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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 6299

Ms STANLEY (Werriwa) (16:56): Cars are no longer the purely mechanical and electronic machines they were in the past. Increasingly, cars have become more computerised. In the past, when you took your car for a service by a mechanic—possibly the member for Fisher's dad—they'd pop the bonnet and slide underneath the vehicle to tinker with, inspect and check various bits and pieces, and it was fairly obvious what was wrong. Nowadays, it's not uncommon for the mechanic to spend just as much time in front of a computer screen, looking at diagnostic and other technical details. The vast majority of Australian mechanics are independent operators. Car manufacturers are generally the owners and controllers of the code that provides this technical information. They are also the only source of software upgrades. Since most car manufacturers do not supply the same information to independent mechanics that they provide to authorised dealers, these mostly small businesses are at an obvious competitive disadvantage. These effects are particularly pronounced in regional and outer metro areas such as my electorate.

The computerisation of cars will continue to increase as autonomous vehicles become more mainstream. In response to the arrival of automated vehicles, transport ministers in conjunction with the National Transport Commission agreed earlier this year to review and update relevant legislation. This acknowledgement that legislation must keep pace with the increasingly technological nature of vehicles is welcome, but, obviously, it doesn't go far enough. Legislation also needs to change with regard to car servicing and repairs. The current situation, a voluntary code, is simply not working.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's market study report released late last year concluded as much, saying:

The ACCC recommends regulatory intervention to mandate the sharing of technical information with independent repairers on 'commercially fair and reasonable terms', subject to appropriate safeguards to enable the sharing of environmental, safety and security-related technical information.

In addition to the ACCC, the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association, who represent automotive parts accessories retailers and wholesalers, are pushing for reform. Stuart Charity, Executive Director of the AAAA, said in December, after the release of the ACCC's report:

Australia's 17 million car owners and more than 20,000 independent automotive repairers deserve better than the current situation that finds the car manufacturers routinely and deliberately preventing consumers from exercising choice and their consumer legal rights …

This is why Labor is proposing a mandatory obligation to provide the technical information at a fair cost. This mandatory code will have no cost impact on the Australian taxpayer. The fair and reasonable fees mechanics will need to pay to access the information will be covered by the administrative costs.

The ACCC will act as an independent umpire to ensure access to information, as well as costs, is fair and reasonable. We also asked the ACCC to conduct a postimplementation review to ensure the policy operates as intended. Similar reforms have already been enacted in the United States and the European Union. More competition means downward pressure on prices, which means more money in the pockets of Australian car owners. This is just another example of where we, Labor, are addressing cost-of-living pressures for hard-working Australians.

In addition to these changes, Labor will also protect penalty rates, cap private health insurance rises and address the housing affordability crisis. We will do this because we know that $20 a week or more is being paid for private health insurance by families, that there's $40 extra a week in childcare fees and that the Medicare freeze continues to hit people in their pockets. These changes will also increase the demand for aftermarket parts, a sector that's been struggling since this government effectively ran the car-making industry out of the country.

We've been calling on the government to take action for a year now, but it would appear the government's only priority is tax cuts for big business. They don't care about the small businesses, and they don't care about cost-of-living pressures. If need be, we will again hold the government to account and make sure that small businesses are able to compete on a fair playing field, and that consumers get the right to choose where their car is serviced and get the value for money they deserve.