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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 5941


Mr VASTA (Bonner) (22:00): I rise this evening to highlight the government's incompetence and lack of real oversight for its solar panels program because it has once again enabled unscrupulous providers to rip off unsuspecting people and, potentially, taxpayers' money. As was detailed in the Courier Mail recently, shonky dealers have been able to operate in the solar panel industry and have ripped off people trying to be environmentally conscientious. Many of the people affected are pensioners and people who can least afford to have money stolen from them. I know this all too well from the people in my electorate of Bonner who have been ripped off.

The particular shonky dealer exposed in the Courier Mail is a business called Solar Powered Products. It used a cold-calling method and people were then visited by a man calling himself 'Steve Williams.' The scam was the promise of solar products following a deposit of $900. In addition, Steve Williams offered to reduce the overall cost of $6,600 if people signed over their federal government solar credits and acted as a display home; however, once the deposit was taken there was only an SMS communication from the company and no products materialised.

It has now been revealed that Solar Powered Products is owned by Julie Anne Jones, founder of Australia's Revival, a fake church based on the Gold Coast, and the person calling himself Steve Williams is known to locals as 'Pastor Steve'. 'Pastor Steve' and 'Steve Williams' is, in fact, Stephen John Jones, who is married to Julie Anne Jones. Both are former bankrupts who have now claimed an estimated 400 victims with this latest scam. Investigations by the Courier Mail have also found that Australia's Revival enjoys tax exemptions as a religious institution, yet there is no evidence of any services, worship or other religious activity. On top of that, the address in Burleigh Heads that Solar Powered Products provided to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission is occupied by a surf accessories import business that has never heard of Solar Powered Products. Julie Anne Jones has now also registered another company—Premium Solar Systems.

The reason all these facts are important is that Stephen John Jones, aka Steve Williams, and Solar Powered Products have ripped off people in my electorate of Bonner. One couple contacted my office concerned about the fact that they had paid their $900 deposit, had received nothing and all attempts to contact the company had failed. This couple were judicious and, alongside my office, tried a number of means to check on the legitimacy of Solar Powered Products, including following ASIC processes, but, as was highlighted by the Courier Mail, this company provides bogus addresses and has apparently closed a number of its bank facilities following other complaints.

The attempt to verify the legitimacy of this company included trying to contact the Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator which holds a list of accredited providers; however, the phone number listed on the government's own publications for the Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator rang out and there was not even an answering machine to leave a message on. How are people supposed to safeguard themselves against scams like this when the government cannot even provide an information phone line that is answered or, at the very least, has an answering machine? My constituent and I only found out the true identity of this company and its owners from the Courier Mail.

This is a gross failure on the part of the government, particularly when the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee was warned last month about shonky solar operators. The government's Home Insulation Program cost taxpayers $2.45 billion and from its incep-tion it was an outrageous failure of policy and implementation. As we all now know, this government rejected all attempts to warn them of the issues associated with this program and all attempts to shed light on what was really going with fraudulent claims.

This is another failure of the government to prevent fraudulent activity. I hold grave fears for the implementation of the entertainment revolution and the set-top boxes. I certainly support the shadow minister for climate action— (Time expired)