ABC RADIO SYDNEY
MONDAY, 23 SEPTEMBER 2019
Subjects: The Morrison Government's inaction costing Australian drivers big bucks.
WENDY HARMER: Who we’ve got on to have a chat about this ‘Your car, Your choice’ is Andrew Leigh. He’s the Federal Labor MP for Fenner in the ACT and he's also Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury. He has been on this case for a couple of years now. He says that really we should be looking at this issue really carefully. The ACCC, as Robbie mentioned, has been arguing that dealers should have to hand over this information to independent mechanic, they’ve been saying this for two years now but nothing has happened. Why not? We would like you to share your own experiences in dealing with this - 1300 222 702 is our number. Andrew Leigh joins us now. Hello, Andrew.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Good morning, Wendy. How are you?
HARMER: Good, good. Why have you taken this up as a cause?
LEIGH: It seems a basic issue of fairness to me, that if you're an independent mechanic you should have the data you need to fix modern cars. They’re extraordinarily complicated. The typical modern car has 10 million lines of software code. To put that into perspective, a Boeing 787 has only 6 million lines of software code. So if you don't have the software, it's pretty hard to fix a lot of problems.
ROBBIE BUCK: Okay. Tell us what the situation is for independent mechanics when it comes to trying to trying to get those raw materials.
LEIGH: Right now they're operating under a voluntary code, which means that they get some but not all data from manufacturers. Manufacturers have been pretty coy on providing data, preferring instead to favour authorised dealerships. Those authorised dealerships are operating off a kind of inkjet printer model, where they get small margins when they sell the car and hope to make the money back on servicing. The problem for independent mechanics is they want to have fair competition. They want to have access on fair and reasonable commercial terms to the data, but they're just not getting it from the multinational manufacturers.
HARMER: And tell us about what the ACCC found on this one, Andrew.
LEIGH: The ACCC nearly two years ago now came down with a comprehensive report. They’d spoken to people in the industry, they’d spent time in mechanics workshops and they said ‘look these criticisms around data sharing, around environmental safety and security issues, they’ve been dealt with in the US and the EU and it's not beyond our wit to deal with them here’. They pointed out that 150,000 mechanics are working in these 20,000 independent mechanics dealerships and that it's important for those people to have their livelihoods protected. I've been into a whole bunch of mechanics workshops where people will tell me extraordinary stories about how they have to try to fix cars when they can't get the data. Sometimes they’ll have to tow a car to an authorised dealer so a six digit pin can be typed in. Other times they'll spend time on YouTube, trying to work out how things have been done overseas. It's all a terrible waste of time and ends up costing more for the driver.
BUCK: When you say costing, it's something like a billion dollars annually that we’re paying extra in mechanical bills because of this.
LEIGH: That's right. So I raised this issue with Rod Sims, the head of competition watchdog last week. I pointed out to him that a study that had been done the United States seemed to suggest that if the same effect was found here, the consumer costhad to be more than a billion dollars. He agreed that he couldn't fault the math. It's one of those no brainer reforms. You go and speak to independent mechanics, and all the more as you speak also to people in regional towns, where sometimes there isn't an authorised dealer. So if their car breaks down, they might have to go 100 kilometres to get to somebody who's getting the data. It's just not fair, it doesn't make any sense in a modern age that we don't have these data being shared on fair and reasonable commercial terms with the independent mechanics.
HARMER: We're speaking with Andrew Leigh. He's the Federal Labor MP for Fenner and Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury. Well, Andrew you're not the lone ranger here. You've got the backing here of well those independent mechanics groups, the consumer groups, the insurance industry, the automotive clubs such as the NRMA, the RACV, etcetera. Where's the holdup here? I mean, where does the pressure have to be applied and how should it be applied?
LEIGH: Wendy, the holdup is a government that's been elected but doesn't want to do anything. Only manufacturers stand in the way of this. Even the authorised dealers haven't been speaking out against it. Really it's just one of those reforms that has to happen. The longer we go on, the more complicated computers on cars get. I said 10 million lines of code for the typical car, but you've got luxury cars now with 100 million lines of code, and it's going to be impossible for independent mechanics to fix those cars if they don't get the data.
HARMER: Yeah, we get the picture. Well, let's speak to Derek. He's a mobile mechanic. Hello Derek.
CALLER: Good morning, Wendy. How are you going?
HARMER: Good, thank you. Is this affecting your livelihood?
CALLER: Well, it does, you know. Because in the agricultural side of things, a lot of the newer tractors are coming out with tier four, tier five, tier six engines. And they’ve got now all the electronics in them. I can still change oil filters and do basic stuff like that, but if there's any sort of faults come up with the machine that the electronics are picking up, I've got Buckley’s. And you know, it's an $8,000 spend for me for one model of tractor to get the software, if the company will sell it to me.
HARMER: So what you are pointing out here is it's not just cars, but it's agricultural equipment as well. So what happens here, Derek, if – well, I guess being a mobile mechanic, I guess you can go and visit people. But say if you're in, you know, in the back of Bourke there and you have one of these very speccy tractors break down. What happens then?
CALLER: Well, what you do is you – um. Well, you know there's cases in Western Australia with farmers, wheat farmers with headers that will pay six hours travel time for a mechanic to come out of Perth to put their machine on, to diagnose a problem, for that mechanic to then drive six hours back to Perth to get the part and then drive six hours back and then drive six hours back again. And it might be a, you know, it might be a $100 part, but it's cost, you know - it's cost the farmer nearly $3000.
BUCK: Derek, as a mobile mechanic, what do you think the solution should be here?
CALLER: Look I think there are any number of aftermarket scanning tools available and I think the, you know, I think - I think manufacturers are purposely making equipment overcomplicated to protect their brand and protect their own service and their spare parts. And if they could make it, make the machines simpler that you can get a standard scan tool that might cost you four or five thousand dollars, but you can use that across several different models of machine, and then you know it's worthwhile for me to do it. I don't even, I don't own a scan tool now because I don't come across enough machines that I can actually get a scan on and do that, because it's all so specialised.
HARMER: All right. Well thanks for giving us a call Derek, we appreciate that. Thank you. You would have heard that complaint before, Andrew Leigh, I imagine.
LEIGH: Absolutely, Wendy. Derek's pointing to one of the other areas in farm machinery, where this is a big issue. You’ve got repairers right across the country who just want a level playing field. They're not asking for a handout from the government. They’re simply asking for the Morrison Government to give them access to the data they need to do their job.
HARMER: And you say this is already the practice in the EU and the US?
LEIGH: Absolutely. And cars are not driving off roads in those places simply because independent mechanics are fixing them. It's one of those issues that we've just got to get moving on. Some things in life are hard, Wendy. This is not one of them, and I’m astounded that the Morrison government isn’t willing to take the wheel and drive reform.
HARMER: All right then. Well, I guess we'll just stand by for information on that one. Good on you, Andrew. Thank you.
LEIGH: Thanks so much, Wendy. Thanks, Robbie.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.