5 August 2022

Keynote address to the Australian Repair Summit 2022, Canberra

I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land we are meeting on, the Ngunnawal people. I acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the region, and I pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.

Building on the success of last year’s event, I would like to thank Griffith University and the Australian Repair Network for hosting the second Australian Repair Summit.

In particular, I would like to acknowledge Professor Leanne Wiseman for her efforts in organising the Summit and bringing everyone together today. I would also like to acknowledge Professor Wiseman’s expertise in researching the links between intellectual property and the right to repair.

I would also like to pay tribute to the many consumer and industry representatives here today. I would like to acknowledge your work advocating for Australian consumers and businesses.

The Labor Party has a proud tradition of being the workers’ party, but we are also the party that looks after consumers.

That means standing for better competition. Misconduct, particularly anti‑competitive conduct, only sees good businesses falling behind, new players not getting a start and customers ultimately paying more and getting less choice.

That’s why our election platform included a commitment to increase penalties for anti‑competitive conduct. This will bring Australia closer to international best practice.

Alongside increasing penalties, Labor is also establishing a ‘Super Complaint’ function within the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. It is my hope that this function will ensure the Commission is even more responsive to the needs of Australian consumers and small businesses.

Given the importance of competition and consumer law to Australian society and our economy, I am always pleased to talk about policy developments in this space.

As governments and policymakers, we should always consider whether our laws are operating as intended and whether improvements are required. And today’s Summit presents a unique opportunity to talk about:

  • right to repair including its challenges and opportunities
  • Australia’s first right to repair law, the Motor Vehicle Service and Repair Information Sharing Scheme, and
  • the Government’s commitment to establish a super complaint function within the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

First, I want to acknowledge the Productivity Commission’s work on the Right to Repair Inquiry.

Smartphones, watches, fridges, medical devices, exercise equipment — our everyday consumer products are increasingly incorporating sophisticated technology.

The challenge for consumers globally — not just in Australia — is that technological advances can increase the cost and complexity of repairs.

We help to offset this by boosting competition in the repair sector. We can achieve this by ensuring big technology companies cannot create monopolies that allow them to profiteer at the expense of Australians.

This means protecting Australians’ ‘right to repair’, which gives households and businesses the ability to have their products repaired at a competitive price using a repairer of their choice.

It also examined broad issues of growing community concern in Australia and overseas, including planned obsolescence, a consumer’s motivation to repair or replace, and competition in repair markets.

There are opportunities to further reduce barriers to repair for products in some markets, and the Australian Government wants to pursue reforms that are evidence‑based and target sectors where it will be most beneficial.

Australia’s first right to repair law, the Motor Vehicle Service and Repair Information Sharing Scheme, launched on 1 July 2022. I have proudly championed the need for access to service and repair information over many years.

In that time, I have travelled across Australia and met with a lot of independent repairers who described the many challenges they were facing due to a lack of access to repair information.

We’re talking about a $23 billion industry here in Australia, but there are over 23,000 independent repairers in Australia who are increasingly finding that they don't have the information they need to fix a modern car.

New cars are computers on wheels. Real‑time access to complex and unique is now essential to complete many aspects of a repair or service.

Restrictions in accessing this information stifle independent repairers’ ability to compete, driving prices up for consumers.

Car manufacturers generally own and control this technical information and in many cases only share it with their dealership’s networks and affiliated repairers, making it difficult for independent repairers to effectively compete for business.

This has been a real issue across Australia. As Stuart Charity from the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association put it, their industry has had to use workarounds that take them four or five hours to solve issues that should have taken 15 minutes. Mr Charity said that sometimes cars are towed back to the dealership just to have a pin code put in.

This issue has been particularly hard for regional and remote Australia. Many regional areas don't have authorised dealers, meaning people are forced to drive tens or hundreds of kilometres to find one.

When I visited Island Auto Repairs in Bongaree on Bribie Island, I learned about the many residents of Bribie Island who are older and don't feel comfortable driving their cars off the island. Despite this, a local repairer could not even get the information needed to turn off a service light, and had to find the answers on YouTube.

The Scheme changes that. It requires car manufacturers to make motor vehicle service and repair information available to purchase by all Australian repairers and registered training organisations at a fair market price.

With significant backing from industry, this new scheme demonstrates that we can overcome new barriers to competition to the benefit of businesses and consumers alike.

As I noted earlier, my Labor colleagues and I have campaigned for years for Australian drivers to have more freedom about who fixes their vehicle. Whether you own a Toyota Corolla or a Ford Ranger, everyone should be able to choose where they get their car serviced.

This Scheme delivers on that freedom and aims to reduce the cost of owning and maintaining a car, ultimately delivering better value for the many Australians who drive a car each day.

So this isn’t just good for repairers – this is helping everyday Australians cut down on their cost of living.

The ACCC will monitor and enforce the Scheme to ensure information is shared consistently and on time. Where necessary, the ACCC has the power to take enforcement action, with a maximum penalty of $10 million for systemic breaches of the Scheme.

Everyone should be free to choose where they get their car serviced. This Scheme delivers on that freedom and aims to reduce the cost of owning and maintaining a car.

I would like to stress that the Scheme would not have taken off without the work of industry stakeholders who championed its development every step of the way.

I am pleased to say there is already a strong rapport between the new Government and industry stakeholders and we will continue to work together to ensure the Scheme’s success.

As part of its Right to Repair report, the Productivity Commission recommended a super complaint process to fast track ACCC investigations into issues that undermine Australians’ consumer rights under law.

Consumer guarantees are a critical part of the Australian Consumer Law. They apply automatically regardless of where you live in Australia and provide businesses with the certainty of a single, national law.

The Albanese Government takes these guarantees seriously, which is why we are committed to ensure our regulators are even more responsive to the needs of Australian consumers and Australian businesses.

How do I see the super complaint process working? It might be a group who’s operating a whole lot of financial counselling helplines, for example, who notices a particular pattern of predatory behaviour and is able to say to the ACCC, ‘you should look into this … don’t just treat this like any other complaint, treat it like a super complaint because we’re only bringing it to you as we’ve noticed a pattern.’

The ACCC would then be required to follow up with a response within a certain timeframe and state how they intend to deal with the matter.

We believe a super complaints process will ensure the ACCC is even more responsive to the needs of consumers and businesses.

But there is a lot of groundwork to do. As the PC noted, the super complaints system needs clear operational principles, designed in ‘consultation with the ACCC, state and territory regulators, and consumer and industry groups.’

The Albanese Government has already started work to this end, and we aim to make more information available very soon.

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about right to repair — a complex issue that offers challenges and opportunities.

It is an issue that governments are grappling with both here and across many jurisdictions, including the United States and the European Union.

As the Prime Minister said, our task is to unite people. To look for common ground and common purpose. On that note, I am keen to hear what comes out of today’s Summit.

Thank you.