When money problems hit

LAST financial year more than 23,000 Australians were declared bankrupt under parts IV and XI of the Bankruptcy Act. Another 8000 signed legally binding "part IX" debt agreements while more than 350 began "part X" personal insolvency agreements.

Unless the person owing the money is well-known - the recently reported case of former Knights chairman Michael Hill is one example - bankruptcies are by and large anonymous matters.

It is easy to see why few people want their bankruptcies widely known. Although society's moral codes have broadened somewhat in recent decades, bankruptcy can still carry a substantial stigma. In some cases, the fall from grace is spectacular.

But bankruptcy laws serve a clear purpose. They allow a financially embattled individual to draw a line under their losses and to reach the best agreement they can with their creditors. Once discharged from bankruptcy, the potential is there to make a fresh start.

Bankruptcy statistics, like the unemployment rate and other regular measures of societal trends, provide an insight into how well, or otherwise, a community is travelling.

Hunter figures for the 2010-11 financial year show 663 bankruptcies, 195 debt agreements and four personal insolvency agreements. Salvation Army financial counsellor Carolyn Limeburner says the bankruptcy numbers would be higher were it not for a growing reliance on negotiated settlements, an observation borne out in the national statistics. Since the late 1990s, formal bankruptcies have cycled between annual highs of more than 27,000 and lows of about 20,000. Negotiated settlements, on the other hand, have risen steadily from fewer than 2600 in 1997-98 to more than 9000 last financial year.

Each bankruptcy case will have its own defining characteristics but the important thing, as financial counsellors attest, is to seek help as soon as problems become apparent. Some bankrupted individuals will be victims of circumstance. Others will have borrowed too much or fallen prey to problem gambling.

But regardless of the reasons for bankruptcy, the "astonishingly high" numbers of people that Samaritans head Cec Shevels observes seeking help despite the Hunter's strong employment market does not bode well for the future.

Electronic waste

HUNTER Resource Recovery, a joint venture between Cessnock, Lake Macquarie and Maitland councils, recently registered its millionth tonne of electronic waste since it started collecting in 2009.

These three councils have four free e-waste drop-off days this year but disability provider Mai-Wel, which dismantles the equipment, lists only two for Port Stephens and one for Newcastle, which was last month. On that basis, Newcastle Greens councillor Michael Osborne has a point when he says there's a need for more e-waste collection days. Especially as the increasing pace of technological change and the switch to digital TV will only result in even more redundant appliances.

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