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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 498

Mr WRIGHT —Has the attention of the Minister for Transport been drawn to last night's 60 Minutes program in which the Government was criticised for not compelling Mitsubishi Australia Ltd to recall all of its Valiant vehicles for rectification of a seat slide defect? Will the Minister advise what action the Government has taken on this important issue?

Mr PETER MORRIS —I thank the honourable member for his question. I commend him for the very strong interest he has displayed over the years in matters of consumer interest. I am aware of the report that was displayed on the 60 Minutes program. Let me say that the subject of the report is not something new. It has been a matter that has been the subject of Press coverage on a number of occasions over the years. In fact, it first arose in the life of the previous Government. I want to say at the outset that it is ludicrous to suggest that there was some secrecy about how the issue was dealt with by this Government. The tests that were carried out in respect of the vehicles concerned were always carried out in the presence of representatives of the Australian Automobile Association. As I have said, there have been a number of Press reports over the years. There have also been injunctions at various stages on the release of information. I notice that in the television coverage reference was made to a letter I signed referring to disclosure of the report. As the recipients of the letter would well be aware, that related to the possibility of legal action for defamation were the contents of the report to be distributed. But all those who were involved were well aware of the matters involved and the background to them. So, as I said, there is very little that is in any way new.

The problem arose out of a dispute about an interpretation of what a design rule meant in connection with a vehicle built some years ago. The dispute relates to a time when the Federal Government did not have any power to order the recall of vehicles. When we came to government some tests were carried out on the vehicle and a report was prepared. Under the voluntary recall procedures at the time, the Mitsubishi company was asked to recall the vehicles. It disputed the interpretation of the design rule and declined to recall the vehicles. Subsequent to that, some further tests were carried out by other parties.

I should make the point that the critical thing in vehicle recall is whether the alleged defect will or may cause injury. In relation to the Valiant issue, after additional work had been done it became very doubtful whether it could be proved that any additional injury could be sustained by seat slide failure. All of those matters, all of the information that had been gathered and all of the tests that were carried out were examined at some length by the State road authorities responsible and by Federal and State Transport Ministers. It was the unanimous decision of Federal and State Transport Ministers that no further action be taken in the matter. I make the point that I, as Federal Minister for Transport, have no power to order a recall of vehicles. As a result of the initiative of this Government and the priorities given to road safety generally and as a result of an amendment to the Trade Practices Act, the Attorney-General has the power, on my advice, to order the recall of vehicles manufactured after 1 July 1986. But we do not have any retrospective power in respect of the vehicle which was the subject of the report that was broadcast last evening.

As I have said, the story is not new and the issue is not new. To suggest that there was some secrecy on the part of this Government is ludicrous and all the parties involved are well aware of that. I can add no more to the issue than the information that I have provided to the House and I commend the honourable member for his interest in this matter.