Australia’s new laws taking effect on 1 January: from axed tampon tax to credit card changes

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The end of the tampon tax, restrictions on foreign political donations and crackdowns on predatory lending practices are among changes to Australian law coming into effect on Tuesday.

On Monday the federal government signed a determination to remove the GST from sanitary products, following unanimous state and federal agreement three months ago. It will take effect on 1 January.

It follows a decades-long campaign to have the essential female products included with condoms and lubricant as “health goods” exempt from the tax.

In 2000 then health minister, Michael Wooldridge, said condoms “prevent illness”, and he “wasn’t aware that menstruation was an illness”.

Both parties voted it down over the years but eventually supported the push, despite the $30m loss in tax revenue.

Political donations

Funds will also reduce for political parties, which will no longer be allowed to receive donations of $1,000 or more from foreign donors, under the FAD Reform Act.

The law has been described as the “most significant change to funding and disclosure legislation in some time” by the Australian Electoral Commission.

It also prohibits foreign governments and state-owned enterprises from making gifts worth $100 or more to political parties and campaigners if the gift is being used for electoral purposes.

Other third-party political actors will also be prohibited from using donations worth $13,800 or more from foreign sources to fund electoral expenditure.

Credit cards

In this post-royal commission environment, banks are also getting hit with a range of law reforms coming into effect, designed to protect credit card holders from predatory and irresponsible lending.

Changes include a ban on backdated interest charges, an end to contrary suggestions when a customer is trying to close an account or reduce a limit, and a requirement that new applicants be assessed on their ability to repay an entire credit card limit.

Education

Changes to higher education funding are also coming.

The federal government will set a “lifetime limit” cap on HELP loans, of $104,440 for most students. Those taking medicine, dentistry or vet science degrees will be capped at $150,000.

Regional students relocating for university will have improved access to youth allowance and Abstudy, said Paul Fletcher, the minister for social services.

The parental income cut-off criteria for self-supporting students will increase by $10,000 to $160,000, plus an extra $10,000 for each additional child in the family.

At Victorian Tafes the cost of 30 non-apprenticeship and 20 apprenticeship pathway courses will be covered by state governments.

Courts and welfare

New migrants will now have to wait up to four years for some welfare payments. The federal government says the changes coming into effect on Tuesday make the system “more effective, sustainable and stronger”.

Huge changes are also coming to the courts, with the family court of Australia being rolled into the federal circuit court. The move is part of government efforts to reduce the backlog in the family court, but prompted concern among legal groups which accused the government of not consulting them.

Public transport

In an effort to ease congestion and discourage driving through Melbourne, category one and two levies will increase by $30 and $20 respectively.

Public transport fees will increase by an average of 2.2% in Melbourne, in line with CPI, by 1.8% in Brisbane and 2.2% to New South Wales’s Opal cards.

Across Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, some road tolls will also rise by up to 10c per trip.

Electricity prices will drop in some states, including by an average of 1.6% for Victorian AGL customers, and by 10% for concession card holders with non-discounted plans in NSW, ACT, Queensland and South Australia, 

Babies

Western Australia will join NSW,  Queensland  and Victoria in introducing laws about un- or under-vaccinated children attending childcare and kindergarten. The “no jab no play” law will from 1 January require childcare operators and schools to collect data on vaccination rates of students and report to government.

The laws will allow state government to order shutdowns or bans on unvaccinated children attending in the event of a (vaccine-preventable) disease outbreak. A proposed bill intends to expand the law to ban enrolments of unvaccinated children in 2019.

The families of an estimated 100,000 new babies will receive $300 baby bundles in NSW in 2019. The new government initiative, starting on Tuesday, will deliver assistance packages in an effort to help new parents.

Animals

In Victoria, any lambs or goats imported from interstate will need electronic ID tags, and pet greyhounds will no longer be made to wear muzzles in public (although racing greyhounds still will).

As part of a sustainable fisheries strategy in Queensland, vessel tracking will be required on all commercial fishing boats by 2020, but net, line and crab commercial fishing boats will need to install the units in 2019.

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