Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Queensland’s Public Trustee agency faces questions over executor charges and allegations of fees for no service

They are a bloodsucking monsters. You will regret any contact with them. They are unscrupulous money grabbers

When Cora Whitfort needed to update her will, she turned to a trusted, century-old institution that makes them for free: Queensland's Public Trustee.

She wanted her estate to be divided equally among her four children and, to ensure it would go smoothly, she altered her previous will to make the Public Trustee her executor.

Cora developed dementia about two years later and when she died, "dementia" was listed on her death certificate.

That meant that the Public Trustee, as the executor, had a legal obligation to make "due enquiries" about Cora's capacity when she made her will back in 2011. 

None of her family could have predicted those enquiries would lead to almost two years of anguish for those left behind and cost the estate more than $20,000.

Her son Chris Whitfort cannot understand why the authority went to such lengths when no-one in the family was disputing the will.

"She had been share trading. She'd been driving a car, her doctor had not taken a licence off her at that time. So, there was nothing that we saw in that period that suggested there was any cognitive degradation," Mr Whitfort told ABC Investigations.

Estates lawyer Lucy McPherson said it should have been resolved much more quickly since the officer who prepared the will told the Public Trustee he would not have done so unless he was satisfied that she had capacity at the time.

"One would expect a little bit of common sense to prevail," Ms McPherson said. "To satisfy that issue of capacity on the death certificate should have taken no more than a couple of hours of additional work."

"You're looking at under $1,000 of additional work."

Crucially, the Public Trustee had received a report early on in its investigations showing that Cora had passed a cognitive test at her doctor's surgery just three weeks before she went to make her will.

Mental assessments and doctor's certificates are often requested by lawyers when an elderly person is making a will to ensure they have capacity. Cora scored 27 out of 30 on her test, indicating normal mental cognition.

The Public Trustee's current CEO, Samay Zhouand, was not in the role at the time but said its lawyers continued to investigate "because they wanted to ensure that there was no other conflicting information".

"The individuals involved can rightly feel frustrated from some of these things. Unfortunately, as a matter of law, the Public Trustee is required to fully inform the court so … [it] is fully informed and satisfied that the person had capacity," Mr Zhouand told 7.30 in his first TV interview.

Ms McPherson said the Public Trustee office's extensive research and fees were unnecessary, and potentially constituted overservicing.

"If all of those who are beneficially entitled to the estate are not agitating the validity of this document, why was it necessary to go to such great lengths? It wasn't necessary at all," she said.

The Public Trustee's lawyers chased down medical records going as far back as 1995.

They also tracked down the clerical worker who had witnessed Cora's signature on the will seven years earlier.

"It was just this merry-go-round looking for information, and they'd get a bit and that wouldn't be enough, and they'd have to get some more, and we never really knew what the end goal was," Mr Whitfort said.

Mr Zhouand said the Public Trustee had to continue investigating because there was an earlier will in which Cora had promised her house to her grandchildren.

However, because that property had been sold, both wills were effectively the same with the entire estate left to her four children, a fact that the Public Trustee itself accepted in its final application to settle the estate.

The estate was finally settled in 2019, almost two years after Cora's death. Chris Whitfort demanded the legal bill and found the estate had been charged $378 per hour for its investigation into his mother's capacity.

"I thought it was mining the estate and doing it properly, legally within the letter of the law," he said. 

The Public Trustee of Queensland is an entirely self-funded authority, receiving nothing from the state government but relying on fees, commissions and taking part of the interest from its clients in order to operate.

Mr Zhouand said: "The fees and charges of the Official Solicitor's office … are comparable to a mid-tier firm."

He also apologised to the family "if the Public Trustee has not met their expectations" and encouraged them to file a complaint.

More here:


Queensland tourism and hospitality sectors plea for international workers to cover shortage

Queensland industries crippled by a worker shortage have pleaded with the federal government to throw open the border for international workers to provide much-needed employment relief.

The state’s tourism and hospitality sectors were among the hardest hit, with tens of thousands of workers needed to support various industries and many forced to trim operations due to the staffing shortfall.

