The key changes affecting Australians from January 1

As the clock ticks towards midnight on New Year’s Eve, the attention of millions of Australians will be focused on extravagant firework displays happening across the country.

But most – especially those who’ve enjoyed a drink or two – might not be aware that the annual New Year countdown is also set to usher in a raft of changes to laws and regulations, financial benefits, fees and charges kicking off from January 1.

The year 2020 will bring significant change that will affect daily life for Australians across the nation, with the key differences listed below.

Multiple road changes

Road tolls in Sydney will rise from January 1. While most toll roads in Sydney will incur a 1 per cent quarterly rise, there will be a 4 per cent rise for the new M4 for cars travelling between Parramatta and Haberfield. It will jump to a cost of $8.20.

In WA, police will no longer notify drivers where speed cameras will be in operation come the new year.

Instead from January 1, motorists will be provided with a list of 1800 locations where cameras may be in operation.

The Queensland government announced last month that anyone caught using a phone behind the wheel will be fined $1000 from February 1, and drivers caught twice within a year risk losing their licence.

The fine is more than double the current penalty of $400, and the offence now receives four demerit points instead of three.

NSW drivers are currently in the middle of a three-month grace period for their fleet of mobile-phone cameras in eight locations across the state.

From March, drivers using their mobile phones behind the wheel will be fined $344 if caught by one of the cameras, or a $457 fine will apply if caught in a school zone.

Drivers will also receive five demerit points.

Those in NSW caught throwing cigarettes from car windows will face tough new punishments in 2020. Source: Getty
Those in NSW caught throwing cigarettes from car windows will face tough new punishments in 2020. Source: Getty

With NSW gripped by a bushfire crisis, drivers who toss lit cigarettes from vehicle windows will be slapped with five demerit points under new penalties introduced by the NSW government.

However if the offence is committed during a total fire ban, the punishment doubles to 10 demerit points and a fine of up to $11,000.

Passengers can be hit with a fine of $660 for the same offence, which doubles during total fire bans.

The penalties are due to come in to effect from January 17, 2020.

Help for first home buyers

There will be a helping hand for 10,000 people looking to climb onto the Australian property ladder as of January 1.

The government-backed $500 million First Home Loan Deposit Scheme, announced before May’s election, means borrowers will only need a 5 per cent deposit instead of a 20 per cent one to avoid mortgage insurance payments.

The National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation will pay the rest of the deposit under a special loan.

First home buyers may perform better at auctions thanks to a new scheme that will help with affording a deposit. Source: Getty
First home buyers may perform better at auctions thanks to a new scheme that will help with affording a deposit. Source: Getty

The banks taking part have agreed not to charge eligible scheme customers higher interest rates than equivalent customers outside of the scheme.

"This scheme is a fantastic way of helping even more customers, allowing them to potentially save thousands of dollars on their mortgage and enter the property market sooner," NAB's Mike Baird said on Tuesday.

NAB and Commonwealth Bank will receive at least half of the initial 10,000 guarantees allocated this financial year.

Twenty-five non-major lenders in the scheme will start offering guaranteed loans from February 1.

However there are home price caps of $700,000 in Sydney and $600,000 in Melbourne.

Single applicants cannot be earning more than $125,000 a year and couples more than $200,000.

Lock out laws scrapped

Following relentless backlash from the hospitality industry and disgruntled patrons, Sydney's lockout laws will be no more from January 14.

The controversial laws, which were introduced in 2014 in the CBD after the deaths of one-punch victims Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie, will be wound back in the new year everywhere except Kings Cross.

Sydney's lock out laws will be scrapped in January. Source: Getty, file.
Sydney's lock out laws will be scrapped in January. Source: Getty, file.

Restrictions will also be removed on serving cocktails, shots and drinks in glasses after midnight and remove the 10pm curfew on bottle shop opening hours.

A 3.30am last drinks curfew will also be implemented – a 30-minute extension that went against the 3.00am curfew recommended by doctors.

The 1.30am last entry will also be scrapped.

Dairy code changes

Dairy farmers will be given some financial relief from January 1 when a new Code of Conduct kicks in.

The key change is farmers will be told what they will be paid over the life of their contracts.

Federal Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie has stopped short of ordering a floor price for milk, but hopes the code will provide farmers greater certainty and bargaining power.

The code also prohibits retrospective price "step downs" by processors, and bans exclusive supply arrangements deemed detrimental to dairy farmers.

The code establishes dispute resolution processes, increases the powers of the competition watchdog and introduces civil penalties.

The code of conduct was a key recommendation of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's dairy inquiry, which found significant imbalances in bargaining power at each level of the dairy supply chain.

The nation's peak dairy lobby, Australian Dairy Farmers, said farmers could now be confident there was somebody to turn to when things go sour with processors.

Paid parental leave

The work test for Parental Leave Pay and Dad and Partner Pay will change from January 1, allowing for a larger gap between working days.

Currently only an eight-week gap is allowed, however this will rise to 12 weeks if your child is born on or after January 1.

There will also be the introduction of a Dangerous Jobs provision, which means the work test period will be brought forward if your pregnancy meant you were forced to end work early due to a workplace hazard.

Cheaper medication

Changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme will be introduced in January where the threshold for discounted medicine is lowered.

Pensioners and concession card holders will be able to access free or further discounted medicines at 48 scripts, 12 lower than the previous threshold.

The limit for non-concession card holders will fall by two to 37.

Fee free traineeships

The NSW government has committed funding for 70,000 fee-free traineeships.

It will mean student fees of up to $1000 will be wiped for eligible trainees undertaking a government-funded traineeship course from January 1.

With AAP

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