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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 4341

Senator FIELDING (Leader of the Family First Party) (1:54 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

Australians like choice.

We like to be able to choose where we buy our groceries, where we fill up our petrol, what shops we buy our clothes from and what restaurants we eat at.

Choice means better competition, and that means better prices for families.

The Choice of Repairer Bill is about delivering on that principle of choice and ensuring there is real choice in the automotive aftermarket industry.

At the moment there isn’t real choice and ordinary families are paying more than they have to do to get their car serviced or repaired.

As technology progresses, cars are becoming more and more “computers on wheels”.

Servicing a car no longer involves simply lifting up the bonnet and having a poke about or looking under the bottom of the car to make sure all the parts are in order, it also involves using expensive computer software to read and diagnose vehicle faults.

Without effective access to technical information, multi-brand diagnostic tools and test equipment, car repairers are unable to properly service and repair vehicles.

Essentially, they are putting independent repairers out of business.

Vehicle manufacturers are aware of this and are making it harder and harder for independent repairers to get access to this data and these diagnostic tools.

Instead, what they are doing is handing this information over exclusively to their own car dealerships, and squeezing out the independent repairers from competition.

This practice is killing off competition across Australia and making it more expensive for ordinary Australians to get their car serviced and repaired, because it is forcing people to go to the manufacturer’s car dealerships, where the prices are generally much higher.

It’s basic economics.

Kill off the competition so there is more demand than supply and you can charge higher prices than before.

Australians are losing their choice over where they take their car to be serviced and repaired and are paying for it through their hip pocket.

Most Australians already hate taking their car in for a service because it always ends up costing more money than what is expected.

Now this price is becoming even higher and eating more into the family budget because of the shrinking competition in this sector.

There are somewhere between 12,000 - 14,000 independent repairers operating across Australia and together they employ approximately 300,000 people nationwide.

This number used to be higher, but due to the enormous difficulties in running a workshop without access to this technical data, this number has been steadily decreasing.

Figures show that between 2003 and 2007, the number of independent general repairers fell by 11%.

Workshops are closing down because many of them have limited or zero access to technical information for late model repair and maintenance.

Family businesses are being killed off around the country, because the big vehicle manufacturers are forcing ordinary Australians to go to their own dealerships if they want their car serviced properly.

It’s highway robbery at its worst and should not be allowed to continue.

The Choice of Repairer Bill will help fix this unlevel playing field by making sure that independent repairers continue to have access to important technical information and diagnostic tools which are necessary for servicing vehicles.

This bill is designed to protect choice and competition in the vehicle repair, servicing, replacement parts and accessories sector by forcing the car manufacturers to hand over this technical information to all repairers, not just their own dealerships.

Any car manufacturer that doesn’t play by these rules will be in breach of the Trade Practices Act, the Act designed to ensure there is free and fair competition in the marketplace.

This means that any car owner will be able to choose whichever repairer they like to service their vehicle and won’t have their hands tied behind their back because only a few workshops have the technical data to properly service their car.

It will cut the additional costs which consumers are being slugged with because of a lack of competition in the automotive aftermarket industry.

Australians have one of the highest vehicle ownership rates anywhere in the world and we need to make sure that owning and operating a car continues to be affordable for all Australians.

This bill is important in particular for hundreds of thousands of Australians living in rural and regional areas who don’t have a wide range of choice of repairers, and in some cases may only have the one car workshop in the town.

At the moment, some people in the country are being forced to drive to the car dealership which is hundreds of kilometres away, just to get their car serviced, when they have a perfectly good independent repairer in their own town, who would be able to service their car if they had all the technical data at their disposal.

It turns what should be a quick exercise of dropping off your car at the local mechanic, into a whole day affair.

It’s outrageous.

Australians deserve free and fair competition and the big vehicle manufacturers shouldn’t be allowed to rip off families with their excessive prices.

In other parts of the world, legislation has been passed putting a stop to this car service and repair rip-off and it’s time Australia followed their lead.

We’ve seen this in Canada, parts of the United States as well as the across Europe, where laws have put in place to force the car manufacturers to hand over their technical information to independent repairers.

Ordinary Australian motorists deserve the same protections that are available in other parts of the world and this bill should be passed without delay.

Senator FIELDING —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.