The Productivity Commission is in the process of reviewing the “right to repair”

The concept of the “right to repair” means a consumer’s ability to repair faulty goods, or access repair services, at a competitive price.

Why Is It Relevant?

In the context of modern consumer markets there has been a trend for the manufacturers to design their products which encourages obsolescence and makes repair either uneconomic, difficult or impossible.  Think the cheap toaster where it is easier to buy a new replacement rather then it is to repair. Think mobile phone battery replacement, where it is impossible to replace or otherwise can only be done at the manufacturer’s place of work.

There is a cost to having a culture of buy, discard and replace in lieu of buy, repair and retain.  Firstly, is the loss or diminution of the consumer’s rights of ownership and autonomy over the products they purchase. If you can’t repair an item when it breaks down (through accident, planned obsolescence or use) then do you really have ownership of the product or are you just renting the product from the manufacturer.  Secondly, there is a substantial environmental cost in the waste generated by the consumption and early discarding of products. For example, the exponential growth in E‑waste is causing issue and cost for most modern western societies.  That cost is often not borne by the manufacturer or the consumer of the product but by society as a whole through rubbish disposal costs, damage to the environment and the loss of valuable resources embedded in the discarded items.

The right to repair is relevant if it allows people to deal with a range of product faults and the right to choose who and how the repair may take place.  That right if it is to have meaning requires a focus on the system of the manufacture of goods and the ability to physically repair the product, the availability of replacement parts and the accessibility of information on how repairs can be done.

What Is The Enquiry Looking At?

In Australia, the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (called “CCA”) implies various consumer warranties as to the products functionality and performance and also prohibits anti-competitive behaviour such as exclusive dealing .  Those protections are limited especially in light of the lack of repair markets and do not amount to a full ‘right to repair’.

The issue being investigated by the Commission is whether, in practice, consumers or third parties are prevented from being able to repair the products due to a lack of access to necessary tools, parts or diagnostic software.

The Productivity Commission is examining the current and potential legislative, regulatory and non-regulatory frameworks and their impact on consumers’ ability to repair products that develop faults or require maintenance.  The Commission is reviewing the barriers and enablers to competition in repair markets, including analysing any manufacturer-imposed barriers, and the costs and benefits associated with regulated approaches to right of repair and as well as the restrictions on repair bought about by intellectual property rights or commercially-sensitive knowledge that impacts the ability to control the repair process.

The Commission is in the process of issuing its issues paper and hopes to release a report in Mid 2021.

Take Out

The Enquiry is an important first step in reviewing what we consider to be an important aspect of the new business models being developed to deal with the environmental issues affecting modern economies.  We will keep you updated as to the report’s progress and outcomes.

Written by Cameron Spanner.

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