The devil is always in the detail
On Wednesday 16 August 2017, the Honourable Paul Fletcher MP, Minister for Urban Infrastructure, provided further information on the reforms to the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 (MVSA). This announcement follows Minister Fletcher’s original media statement on February 2016, revealing a package of reforms that will modernise and strengthen the MVSA, clarify vehicle recall arrangements, accelerate harmonisation of the Australian Design Rules (ADR) with international standards, and consolidate the regulatory pathways through which non-standard vehicles are imported.
Until now, I have refrained from any comment on the 16 August ministerial announcement, in the hope that more specific details of changes would be announced – as we all know, ‘the devil is always in the detail’.
For those of you who do not remember the process thus far – and given the protracted timeframe of this review that started way back in May 2013, with the release of the government’s MVSA Consultation Paper – you could be excused for not recalling the detail. Here is a brief summary – the initial 2013 Consultation Paper was followed by a series of workshops run by the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development (DIRD), at which the Department consulted with stakeholders over possible Act revisions.
In September 2014, the Australian Government announced that it would conduct a comprehensive review of the MVSA with the release of the DIRD Options Discussion Paper, in conjunction with another round of stakeholder workshops. The TIC lodged a detailed submission in response to the Options Paper that focused on maintaining world-class safety and environmental standards for all newly registered heavy vehicles, as well as the unique road transport operating conditions that exist in Australia – multi-trailer combinations, very high Gross Combination Masses (GCM) and harsh operating conditions, including extreme operating temperatures. All of these necessitate Australia-specific design solutions that would not be available on parallel imported trucks designed for other markets. After almost a year of silent deliberation, the Minister made his announcement in August.
In addition to continuing the harmonisation of Australia’s vehicle standards with international best practice, Minister Fletcher announced that the Australian Government is proposing to introduce a number of key changes to the MVSA including: improving consumer access to imported specialist and enthusiast vehicles; simplifying the process for importing vehicles through the Registered Automotive Workshop Scheme (RAWS), while improving the quality of those vehicles; simplifying the pathways for importing vehicles granted concessions against the Act; clarifying suppliers’ recall responsibilities for all vehicles; and streamlining the supply of mainstream (full volume, ADR-approved) new vehicles.
The point was originally touted by the DIRD to save industry over $70 million a year in lower regulatory compliance costs, largely by the deletion of the vehicle’s identification (compliance) plate, instead capturing vehicle details on a new national electronic database. At first glance, it’s a worthwhile saving. With well over one million new vehicles registered each year, however, that is a saving of less than $70 per vehicle. Further, due to concerns raised by manufacturers, police and insurance companies over vehicle identification fraud, the DIRD is now proposing continued fitment of a vehicle-specific ID decal, thus wiping much of the DIRD’s predicted cost savings.
Reforms will replace the existing 12 concessional importation streams with two, essentially revised RAWS and the Specialist and Enthusiast Vehicles Scheme. Both schemes will be simplified, with many existing restrictions scrapped, such as limits on the number of vehicles that can be imported. Some eligibility criteria will limit imports to vehicles with less than 3.5t gross vehicle mass (GVM), thus eliminating some used truck imports. Other low volume import criteria, such as left-hand-drive vehicles, will allow importation of vehicles up to 12t GVM, but with a 12t GVM limit, the door is open for much larger trucks to be imported. To date, the details released by the DIRD do not clearly define where and what specific GVM limits will apply.
Many questions still remain to be answered. With a substantial amount of detail yet to be released by the DIRD, industry and consumers will have to wait to see if the promised MVSA reforms actually deliver the safety and environmental standards proposed for all new registered vehicles. Australians would reasonably expect these standards living in a developed country, and that as consumers they would be suitably protected from the pitfalls of low-volume vehicle import schemes such as warranty, parts and service support and effective safety recall procedures. I call on the Government to engage and work with the TIC to carefully consider and work through all the detail changes to the MVSA.