Wednesday, 08 November 2017 15:20

When the Motor Vehicle Repairers Act was enacted in 2003 many in the WA automotive industry breathed a sigh of relief believing that regulation would help to clean up an industry which had been too long plagued with dodgy operators and unqualified repairers.

Members of the Motor Trade Association of WA (MTA WA) lobbied long and hard to have the licence introduced in an effort to clean up the sector and protect consumers. Professional, reputable automotive repairers had seen the dodgy practices of many besmirch the industry’s reputation and take advantage of the motoring public.

Since its introduction the motor repair business licence and motor repairers certificate have been quickly adopted by professional business operators, with over 6,000 businesses now licensed. We’ve also seen a significant number of backyard repairers prosecuted and fined.

However like any system there have been issues and MTA WA is calling on the Government to see them addressed. Feedback from members has highlighted a number of concerning and ongoing issues.

Investigation of backyard repairers

Many in the industry believe that there is a lack of investigation and follow-up by the former Department of Commerce (now Department Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety) when a backyard repairer is reported. Business owners have become disheartened and are losing faith that a suspicious repairer will be appropriately investigated and action taken.

In addition when a report is made a significant amount of evidence is requested by the Department, causing some to question their ability to competently carry out investigations of unlicensed repairers. A comment we often hear from members is that it takes them “5 minutes on Gumtree to find a dodgy repairer, so what are the Department doing?” Although this comment does belie the significant amount of work required in developing a solid case, there is at its heart an understanding of the flagrant disregard some unlicensed repairers show for the regulatory system and this is made easy due to the apparent lack of powers by the Department to prosecute expeditiously and successfully.

MTA WA has highlighted this issue previously with the Department of Commerce and again with the newly formed Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety; time and again we’ve been advised that a lack of resources is to blame for the number of investigations that are undertaken. Although the MTA WA recognises that limited resources are a factor which curbs the Departments ability to investigate, it must be recognised that the ability to successfully prosecute unlicensed repairers goes to the very core reason for the Motor Repair Business Licence and associated Act. In addition many in the industry, rightly so, make the point that licencing fees are supposed to fund appropriate resources to enforce the requirements of the Act. Without an increase in investigations and prosecutions of unlicensed repairers the industry’s willingness to support the licencing regime will continue to dwindle.

Low hanging fruit

When businesses are investigated it’s often a case of ‘low hanging fruit’, with ‘mum and dad’ business owners being targeted for minor issues such as allowing their motor repair business licence to lapse. Although these are legitimate investigations it’s hard for many in the industry to swallow when they’re aware, and have reported, other far more serious incidents of dodgy repair work by unqualified and unlicensed repairers.

Another issue that frustrates businesses during renewal is the additional charges applied for any change of details, this is considered unreasonable given the cost of renewal and the work required to process such changes.

Softly, softly

The Act has been in place since 2003 and there is no reason why any repair business operating in WA should not be licenced. No business owner can legitimately claim ignorance of the requirement for a licence; those that do either have been wilfully negligent in researching the requirements of operating a business in this State or they are being purposefully misleading.

Either way these businesses should be penalised for operating without a licence. The current approach which assists them in acquiring a licence is a source of great frustration. Those many business owners who have paid licencing fees over the years feel that this approach is a real injustice against the people who have ‘done the right thing.’

Fines for breaches of the Act.

Unfortunately where the Department has conducted an excellent investigation and successfully secured a prosecution the fines awarded by the court have been woeful. The Act allows for fines to be awarded up to the value of $150,000 but it’s rare that we see anything above $10,000.

The fines awarded are a reflection of magistrates’ attitudes and demonstrates a lack of understanding of the significant risk unlicensed repairers present to consumers. The licensing system assures consumers that the individual repairing their vehicle is using appropriate parts and is a qualified expert in their field. Consumers place their lives in trust every time they use a vehicle and they should be able to have confidence in the WA automotive repair sector due to a strong licensing regime.

MTA WA is calling on our judiciary system to hand down larger fines and to use the full range of penalties available under the Motor Vehicle Repairers Act.
As one of only two states in Australia which has a regulated automotive repair sector we are the envy of many states. The importance of regulation in protecting consumers is recognised by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and has played a strong part in the access to technical repair information discussion. The impact a licensing regime provides in creating a framework to ensure that only licensed and qualified repairers are able to access technical information should not be understated.

Going foward

Despite the issues facing the WA motor repair business licensing regime the MTA WA and its members are still strong supporters. We believe that it is fundamentally the right approach for the WA automotive industry and we will continue to work with Government and government agencies to improve its implementation. As the peak industry advocate we will continue to offer frank advice and will not shy away from critiquing ongoing and arising issues.

The MTA WA has an excellent relationship with the McGowan Government and they have already shown a willingness to listen to the automotive industry, making significant improvements in a number of areas including on-demand-transport regulation and the implementation of Automotive Inspection Stations (AIS). MTA WA CEO Stephen Moir will meet with Hon Bill Johnston MLA, Minister for Commerce and Industrial Relations in the coming months, to discuss the industry’s concerns regarding motor repair business licensing whilst confirming the sector’s continued support for a well implemented regulatory system.

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