Industry leaders say they have met with Anthony Albanese’s Home Affairs ministers to ask for an increase to the number of skilled and seasonal workers permitted to enter the country.

But a spokesman for Immigration Minister Andrew Giles said the government is unlikely to pull the trigger until it holds its Jobs and Skills Summit in early September.

The summit aims to “help to shape the future of Australia’s labour market”, according to the federal government, but the Queensland tourism peak body fears the widespread staff shortfall is a crisis in need of urgent relief.

“The challenge that we have is the problem is here, right now,” Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Brett Fraser said. “It’s a problem that we need to address right now.”

The tourism and hospitality sector alone reported more than 5300 vacancies in June, with the industry stripped of its access to holiday visa workers throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, while the number of job advertisements was more than 35 per cent higher compared with June 2021.

“There’s segments of the employment market that just right now aren’t in Australia,” Mr Fraser said. “Getting those visitors back in the country is a really critical part to it.”

Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn says “resolving the people shortage” in the construction industry is the main concern at the moment. “That is really where the crunch is,” she told Sky News Australia. “We desperately need more…
Queensland Hotels Association chief executive Bernie Hogan said jobs that once attracted hundreds of applications are now laying dormant, with the recruiting of chefs “virtually impossible”.

“If you lose a chef, it’s very, very difficult to find a replacement, which means most of them end up closing parts of their business for several days a week,” he said.

Increasing international migration should be “one of the first levers” to help the struggling workforce, according to Chamber of Commerce & Industry Queensland (CCIQ).

Policy and Advocacy manager Cherie Josephson said the Home Affairs department allowing residents from specific countries into Australia to work in industries could be a solution rather than increasing the overall cap for either skilled or seasonal workers.

“But I think when you’ve got worker shortages across a good number of industries, it would make sense to be developing a plan to attract more skilled and seasonal workers into Queensland to address the shortages across multiple industries,” she said.


Teachers to get helping hand preparing for lessons

Teachers will be given curriculum lesson plans, texts and learning materials in a bid to ease the pressure of rising workloads as the profession struggles to find enough time to prepare classes.

The rollout of new resources for NSW public teachers from term 4 comes after a national survey of 5400 primary and high school teachers found 92 per cent said there was inadequate time for their core classroom teaching duties, including critical lesson planning and reviewing students’ work.

Research by the Grattan Institute found 92 per cent of teachers said they don’t have enough time to prepare for effective classroom teaching
Research by the Grattan Institute found 92 per cent of teachers said they don’t have enough time to prepare for effective classroom teachingCREDIT:DEAN SEWELL

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said access to a bank of “high-quality, sequenced curriculum resources” would transform education and eliminate the need for teachers to continually reinvent lesson plans. “Teachers have told us that finding or making high-quality resources that align with the curriculum is the number one tax on their time”, she said.

“We’ve listened closely to our teaching staff, developing an online, high-quality, centralised, universally available learning materials they can draw on. This is a game-changer for teachers in NSW.”

She said the resources, which will include step-by-step guides for delivering lessons with videos and other materials, would improve student outcomes.

Recent research by the Grattan Institute revealed 88 per cent of teachers said having access to common units and assessment materials could save three hours each week and avoid having to “re-invent the wheel” by trawling the internet and come up with lesson plans.

It also found teachers could reclaim about two hours a week if extracurricular jobs such as bus duty and assemblies were handled by support staff.

Education program director at the Grattan Institute, Jordana Hunter, said giving teachers access to a suite of curriculum resources could be a “major step forward as teachers wrestle with workloads that have blown out in recent years”.

“It is important to try and reduce administrative load and lesson planning time. There is also evidence that student needs have become more complex,” Hunter said.

Teachers often draw on their own resources, sharing with colleagues, using Google, Pinterest and online marketplaces to buy educational materials, which can cause huge variation between what is taught in schools.

“Provided the resources are easy for teachers to use and can be adapted in the classroom this is a big step forward,” Hunter said.

“The government shouldn’t underestimate the amount of support needed to roll this out. Even high-quality resources can be challenging for teachers to pick up and run with unless they have professional training and learn how to use it effectively.”

Pressure on teachers has grown in the past decade, she said, as more data was collected to track student progress and there was increased emphasis on student assessment.

