15 Jun 2021
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Productivity Commission seeking feedback on Right to Repair report

By Sara Barker

Australia’s Productivity Commission has released a draft report on the Right to Repair - a proposal that could go a long way in preventing millions of tonnes of e-waste from ending up in landfill.

The report explores ways in which governments and manufacturers could improve their products and repair processes for independent repairers and consumers.

Productivity Commissioner Paul Lindwall says that Australia’s consumer protections generally work well, but many independent repairers have trouble accessing information, spare parts and tools they need to repair products.

Lindwell says products that are not easily repaired often end up being thrown away as e-waste instead of being reused. Toxicity from discarded products can lead to environmental and human health concerns.

According to 2018-2019 figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australia generated more than 500 kilotonnes of waste - a 131% increase compared to 2009-2010.

Commissioner Julie Abramson adds that these repair problems are evident in markets for mobile phones, tablets, and agricultural machinery, however, the Commission needs more information.

The ‘right to repair’ could mean that consumers have more choice about which repairers they use. However, such a scheme requires different policies.

These policies could include consumer and competition law, intellectual property protections, product design and labelling standards, and environmental and resource management.

One proposal in the report suggests that manufacturers could be required to provide repairers and consumers access to information, tools, and parts.

Another proposal suggests changing copyright law to enable independent repairers to access and share repair supplies, such as documents, manuals, and software diagnostics.

While consumer guarantees mandate the repair, refund or replacement of products, Abramson says it can be difficult to enforce.

“We are proposing that consumer groups be able to lodge super complaints about the guarantees, with these being fast-tracked by the ACCC. We also recommend further powers be given to regulators to help consumers resolve their complaints with manufacturers or suppliers.”

These powers could include guidance on the reasonable period or product durability for household products, alternative dispute resolution processes, ‘super complaint’ provisions about consumer guarantees, and changing manufacturer warranties to allow for a wider selection of repairers under consumer guarantee laws.

The report also suggests that product stewardship changes could remove the focus on recycling and instead promote repair and re-use. Further, GPS trackers could help to track e-waste recycling streams.

Submissions are open now at www.pc.gov.au. Submissions close on 23 July. The Productivity Commission will present the Right to Repair report to the Federal Government in October.

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