HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
AUSTRALIAN PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 13 MAY 2021
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I rise to speak on the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Motor Vehicle Service and Repair Information Sharing Scheme) Bill 2021 and I move the second reading amendment that has been circulated in my name:
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes that the Government's unnecessary delays in delivering a level playing field for independent mechanics have hurt small businesses and consumers".
It was Mother's Day 2018, at JAX Tyres in Essendon, when the former Leader of the Opposition and I announced Labor's 'Your Car, Your Choice' policy. We announced that, following the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's 2017 report—its New car retailing industry market study—Labor would put in place a mandatory code requiring manufacturers to share with independent mechanics the information they need to fix modern cars.
We did so because it became clear in 2018 that the voluntary code wasn't working. The voluntary code had been put in place in 2014 and required manufacturers to share with independent mechanics the data they needed to fix modern cars. But mechanics simply weren't getting the data they needed.
Visiting a vast number of independent mechanics, I would often ask them which manufacturer was best. I would get different answers. They would say, 'Well, sometimes this one's okay and sometimes that one's okay.' But, as Stuart Charity from the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association put it, their industry was sometimes having to use workarounds that might take them four or five hours to find the information for an issue that they should have got in 10 to 15 minutes. Mr Charity said that sometimes cars are towed back to the dealership just to have a five-digit or six-digit pin code put in. He said that it just doesn't make sense, and it's not a level playing field.
So, in 2018, Labor flipped the script. Where Australian politics normally sees the government in the front seat and the opposition in the back seat, we flipped those roles, took the wheel and took leadership on making it clear that Australia needed a mandatory code. We did so because it was in the interests of independent mechanics—23,000 of them, compared to just 3,500 dealers. Most Australians get their cars fixed at independent mechanics. But independent mechanics are increasingly finding that they don't have the tools to fix a modern car. If you've spent time in a mechanic's workshop recently, you'll know that much less of the work is done by swinging a large bit of metal against another large bit of a metal. A whole lot more of the work is done through scan tools: plugging in or connecting—sometimes by bluetooth, or wi-fi—to upload or download information. Often what your car needs isn't a bang with a hammer; it's an upgraded software patch. But if the independent mechanics don't have those new software patches, then they can't fix modern cars. And that's increasingly what we're seeing as cars are becoming computers on wheels.
This is an issue across Australia, but it's an issue particularly in regional and remote Australia. When I visited Island Auto Repairs in Bongaree on Bribie Island, I learned about the many residents of Bribie Island who are older and don't feel comfortable driving their cars off the island. They're comfortable on the island—the traffic's a little slower and people go a little easier—but they don't go over the bridge to the mainland. The trouble is that there are no authorised dealers on Bribie Island. If you've got a car whose manufacturer won't share data with Island Auto Repairs, you face an invidious choice: either you don't get your car fixed or you take a dangerous drive that you don't want to do. So, for Island Auto Repairs, it's critical that they get the data they need to fix modern cars.
It's a huge issue in regional Australia. Many regional areas don't have authorised dealers and, therefore, people are forced to drive tens or hundreds of kilometres to get to an authorised dealer. It's also an issue of affordability. Many Australians like to get their car fixed at a mycar, a JAX, an Ultra Tune, a Bridgestone or a Pedders—or, indeed, at a non-chain independent mechanic, such as Island Auto Repairs in Bongaree. Those independent mechanics tend to be cheaper—one study said that they were, on average, 25 per cent cheaper—and they have the right to be able to compete for business along with authorised dealers. But they can't do it if they don't get the data they need.
Having made this announcement back in 2018, we didn't immediately see the coalition jumping on board. You'd expect that an announcement of this kind would receive bipartisan support. After all, Labor's policy flowed from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's independent report.
It was backed by not only the Automotive Aftermarket Association but also the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, CHOICE, the Insurance Council of Australia, the Consumer Action Law Centre, the Capricorn Society, the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals, and IAG. We also saw the Australian Automobile Association backing the policy, including members such as the NRMA, the RACQ and the RACV. All of these organisations recognise the benefits of a level playing field in car repair. They recognise that, as cars become more computerised, it is essential for independent mechanics to have that downloadable data.
The government have moved at an incredibly slow space. They have been stuck in a slow gear and for years they had the handbrake on—let's be honest. So this bill is greatly welcomed. It would not be happening were it not for Labor's advocacy, but it's happening much too late. Independent mechanics have gone to the wall waiting for this policy and are unable to fix cars that are brought into their workshop for want of software upgrades or a PIN. By the time this scheme takes effect on 1 July 2022, it will have been five years since the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission handed down their report and it will have been more than four years since Labor announced our Your Car, Your Choice policy.
