Motor Vehicle Service and Repair Information Sharing Scheme Bill 2021

By Matt Keogh MP

13 May 2021

Watch Matt's speech here

Labor is driving a better deal to put more money back into the pockets of car owners and give more than 50 independent repairers in the electorate of Burt a boost with a plan to ensure vehicles can be serviced by any mechanic. New cars are computers on wheels. Real-time access to digital files and codes, which vary from car to car, is needed to complete many aspects of repair or service. Car manufacturers generally own and control this technical information and, in many cases, are the only sources. Whether you own a Toyota Corolla or a Ford Ranger, everyone should be able to choose where they get their car serviced. Currently, limited access to this vital information pushes up prices of car services and limits the ability of independent mechanics to grow their business and generate more jobs. A Labor government will 'require car manufacturers to share technical information with independent mechanics on commercially fair and reasonable terms'.

Those were the words from a local media release that I issued after visiting the fantastic Kelmscott Autofix mechanics in August 2018. Labor committed to levelling the playing field for independent mechanics back then, following independent recommendations from the ACCC in 2017. This tired, eight-year-old coalition government is only just catching up now. The independent car repair sector has been crying out for years for reform. We are proud to say that the legislation being put forward now, the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Motor Vehicle Service and Repair Information Sharing Scheme) Bill 2021, is a step in the right direction—a step only being taken after years of campaigning by mechanics, car owners and Labor—for our local mechanics across the country.

The first I heard of the need for this sort of reform was when I was being assisted by RAC Roadside Assist. This was during my first election campaign as a candidate. The technician mechanic shared with me the limitation on roadside assistance services that are a result of the limitations on access to car manufacturer information. This reform now sticks up for those roadside assistance services, as well as our local mechanic small business, and will not only deliver savings to drivers, who will have better choice and easier access to repairs, but create a level playing field for those independent mechanics and help them to create jobs and apprenticeships too. There is a real advantage to doing a mechanic apprenticeship at your local mechanic. You learn how to work with new cars, old cars and all types of cars. You're not just doing regular servicing; you're doing diagnostics and problem solving. This is a great apprenticeship opportunity and puts independent mechanics in a position where they have a level playing field and are able to take on more apprentices, and it helps solve one of the shortages often overlooked in this country—the dire need for more well-trained mechanics.

Ensuring that independent mechanics have access to this added technology ensures that the education of these apprentices of tomorrow is exponentially better, because they will be able to do all the work that, at the moment, can only happen with a dealer mechanic. Not to mention that, if you live in a country town with only one mechanic or only one dealer and you have a car of a different brand, you might not be able to get it serviced in your home town. You may potentially have to drive hours to the next major town or to a capital city to get your car serviced, significantly disrupting the business of your likely multiple-generation family-owned local mechanic, let alone the time and effort involved in you getting your own car repaired. This will be a great change that will keep local small business local. This move follows similar reforms that have happened all over the world. It's nice to see now that Australia is finally catching up. Just as with vaccine rollouts, this Prime Minister is more 'SlowMo' than 'ScoMo'. It's your car, and where you get your car serviced should be your choice.

This legislation before us today will enable consumers to have their vehicles attended to by an Australian repairer of their choice who can provide convenient, efficient and safe service. This bill will promote competition between Australian motor vehicle repairers and establish a fair, level playing field for those independent operators in competition with larger dealerships currently locked into monopoly provision—people like the Ditchburn family, who run Autofix in Kelmscott, who have been servicing my family's car for literally generations. I have a lot of siblings, so they've probably made quite a lot of coin out of the Keogh family, I can tell you! Their customer service is second to none, and it's that sort of service that should be championed and supported across the country in our metropolitan areas, in our cities, in our towns and in our regions. It is small businesses like theirs that we can help through this legislation to level the playing field.

Under this legislation all service and repair information provided to car dealership networks and manufacturer preferred repairers will be made available for independent repairers and registered training organisations to purchase. This in turn will encourage the provision of accessible and affordable diagnostic repair and servicing information to Aussie repairers and to those RTOs, as well as for training purposes, which will be excellent for apprentices across the country. Franchise dealers have made huge investments in factory training and, indeed, in their property and in selling cars—they're qualified technicians—along with making sure they've got the latest tools, facilities and equipment, as is often mandated by those manufacturers. It has been good to see this government finally catch up to Labor's position of making sure there is a level playing field for those car dealers in dealing with car manufacturers.

James Voortman, the CEO of the Australian Automotive Dealer Association, the peak industry advocate exclusively representing these franchise dealers in Australia, said:

Independent repairers who choose to commit to similar levels of investment for their customers and are suitably qualified should be entitled to compete with dealers on fair and reasonable grounds and this legislation will give them the chance to do that.

This is not to mention that a bit more competition in the market would be excellent for consumers and provide great opportunity for small businesses across the nation. A genuinely competitive market for motor vehicle service and repair relies on repairers having access to the information they require to carry out the work they are pitching for to us, the car drivers of Australia.

As I said back in 2018, new cars are computers on wheels. They carry with them an awful lot of personal information about their owners. Because of that, we must also ensure that the personal information of drivers is secured. It need to be secure, and that needs to be assured. This legislated solution to the market imbalance created by restrictions on data to date helps level the playing field for small business. The government has been driving with the handbrake on to deliver this scheme. In 2014 it put in place a data-sharing obligation. That was an epic fail. This bill only exists because of the strong campaigning of Labor nationwide from 2018 and at the 2019 election. I want to commend the member for Fenner for the excellent campaign he has run on this particular issue across the country and with Labor members across the country.

This will benefit consumers through increased choice, but when it comes to data sharing there have been some significant concerns about security. The data generated by modern cars can be worth billions to those who wish to harvest it. Vehicle makers, their competitors, insurance firms, researchers and big tech are among those wanting to harvest data and access it. Newer cars are increasingly accumulating data about engine performance and temperature, brake performance, tyre pressure, fuel consumption, speed, acceleration, cornering, kilometres travelled, oil level, battery charge level and steering. Data can be generated about the performance of individual components, and that of course is before we get to any records made of your GPS. There is potentially also personal data, such as your driving alertness, speed, routes, destinations, fill-up points, the restaurants you visit and, with sensors making their way into seat belts, the number of passengers. Cars might also provide real-time data about the environment, such as where it is raining, based on the use of wipers, or through sensors on an axle that alert road authorities to rough road conditions. As vehicle computers and sensors become more sophisticated, it's likely that the main beneficiaries of this data will be others, such as car makers, car component manufacturers, insurers and firms offering in-car entertainment and food ordering systems. The list goes on and is likely to be beyond some of our wildest dreams.

One issue that has been discussed between the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association and Treasury is about how independent mechanics will be able to update the digital service records of cars they work on. I understand that some resolution to this electronic logbook issue has been reached. The Assistant Minister to the Treasurer has worked with stakeholders to find a satisfactory solution to this issue, and that will sit alongside the legislative framework in this bill. For the integrity of this scheme, it will be important that independent mechanics have sound processes in place to protect vehicle data. It is in the interest of both manufacturers and repairers, as well as car owners, to ensure that the scheme carefully guards data privacy. Failure to comply with data protection obligations will result in hefty fines for organisations, which is entirely appropriate. Labor has been calling for independent mechanics to get access to the same technical information that car manufacturers make available to their authorised detailers and preferred repairer network. We pushed for this reform because it won't just deliver savings for drivers but will also level the playing field for small businesses, independent mechanics who have been able to put some skin into the game.

It's your car so it should be your choice where you are able to get it repaired. I commend the legislation.