Supporting Motor Mechanics

I rise in support of the Competition and Consumer Amendment (Motor Vehicle Service and Repair Information Sharing Scheme) Bill 2021. I have a long history through or with the motor repair business. My dad, my dear old dad, my 87-year-old dad, became a motor mechanic at the age 14 to his dad who was also a motor mechanic. My dad was a motor mechanic for 73 years. It is almost bewildering these days to think that anybody could be in a job for that long, let alone a job that requires a lot of physical exertion of energy. I remember dad crawling under cars and trucks, coming home filthy every night, with oil and petrol all over him and up his fingernails, and always stinking of oil.

From about the 1980s onwards, my dad would come home and he’d complain bitterly about being blocked out of the industry as cars became more technical. It’s hard to believe the VL Commodore could be regarded as technical. I think the VL was released around the time when they first started introducing computers into cars. This was the way that car manufacturers were able to block out the small independent motor mechanics like my dear old dad. The large motor manufacturers basically withheld the intellectual property and certain tools from independent motor mechanics to stop them from being able to diagnose what particular problem a car might have. My dad, like many older motor mechanics, is absolutely amazing when it comes to anything mechanical. There’s nothing that my dad can’t fix, if it is mechanical. But, these days, someone rocks up with a fault in their car, the mechanic plugs a diagnostic computer into the car’s computer and it spits out a fault or an error warning that tells the mechanic exactly what the problem is and what has to be done to fix it. This was a way of locking out small, independent, suburban motor mechanics. What we saw over a period of years was small businesses, small motor mechanic businesses, withering on the vine. It was really very sad to see, particularly the young apprentices who wanted to be motor mechanics having to be steered or pushed towards careers with the major motor manufacturers.

Of course, we on our side of this House are very passionate about small business. We believe that small business is the engine room of this country, and we will back small business every step of the way. But this reform is not just about assisting small businesses like my dad’s. I remember, a little while ago—maybe two years ago—my wife ringing me when I was in Canberra. She said that the battery in her car was flat. I won’t name the brand of the car. It’s a European car. I said: ‘Okay, just go and get another battery—no big drama. What’s a battery on a car cost—$150, 180? It’ll be done just like that.’ The manufacturer wanted $800 to replace the car battery in my wife’s car. Of course, I rang the manufacturer and said: ‘Mate, come on. I didn’t come down in the last shower. You can buy a car battery for $150.’ ‘Not this car battery, Mr Wallace. This is a special car battery. It’s a very special battery, and this is what the cost is—$800.’ This reform will drive competition. Going back to my wife’s car: you couldn’t just put any old battery in this car. Not only did you need a new battery; the computer needed to be reset—

An honourable member: Did you get rid of the car?

Photo of MPMr WALLACE: I got rid of the car—in order to make this thing properly functional. So, through absolutely gritted teeth—I can tell you—we paid the outrageous sum for this battery. I sold the car, and never again will I buy that brand of car. This is where consumers are being absolutely held over the barrel by large motor manufacturers. It’s only right and proper that people can get their car serviced or repaired at their choice of qualified motor mechanic. This is good common sense.

I know that those opposite are very, very keen to try and take all the credit for this, but let me give the members opposite a bit of a history lesson.

An honourable member interjecting

Photo of MPMr WALLACE: I’m not against it at all. As the member for Oxley said, ‘Success has many fathers, and failure is an orphan.’

In June 2016, the then Assistant Treasurer, who I believe is still the Assistant Treasurer, announced a review into information sharing for independent mechanics. That was wrapped up into the ACCC’s market study. The ACCC’s market study was released on 14 December 2017, after 18 months of investigation, 130 public submissions, site visits and a stakeholder forum. On 4 May 2018, the Assistant Minister to the Treasurer announced at the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association conference that the government would design a mandatory scheme for the sharing of technical information with independent repairers. Two weeks after that, on 13 May, the member for Fenner, if I remember correctly, announced with the greatest of fanfare that the Labor Party would be supporting this policy—and now they’re taking all the credit for it. I just wanted to put that on the record. I don’t mean to be disrespectful. This is a good, commonsense policy. It’s very pleasing to see that it has bipartisan support, but I think we need to remember the true and proper history of this matter.

I want to applaud the efforts of the Assistant Treasurer, who’s here to sum up very shortly. This is a sensible reform. I thank the Assistant Treasurer and I thank all those members on this side of the House and the other who supported it, and I commend the bill to the House.