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Telstra fined $50 million: what you've missed this week

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The NSW government joins the fight against the mice plague, and Telstra cops one of the largest corporate fines in history.

Here are five things you might have missed this week.

Telstra fined for exploiting indigenous Australians

telstra fined for treatment of indigenous customers

The Federal Court has upheld a $50 million fine slapped on Telstra by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) for exploiting indigenous customers in rural Western Australia, South Australia and Northern Territory.

The court heard how vulnerable indigenous people were pushed into phone plans they couldn't afford, leading to massive fines that were in some cases pursued by debt collectors.

The court decision has been celebrated by consumer advocates.

"This fine is a line in the sand for Telstra and any telco that treats customers unfairly and causes harm. This conduct needs to stop," said Gerard Brody, CEO Consumer Action.

"Telstra claims to have changed its ways, yet we continue to get calls from people who have experienced very poor customer service and dispute resolution, inadequate hardship assistance and terrible sales practices.

Brody believes the fine should catalyse change in the telecommunications industry.

"As we recover from the COVID-19 crisis, it is clear that telecommunications are an essential service that people rely on for health, work and education. The current model of self-regulation in this industry has failed."

Mice be damned

The NSW government has pledged $50 million to help fight the mouse plague. "It'll be the equivalent of napalming mice across rural NSW," says NSW minister for agriculture Adam Marshall.

Eligible households will be able to claim rebates of up to $500 for baits purchased.

Small businesses that are eligible will be able to claim a rebate of up to $1,000 for baits purchased.

Farmers will also be able to get their grain treated free of charge.

"There is no paperwork, they can just show up,"

AustralianSuper and Club Plus to merge

AustralianSuper and Club plus are on the verge of merging, which if approved would create a $207 billion fund.

Club Plus Super chief executive Stefan Strano says the merger would "support and enhance the journey of our members to retire on their own terms."

"While most of our members join us at the start of their working lives, we recognise they need support across all stages of life, through careers that may span multiple industries."

Club Plus was created 1987, with many of its 65,000 members working in the hospitality and community clubs sectors.

Retirees freed from legacy products

Retirees will have a two-year window to transfer out of legacy retirement products without contributing to the concessional contribution cap or 15% assessable tax rate, announced in the 2021-22 budget.

The amnesty covers market-linked, life-expectancy, lifetime pension, SMSFs and annuity products that commenced before September 20, 2007.

"Currently, individuals are locked into certain products that restrict access to capital and flexibility of drawdowns, preventing them from effectively using their retirement savings for health, aged care, and other large expenses in retirement," budget papers read.

First home buyers in the doldrums

According to ME Bank's latest Quarterly Property Sentiment Report, first home buyers recorded the lowest level of positive sentiment among buyer groups this quarter, down three percentage points to 24%, while investors recorded the highest positive sentiment at 52%.

Additionally, 82% of the property buyers surveyed indicated they 'feel worried about paying too much for property in the current market.'

"When property prices and interest rates lowered last year during the pandemic, a unique buying opportunity opened up for confident first home buyers with cash savings and secure employment, while many investors became nervous," says ME's Head of Home Loans and Personal Banking, Claudio Mazzarella.

"Now prices have rebounded strongly and affordability is going down, first home buyers aren't feeling as positive."

Buying and selling is a double-sided coin, of course. Hard times for buyers typically mean good news for existing owners.

Property owners' 'sense of wealth' increased 41% while 'general financial confidence' increased 42%, both all-time highs.

"Rising prices are making property owners feel wealthier, when many buyers are stretching their budgets to afford the limited but growing availability of stock on the market at the moment," says Mazzarella.

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David Thornton is a journalist at Money magazine. He previously worked at Your Money, covering market news as producer of Trading Day Live. Before that, he covered business and finance news at The Constant Investor. David holds a Masters of International Relations from the University of Melbourne.
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