HAPPY New Year — almost.
With 2016 nearly behind us, there are some things you should know about the new calendar year. From dental costs and online GST to petrol and power price hikes, a raft of new laws, regulations and fees come into effect from 1 January 2017.
Here’s what you need to know:
• POWER BILLS
Power bills are expected to skyrocket across the country due to the closure of Victoria’s Hazelwood coal-fired power station, the Australian Energy Market Commission has warned. South Australians will be hit the hardest, with $150 a year expected to be added onto household bills, Victorians will pay an extra $99, while Queenslanders will pay an extra $28. Other states could be whacked with a $78 price hike.
• PENSION CHANGES
More than 300,000 part-pensioners will either suffer a cut in their payments or lose access under new asset test rules coming into effect on 1 January 2017. Under the deal struck between the Coalition and the Greens, more than 90 per cent of pensioners will be better off or have no change to their payment. Around 171,500 pensioners with “modest assets” will receive an average pension rise of $30 a fortnight, 236,000 part-pensioners will have their payments reduced, and 91,000 part-pensioners will lose access altogether. The family home remains exempt. The new asset test-free thresholds will be $250,000 for a single homeowner, $375,000 for a homeowner couple, $450,000 for a single non-homeowner, and $575,000 for a non-homeowner couple. The “taper rate”, or amount by which pension payments are reduced, will double from $1.50 to $3 for every $1000 in assets owned above the threshold. Experts have warned of the “double hit” to the 91,000 part-pensioners, who will also lose discounts on things like council rates and public transport.
• DENTAL FUNDING
Up to 338,000 people will lose access to free public dental services under a new federal funding scheme, healthcare experts warn. Health Minister Sussan Ley announced last month that the proposed $2.1 billion Child and Adult Public Dental Scheme would not proceed. States and territories will receive less than $107 million a year for the next three years for adult public dental services, down from the original 2013-14 budget measure, which promised $391 million in 2016-17. A modified Child Dental Benefits Schedule will continue from 1 January 2017, but the maximum benefits available to eligible children will be reduced from $1000 to $700 over two years.
• ‘DOLE BLUDGERS’
The government is getting tough in its crackdown on “dole bludgers”, in particular those who owe more than $3 billion in overpayments. From 1 January, former Newstart recipients who owe money to the government and have failed to enter into a repayment plan will be charged 8.76 per cent interest. And former welfare recipients who have a debt to the Commonwealth will be slapped with a departure prevention order if they attempt to leave the country. “We are always encouraging people to make sure their income and asset details are up to date with Centrelink so that they don’t get overpayments,” Human Services Minister Alan Tudge told The Courier-Mail. “It is the responsibility of individuals to do that. If people have a welfare debt then it’s reasonable that they pay off that debt before they go on an overseas holiday.”
• BACKPACKER TAX
From 1 January 2017, all backpackers will pay 15 cents income tax from the first dollar they earn. The 15 per cent rate came after a long and drawn-out political fight, which ultimately saw a compromise deal between the Coalition and the Greens. But as ABC Rural explained, it’s not quite that simple. The government had previously said the tax rate for nonresidents of 32.5 per cent would apply from 1 January unless its bills passed through Parliament. “But in fact the 32.5 per cent rate is the common law rate right now,” the ABC wrote. “The whole fight Australia has been having over the last 18 months was actually about enforcing the existing tax law, as interpreted by an Administrative Appeals Tribunal ruling back in March last year.” In other words, if you’re a backpacker and earned income in the first half of the financial year — before 1 January 2017 — you will have to pay the 32.5 per cent rate on that income.
• PETROL PRICES
The Queensland government is reassuring motorists that they will not be worse off as the state’s ethanol mandate kicks in. In NSW, the ethanol mandate, which requires service stations to stock E10 fuel or face heavy fines, has led to drivers opting for the more expensive 95 and 98 octane premium unleaded petrol instead due to the reduced availability of 91 octane regular unleaded. Regular unleaded petrol makes up 73 per cent of all petrol sold in Australia excluding NSW, where premium makes up 54 per cent of petrol sales, followed by E10 with 36 per cent and 10 per cent for regular. Nationally excluding NSW, premium accounts for 23 per cent and E10 just 4 per cent. An Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report in November found NSW’s ethanol mandate was costing motorists $75-85 million a year. “It’s hard to believe we will not see a fair bit of that in Queensland,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims told The Courier-Mail.
• PASSPORT FEES
As announced in the 2016-17 budget, passport fees will increase from 1 January 2017 in line with annual CPI inflation. A 10-year passport for persons aged 16 and over will increase from $254 to $277, a five-year passport for children under 16 from $127 to $139, a five-year passport for persons aged 75 and over from $127 to $139, and an emergency passport overseas from $153 to $175. The priority processing fee will increase from $127 to $183, and overseas surcharges will increase by $1 to $103 for an adult and $52 for a child.
• NOTARIAL SERVICES
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is raising its fees for notarial services such as verifying and certifying documents, witnessing the execution of a will, and preparing a Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage — required by Australian citizens to marry in some foreign countries. DFAT says it hasn’t increased its notarial service fees in 16 years. “The new fee schedule takes into account the annual rate of inflation in Australia since fees were last increased, the growing cost of delivering notarial services and rising demand,” DFAT said. From 2018 onwards, DFAT notarial service fees will increase annually in line with CPI.
• MYKI PRICES
Melbourne public transport users will be slugged extra from 1 January 2017, with an annual adult Myki pass increasing by $80 to $1599 a year. A two-hour pass will cost $4.10, and a daily ticket will be $8.20. Concession-card holder fares will remain half the cost of a standard adult ticket, and weekend concession tickets will be cut from $3.90 to $3. The state government will increase the age of free travel to four years old, and 18-year-olds will be able to get concession fares for the first time, saving 18-year-olds not in school $760 a year.
• LINKEDIN GST
Professional networking site LinkedIn will begin charging users 10 per cent GST on their subscriptions from 1 January 2017 to comply with changes to Australia’s tax laws. Premium LinkedIn accounts can cost up to $576 a year for individuals. Under changes announced in the 2015-16 budget, overseas businesses with an annual turnover of $75,000 are required to register with the Australian Taxation Office to collect GST on all goods sold, with purchases under the current low-value threshold of $1000 included from 1 July 2017. “The GST will be identified as a separate line item on your receipt, in addition to the product purchase price,” LinkedIn told users. “We suggest that you consult your tax advisers or local tax authorities on the implications of GST.”
• NANNY TRIAL
The federal government is drastically scaling back its trial subsidies of nanny fees after underwhelming interest in the scheme. The number of places will be cut from 3000 to just 500, with applications to take part closing from 1 January 2017, saving the government $170 million over two years, it revealed in December’s midyear budget update. In October, government officials said there were fewer than 200 families using the service that started in January.
• 457 VISAS
Families with school-going children arriving in South Australia on 457 visas from 1 January 2017 will be required to pay a public education contribution fee, under changes introduced by the state government. This requirement will then extend to all 457 visa holders from 1 January 2018. The move, which brings South Australia in line with other states and territories, will affect a significant number of Indian and Chinese families settled in South Australia. The annual contribution payable by a family in South Australia on a 457 visa for 2017 would be $5100 for each primary school student and $6100 for each high school student. This amount would be charged for the eldest child in a family, with the fees for all siblings attracting a 10 per cent discount.
— with AAP
The government is hoping to reclaim $4 billion in incorrectly paid welfare.