The year that was

Our consumer advocacy work continues to yield significant outcomes for Indigenous consumers. A number of court matters and enforcement activities came to fruition this year, due to ICAN alerting consumer regulators of systemic consumer detriment experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in remote Queensland communities. Enforcement action was taken by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, (ASIC) and the Australian Competition Consumer Commission (ACCC) against many companies in this financial year, including: Excite Mobile, Titan Marketing, Mr Rental, Home Essentials Australia Pty Ltd, I Love My Water Pty Ltd, Triple Bay Group Pty Ltd and Triple Bay Pty Ltd. The enforcement activities by ASIC and the ACCC are significant wins for the protection of Indigenous consumers.

The Indigenous Consumer Outreach Project helped extend our reach into remote Queensland communities in 2014. The outreach program, funded through an enforceable undertaking that the Australian Securities and Investments Commission presented to Home Essentials Ltd. has provided the opportunity for consumer education and promotion activities in Wujal Wujal, Northern Peninsula Area, Lockhart River and Kowanyama.  The project also resourced the administration of the Far North Queensland Consumer Taskforce that includes ASIC, ACCC, QLD Office of Fair Trading and new members from the Energy, Water Ombudsman Scheme, Shelter Housing Action Cairns (SHAC) and Cairns Community Legal Centre (CCLC).

The Yarrabah Aboriginal community made a complaint to ICAN about the financial detriment caused by door-to-door selling practices undertaken by third party charity fundraisers (Chugging). ICAN was instrumental in bringing the ABC 7:30 Report to the Yarrabah Aboriginal community (located 45 min south of Cairns) to witness these issues first hand. The news feature “Charity door knockers preyed upon poor outback community” aired on the ABC 7:30 Report, on May 21, 2014.

To further our vision of ‘Empowering Indigenous Consumers’, ICAN has prioritised the professional development of Indigenous financial counselling/capability staff working in community organisations throughout Australia. 2014 saw the success of ICAN’s first national Indigenous Financial Counselling Mentorship Program with ten Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from Alice Springs (NT), Derby (WA), Penrith Western Sydney, Port Augusta (SA), Cairns (QLD) and the Yarrabah Aboriginal community (QLD) graduating with their Diploma of Community Services (Financial Counselling). The ongoing support of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia has allowed ICAN to expand the scope of the program and offer 24 Scholarships in 2015.

Addressing structural consumer disadvantage in remote Indigenous communities is an ongoing focus for ICAN. One growing area of concern for Indigenous consumers in remote communities is the affordability of electricity and service/concessional rebate inequalities. In 2013/2014 ICAN’s research team was contracted by the Queensland Council of Social Service (QCOSS) to investigate the use of Power Box Meters and Power Cards in some of Queensland’s remote Indigenous communities. One of the findings of the report was a very low awareness and uptake of government-funded electricity concessions.

The research was instrumental in informing the Queensland Government’s decision to offer government-funded Electricity Rebates to powercard customers in remote communities, as offered to other mainstream residents. ICAN is now working with QCOSS and the government in an advisory capacity towards the implementation of the new initiative.

ICAN, Ergon Energy, Energy & Water Ombudsman of Queensland (EWOQ) and Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council have developed ‘Get Back on Track’; a pilot energy savings program for residents in Yarrabah struggling with their electricity bills. The first step in the program was to identify why Yarrabah residents have such high bills. Unlike most towns that have off-peak tariff options to reduce electricity costs, the majority of Yarrabah residents only have one, tariff 11; the highest cost tariff.

10 high-energy use homes signed up to the pilot program. An electrician will upgrade wiring to allow additional tariff options on meters at pilot program homes. Appliance energy use assessment will be conducted in the pilot homes and energy efficient appliances (white goods) will be supplied through the No Interest Loans Scheme, where needs are identified.

All homes commit to participating in money management and energy smart education workshops to assist in the management of existing debt and reduce the costs of future electricity bills. Both workshops will be backed by one-on one ongoing financial counselling support. Watch this space in 2015.

A strategic priority for ICAN in 2014 was the further development of tailored financial literacy programs including, iHome, Accidental Financial Counsellor (re-named Yarnin’ Money – Service Provider) and Yufla Junga (re-named Yarnin’ Money Resident).

ICAN continued to develop and deliver iHome in Yarrabah and Palm Island as part of its overall money management services. Highlights of the iHome program include Yarrabah’s first homeowner on Indigenous land and the developed partnership with Queensland Government’s Home Ownership Team (HOT) to deliver similar services in other remote communities.

The Indigenous Consumer Outreach project provided an opportunity for ICAN to develop and trial its Accidental Financial Counsellor re-named Yarnin’ Money (Service Provider) financial literacy program for service providers in selected communities throughout Cape York and the Torres Strait Islands. Local service providers noted that when a client presented with cases relating to mental health & family support, financial issues were consistently part of the presenting problem(s). Providers also noted that prior to ICAN’s outreach & training, they were less confident to address the client’s financial issues.

ICAN partnered with PVS Workfind to develop a financial counselling and literacy education program Yufla Junga re-named Yarnin’ Money (Resident) for jobseekers and recently employed people in the Yarrabah/Cairns region.  The training is designed for jobseekers to access information on consumer rights, personal finance management and direct pathways to financial counselling.  Over seven months since the initial pilot, ICAN has delivered five workshops to job seekers.

The hard work in the development of our suite of financial literacy programs paid off, with recent funding being granted by Financial Literacy Australia to expand the Yarnin’ Money (Service Provider & Resident) programs, that will be delivered in some of Queensland’s most socio-economically disadvantaged communities over the next 3 years.

I would like to thank our dedicated staff for continuing to excel in a year of sector funding uncertainty, a testament to their commitment and belief in ICAN’s culture and vision. In reviewing the year that was, I believe we have achieved our goal of putting ICAN in the best possible position for ongoing success. Let’s look forward to a rewarding new year.

Aaron Davis – ICAN CEO