While some teachers have argued standard curriculum resources encroach on professional freedom, experts say this view is generally held by a minority.

Mitchell said the resources were “not about taking the creativity out of teaching, that’s what our teachers do best”.

“It’s about providing teachers with a basic recipe for student success, while allowing them to contextualise how they use the ingredients to get the best outcomes for their students.”

A NSW Department of Education review of teacher workload of more than 4000 submissions found overwhelming support curriculum resources.

Hunter said there was “major room for improvement in terms of support for teachers to implement the curriculum in the classroom. In the US, UK and Singapore more support is provided.”

In 2014, a UK government working group found teachers were frequently preparing lessons from scratch and searching the internet to find lesson plans. A pilot program was subsequently set up where schools share high-quality curriculum resources with others in their networks.

“Teachers need to focus on the learning needs of the students. The rise of the internet has allowed for a lot more sharing of resources many of which are of highly variable quality. Years ago there were more textbooks in classrooms and many commercial resources are of mixed quality,” Hunter said.

Draft new NSW syllabuses for years 3-10 English and mathematics were released earlier this year, with the English syllabus to put more focus on literacy skills amid concerns, while NSW primary schools will intensify their focus on literacy and numeracy, with the introduction of a new syllabus mandating the use of phonics.


Prices increases are hurting, but the worst is yet to come

Despite widespread angst about the rising cost of living, the hard truth is that it is far from peaking.

The wind and the rain are here, but the real cyclone is due to make landfall from September. That is when many price rises in household bills will really start to bite.

Families will need to have a “spring cyclone plan” to help avoid the worst of it, and that leaves us less than a month to batten down the hatches.

The federal government insists we should expect 22 cents a litre to be tacked on to petrol prices on September 28, when the six-month temporary cut to the fuel excise announced in the March budget ends.

New Zealand recently extended its relief package until January, but there is no sign yet of that happening here.

Fuel prices have finally dropped from record highs, as COVID-19 lockdowns in China cut global demand for oil.

Average petrol prices are now hovering just below $2 a litre so, next month, they should be back up to about $2.20.

There has also been a lot of talk about some of the biggest electricity price increases households have seen, but they have not really hit home yet either.

The reality of energy bills is that most of us pay quarterly, which means that first much larger bill will not likely come until spring. It will include the usual big annual winter heating bill, so look out for a double-shock.

The cost of paying your mortgage has been rising for months, but those on fixed rates are heading towards a cliff.

Most banks have passed on Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) official interest rate increases to their variable-rate mortgage borrowers, who are now paying about an extra $7000 in annual interest on an average loan. And more rate rises are still on the way.

However, the RBA states that the share of borrowers on fixed-rate mortgages increased from 20 per cent at the start of 2020 to a peak of almost 40 per cent in early 2022. So, their mortgage increases – about an extra $20,000 a year on an average loan – will come all at once when their fixed-terms expire.

For the majority, that will be next year, however, for about 10 per cent, it will come in the next few months.

Then there is the price rise many of us may have forgotten – health insurance. Premiums normally rise in April of each year but, this year, they have been deferred by many funds as a pandemic relief measure.

As recently as last week, Bupa deferred its increase again until November, bringing it in line with the rest of the big four providers – HCF, NIB and Medibank/AHM.

However, in September and October, deferred premium increases will kick in at AIA Health, GMHBA, Frank, TUH, Teachers Health, UniHealth and Nurses & Midwives Health, and Peoplecare. So, that is about 10 million people who will see a health insurance price rise averaging 2.7 per cent, or about $126 a year for a family.

Grocery prices are rising fast, too, especially fruit and vegetables – up 5.8 per cent in just three months, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, due to the second round of east-coast floods.

For a typical household exposed to all of the above price increases, by the time spring blooms, their costs will have climbed as much as $12,000 a year, based on the following estimates:

Mortgage: up $10,000
Fuel: up $1040
Groceries: up $750
Energy: up $300
Health insurance: up $126

Many of us are already changing our spending habits to cut out non-essentials, to prepare for all the cost of living increases still to come. If you are not, now might be a good time to start.




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