Exclude Modifications from repair laws: TMA

By: Anthony Wingard

Presented by

A round-table discussion between the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF), the Tractor and Machinery Association of Australia (TMA) and other relevant parties will soon be underway as the agricultural sector aims to find a solution on farmers’ and repairers’ right to repair.

Modifications to farm equipment should not be treated in the same way as a farmer’s right to repair, the Tractor and Machinery Association of Australia says

TMA executive director Gary Northover says the discussions will aim to achieve a ‘final position’ between all parties, including risks raised by the TMA on the matter.

"We’ve begun the process of reaching out to the NFF, for instance, to develop a bit of a round-table working discussion around this so that we can hopefully develop some guidelines which might be applied to the standards and expectations that the market is looking for," says Northover.

"It’s certainly early days but it’s a path that both of us believe we wish to pursue. So, we look forward to working the NFF, the Productivity Commission and also the ACCC [Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] in just trying to get that balance right."

The discussions are set to take place following reports released by both the Productivity Commission and ACCC earlier this year, which investigated the growing number of barriers facing farmers wanting to repair their own equipment.

Both reports highlighted several challenges for farmers wishing to complete their own maintenance themselves or through a third- party machinery repairer.

The ACCC report also called for more independent competition in the repair market as well as alterations to the current warranties issued on agricultural machinery.

READ MORE: RIGHT TO REPAIR YOUR MACHINERY IS UNDER FIRE ACCORDING TO GOVERNMENT REPORT

In response, the TMA outlined its stance in a statement of principles that referred mainly to the need to differentiate between the rights of farmers or third-party repairers to repair machinery and their right to modify that machinery.

Modification, as outlined in the TMA’s statement could refer to: resetting immobiliser systems; reprogramming electronic processing or engine control units; changing equipment or engine settings and downloading or accessing the source code of machines.

Speaking to Farms & Farm Machinery, Northover says it was imperative to differentiate between the two.

"We certainly recognise the issue of right to repair and we do support farmers’ ability to maintain and repair their own equipment," he says.

"There are a couple of key issues. One is the difference between the right to repair and the right to modify.

"We’ve issued some statement of principles that we think is a starting point on that road to highlight the sort of things we think third party repairers ought to be able to do under the right to repair and the things that may fall under the right to modify.

"That was part of our submission to the ACCC, but we felt that was a distinction that needed to be made."

READ MORE: TMA CITES MODIFICATION RISK IN 'RIGHT TO REPAIR' RECOMMENDATIONS

In relation to the right to modify in the Australian agricultural machinery industry, however, the ACCC report explicitly states: "We have not received evidence indicating that this practice is widespread, or that it is a significant motivation for independent repairers."

That said, it did confirm some submissions had raised concerns about the increased possibility of software modification should independent repairers have access to diagnostic software and other technical data.

That notion has been refuted by the TMA, which suggests the practice of modification by third-party repairers is in fact widespread and was the main reason why it objected to recommendations.

"It is prevalent and we see many examples where engines are being chipped to perform beyond the stated capacity. If you look at what is happening elsewhere in the world as well, this is not just an isolated example," says Northover.

"Machines being chipped can mean they perform above their stated capacity, involving sometimes disengaging the environmental management equipment, [which] can lead to safety concerns as far as we are concerned.

"So, while the ACCC might not have called out the right to modify as a risk as such, we know that it is. Our members are conscious of their obligations to ensure that machines are operated safely."

DEALER CONCERNS

Northover also raised several other concerns relating to right to repair and right to modify, such as the level of training required to perform such maintenance.

Currently, while specific training and experience varies between manufacturers, technicians are required to at least complete specific vocational TAFE courses that are available in many regions across the country. Bigger manufacturing brands also invest in factory-based training for the technicians as well as sophisticated training departments in dealerships.

Northover says a shortage of technical labour in regions and the economic role of the dealer across the country should also be considered when discussing the right to repair.

"Walking down the path to right to repair, we just want to make sure the industry understands the standards necessary to deliver the minimum quality of service and make sure the machines are performing satisfactorily and it doesn’t lead to knock-on consequences down the track," he says.

"When the third-party repairer isn’t up to the task, so to speak, the cost is then up to the customer.

"I know some examples I have heard recently of only half of positions were advertised last year got filled and if you apply that across the industry, there is a distinct shortage of technical labour out there.

"I think the thing to consider as part of all of this is the role the dealer plays. The dealer has invested a lot of money in developing their businesses.

In many instances, they are probably the biggest employer in most of the regional towns that they are in."

The Productivity Commission is set to hand down its final report to the federal government by October 29, including a number of recommendations for the future of agricultural machinery in Australia.

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