I would like to acknowledge the many people who have worked to make the case for these reforms, including Angelo from JAX Tyres in Essendon—one of our first visits to mechanics—Kelly from Island Auto Repairs on Bribie Island, and many of my parliamentary colleagues, including Anne Stanley, Milton Dick, Murray Watt, Lisa Chesters, Shayne Neumann, Matt Keogh, Susan Templeman, Catherine King, Ged Kearney, Joanne Ryan, Josh Wilson and Peter Khalil, among many others. I note that the speaking list presently contains many more Labor members than coalition members, reflecting Labor's strong advocacy on this issue. I see the names Thistlethwaite, Payne, Wilson, Dick, Templeman and Murphy on that list, as well as Jones and Keogh, but only three speakers on the coalition side. It reflects the fact that Labor is very serious about a level playing field for independent mechanics.
I also want to acknowledge the important work done by the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association—the vital advocacy of Lesley Yates and Stuart Charity in making a strong case to Labor and to the government for these reforms. I also acknowledge Geoff Gwilym and John Khoury from the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce; the Capricorn Society and Melina Morrison; the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals, of which the Capricorn Society is a member; and Elyse Keyser from the AAAA for supporting a range of MPs' visits. Apparently, the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association facilitated some 75 visits by members of parliament to independent mechanics. That huge amount of work was facilitated to a large extent by Elyse Keyser. There was the work of the Australian Automobile Association, specifically Craig Newland and Jason Smith, and the Australian Automobile Dealer Association and their CEO, James Voortman. People originally thought that the Australian Automobile Dealer Association would oppose this change, but they didn't. It is a credit to that great organisation for deciding there was enough work to go around for everyone—there was a role for independent mechanics and a role for authorised dealers. Authorised dealers have had their challenges in dealing with the multinational manufacturers. Labor took to the last election a policy for an industry-specific franchise code to deal with the power imbalance between multinational manufacturers and dealers and the fact that dealers will often put a huge amount of investment into a dealership only to suddenly find their agreement with the manufacturer had been rescinded. These dealers play a vital role. Holden dealers in particular were not treated well by General Motors in recent times.
I acknowledge the Motor Trades Association of Australia and their CEO, Richard Dudley. I also acknowledge all of those independent mechanics whose workshops we visited. I should also mention a few more of my colleagues—Julie Owens, Deb O'Neill, Milton Dick, Michelle Rowland, Lisa Chesters and Pat Conroy. The fact that I am constantly adding to my list of Labor MPs who have backed this reform does reflect how strongly this side of the House feel about this bill today.
The bill will require that manufacturers offer to supply information used for conducting diagnostic services or repair activities in relation to certain vehicles to all Australian repairers and registered training organisations. The registered training organisations piece is important too. Apprentices working for independent mechanics will get better training as a result of access to this data, and registered training organisations need to be able to train young mechanics in using the scan tools and to do the software upgrades that are so essential to maintaining a modern car. Manufacturers will be required to charge no more than the fair market value for the information—independent dealers don't want it for free, but neither should they be overcharged—and the information covered by the scheme will need to be supplied immediately once the repairer has paid the agreed price.
One issue that has been discussed between the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association and Treasury is around how independent mechanics will be able to update the digital service records of cars they work on. I understand that some resolution has been reached on this issue, the issue of so-called electronic logbooks. Minister Sukkar has undertaken to direct the so-called Scheme Manager to initiate a process of consultations between Treasury and stakeholders to find a satisfactory solution for this issue, and that will sit alongside the legislated framework in this bill.
From my discussions with the minister, I understand he is going to make some formal statement to the House to that effect, which will give a great deal of confidence to the industry. If you can fix the car but you can't update the electronic logbook, then customers will, of necessity, feel as though the work might not have been completely done. It would be as though the dealer had the keys to the glove box and told the independent mechanics, 'Sorry, only we can unlock the glove box and write in the back of the manual that the service has been done properly.' No-one would think that was a reasonable solution, and I hope we are able to deal with the parallel digital issue so that independent mechanics, having downloaded the right software patches, having done the service, are able to update the logbook or the digital service record, as it's known.
This is a very good bill. It is also a bill which has come very, very late. We should have been having this debate years ago. We made our announcement on Mother's Day in 2018. The member for Maribyrnong said he had a Mother's Day present for the coalition. They could steal our policy, take it straight into the parliament and get it done. If they had done that, then more money would be in the pockets of Australian customers. The 17 million Australian car owners would be better off. The 23 million independent mechanics would be better off. The 150,000 to 200,000 people who work in that industry would be better off. It is a shame that it has taken so many years to come to this point, but Labor support—nay, we champion—this reform. We will be pleased to see it implemented as soon as possible.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra