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Thursday, 5 April 2001
Page: 26637

Mr LAWLER (10:23 AM) —It is a pleasure to speak on a similar topic to that of the member for Rankin. Once you have actually peeled away some of the ALP political rhetoric that he went on with, he actually made some very fine points about the insurance industry and the smash repair industry. I have recently had cause to have a meeting with several smash repairers, mostly small family businesses, in various towns in my electorate. I might point out that most of those are established family businesses which have contributed for decades to sporting clubs and the strength of their local community.

Members would now be aware of some of the difficulties being faced by smash repairers in their dealings recently with insurance companies but especially, can I say, with the NRMA. At the introduction of the GST, the NRMA unilaterally moved to slash the margins received by the repairer doing the work on NRMA insured vehicles. As if this were not enough, they have further embarked on a program to sign up special deals with some smash repairers and to actively discourage clients from using repairers that the NRMA have not made these special arrangements with—repairers that may have had a lot of business with a family over many years. Although they do not refuse to deal with these repairers, all inquiries are, I understand, directed to the repairers who have confidentially agreed to certain extremely stringent price and time conditions set down by the NRMA.

The confidentiality of that agreement is one of the key points here, because the repairer is not allowed to discuss with the customer who owns the car the fact that they might be using non-genuine parts or that they might be working to a time frame rather than a quality frame. I am told that this could spell the end for many small businesses, especially in regional areas, who have always relied on high quality work and the use of genuine parts to ensure that consumers are provided with the best possible result on their cars. From the pushing for repairers to reduce the time spent on a vehicle and to use non-genuine parts, the consumer ultimately is the one who is damaged. My understanding is that the NRMA has also forced those smash repairers who have entered into a deal with the NRMA to provide their own lifetime guarantee, at no cost to the NRMA. This results in shoddy work due to the time constraints and the ability to use non-genuine parts, giving a saving to the insurer but causing the repairer to have the responsibility for the ongoing costs of touching up or making good any faults that subsequently appear.

The NRMA has over the years built up a reputation for being a supporter of ordinary people. However, I fear that since its demutualisation, it has become another profit driven monster more concerned about its shareholders than about the people it was originally set up to represent. The level of intimidation has even reached the point where the repairers that I spoke to specifically requested me not to use their name in any correspondence, for fear of the NRMA taking further action against them. I understand the MTA has made several approaches to the state government, but I would like to add my voice to those calling for a fair deal.