-foot-the-bill-to-protect-his-work-in-public-spaces-109831" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>

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"Is this real?" Family in shock after Kate Winslet pays $30k power bill

<p>Kate Winslet has stepped in to help ease the financial strain on a hard-working family, who are full-time carers for their disabled daughter. </p> <p>Mum-of-four Carolynne Hunter started a <a href="https://www.gofundme.com/f/medical-care-for-freya-amid-the-energycrisis?qid=3ad717b05ab76c3332ad308b4e5d11ae" target="_blank" rel="noopener">GoFundMe</a> page to help pay for her electricity bill after they were warned by the council that their bill – normally already high at £6500 ($A11,500) a year – was going to almost triple to the eye-watering amount of £17,000 ($A30,000). </p> <p>Carolynne said her daughter Freya, 12, has severe cerebral palsy and chronic breathing problems, and relies on the oxygen machine to help her breathe.</p> <p>“Freya has the most beautiful smile,” Ms Hunter wrote in the GoFundMe. She said her daughter was “enriching our lives every day”.</p> <p>With the cost of living crisis reaching catastrophic levels in the UK, the family, who live in a council house in the Scottish town of Tillicoultry, didn’t know how they were going to afford the massive bills.</p> <p>“I have no way of reducing the usage of energy in our home,” the 49-year-old mum wrote. “My older daughter and I have historically lived in fuel poverty to keep Freya safe and comfortable making sure all her medical needs are being met whilst allowing me to keep my bills as low as possible. </p> <p>“We dread every winter in our cold home.”</p> <p>Carolynne got the shock of her life when her GoFundMe page raised the amount of money needed with one donation, with the $30,000 gift coming from "Kate Winslet and Family".</p> <p>The mum told <a title="www.bbc.com" href="https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-tayside-central-63599369">BBC Scotland</a> she “burst into tears” at the news that the actress had made the huge donation.</p> <p>“Our journey as family has been very traumatic and I just feel done at this point in my life,” she said.</p> <p>“When I heard about the money I just burst into tears – I thought it wasn’t even real. I’m still thinking is this real?”</p> <p><em>Image credits: GoFundMe / Getty Images</em></p>

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