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Tuesday, 23 May 1989
Page: 2441

Senator McKIERNAN —My question is directed to the Minister for Consumer Affairs. I refer the Minister to an answer he gave in this place to a question from Senator Powell regarding the importation of used cars into Western Australia. In that answer he noted that allegations about the safety of such vehicles, the supply of spare parts and insurance were a real concern to consumers and that he would ask the Trade Practices Commission to look into the matter. Are the investigations of the Trade Practices Commission now complete? Is the Minister in a position to advise the Senate of the result of these investigations?

Senator BOLKUS —In answering this question, I would like to place on record the active and continuing interest that Senator McKiernan has shown in this issue. As he mentions, the background to this issue is that there have been a number of allegations relating to the safety of, the availability of spare parts for, as well as insurance and finance questions regarding a large number of imported Japanese used cars which are still being imported through Western Australia. As a consequence of those problems, I asked the Trade Practices Commission to look at the issues involved in this and to report back to me. The Trade Practices Commission has completed its preliminary report and has concluded that there are six problems in this area that are of important concern for consumers. They go to questions of safety, information disclosure, availability of spare parts, servicing, finance and insurance. Therefore, the concerns can be seen to fall within two areas-those relating to safety and those relating to the right of consumers to be adequately informed.

The Commission found that there was substantial evidence of potential safety concerns. I am pleased to see that my colleague the Minister for Land Transport and Shipping Support is to introduce a Bill which will impose an effective national system of compliance to Australian vehicle design rules for imported cars. That initiative is very much in line with the Trade Practices Commission's recommendations and with the recent decision of the Australian Transport Advisory Council. It should be stressed at this particular stage that most players in the field see the need for a strong national uniform approach to matters such as these and do so because it is seen that these problems do not necessarily end where State borders start and finish.

The other problem that needs to be addressed arising out of the Trade Practices Commission report is that of information disclosure. The Trade Practices Commission has identified two major areas that we need to address in this area. One is that, even after compliance with Australian vehicle design regulations, there will still be significant differences in the mechanical make-up of imported vehicles as opposed to domestic models. So there will be a number of disclosure problems that we will have to address there. There is also the problem of the existing large store of cars that have already been imported into Australia.

The disclosure problems relate to four specific areas. Insurance, finance and repairs are three of those areas. The fourth is the question of the adequacy of supplies of spare parts, which is a particular issue for which there is specific provision in the Trade Practices Act. Basically, once we put aside the problem of safety which should be addressed by the Bill to be introduced by the Minister for Land Transport and Shipping Support, we are talking about the need for fair trading in this particular area to ensure that consumers do have adequate access to information to alert them to the fact that there are major differences between these cars and domestic models.

To that effect, the Commission has recommended that further work between the parties be undertaken to ensure that there is adequate disclosure and that consumers are made aware of the differences when considering the purchase of an imported used car. Overall, I think that, between the actions of the Minister for Transport and Communications, the Trade Practices Commission and me, we have made a comprehensive response to this problem, and I would like at this stage to put on record my appreciation of the Trade Practices Commission in providing a very useful and constructive basis for governments to take further action.