The Productivity Commission has found that it has become increasingly difficult for Australian consumers to access their right to repair.
The right to repair refers to a person’s “ability to repair faulty goods and to access repair services at a competitive price”. This means that consumers should have the ability to have, for example, their mobiles fixed by third parties rather than requesting repair from the manufacturer. However, in recent years, manufacturers have become stringent on who and what may repair their products, principally due to technological advances and intellectual property law protections. This is why the Productivity Commission has commenced an investigation into whether these right to repair laws should be expanded, made more accessible to Australian consumers, and whether certain copyright, patent, and consumer laws need to be amended.
The main issue with the right to repair is the durability of manufactured goods as well as the process of replacing impacted products. There has been a shift in production to push cheaper goods that are succeeded by new iterations every year. We see this particularly in the mobile phone and motor vehicle industry. There will be many situations now where manufacturers replace entire products rather than sending parts. In many phone repair shops, simple parts for a screen or battery may be as expensive as the phone itself! Due to this problem, Dr Matthew Rimmer, an intellectual property law professor at the Queensland University of Technology, has suggested the use of 3D printing to create spare parts in a cost-effective and eco-friendly manner.
Accordingly, the Productivity Commission’s recommendations include a minimum expected durability for certain categories of household products and an alternative dispute resolution method for individuals seeking to enforce their right to repair. Additionally, the Productivity Commission has considered introducing a repairability grading system, similar to that of France, to enable consumers to rate how durable and how easy it is to repair a product. Alternatively, collectively impacted consumers could be granted the ability to publish a ‘super complaint’ to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. This super compliant tactic has been employed in the United Kingdom and could be used to provide a stronger voice behind consumer issues. Lastly, the Productivity Commission is seeking express wording in terms and conditions of products to note that consumers have the option of repairing their products at third-party providers.
The Productivity Commission is now processing through public opinions and considerations and will release its final report to the Government on 29 October 2021.