Productivity Commission says getting mobile phones and tablets fixed should be easier

Mobile phones and tablets have been cited by the Productivity Commission as products where there are opportunities to make it easier for consumers to repair or replace.

The commission said there were concerns raised about the difficulties that were being faced by third-party repairers in obtaining supplies and information needed to repair mobile phones and tablets.

The commission detailed this preliminary finding as part of its draft report [PDF] into consumers’ ability to repair faulty goods at reasonable prices in Australia.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg had requested for the review, citing that the Competition and Consumer Act was not capturing right to repair issues, and thereby only allowing “limited rights or protections” to repair.

As part of its draft report, the commission made seven recommendations that it believes would improve consumers’ right to repair without the uncertainty and costs associated with more “forceful” policy interventions.

“In general, consumer protections work well in Australia, but we are proposing some practical steps that could make it easier for consumers to get goods repaired and enforce the consumer guarantees,” commissioner Paul Lindwall said.

Among those recommendations was for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to develop and publish estimates of the minimum expected durability for products within major categories of common household products.

It also wants state and territory governments to introduce alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to better resolve complaints about the consumer guarantees, such as compulsory conciliation or direction powers.  

The commission added that the Australian government should enable consumer groups to lodge “super complaints” to help fast track complaints and responses by the ACCC.

“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,” commissioner Julie Abramson said.

At the same time, the commission wants to see additional text be included in warranties so consumers are aware they do not need to go to an authorised repairer or use authorised spare parts to be protected under the rights of the Australian Consumer Law.

There was also an additional proposal by the commission to change the existing copyright law to allow independent repairers to legally access and share repair supplies such as manuals and software diagnostics. It highlighted that in one instance, laptop manufacturer, Toshiba, had previously exerted its rights under copyright to prevent its repair manuals for its products to be reproduced and distributed.

Other recommendations the commission made included the need to amend the national television and computer recycling scheme to improve the management of e-waste products that have been repaired or reused. It also recommended the use of GPS trackers to monitor the way e-waste is collected for recycling under the scheme.

“Not being able to easily repair products can lead to them being discarded as e-waste rather than being reused,” Lindwall said.

The commission is now requesting for feedback on the draft report, with all submissions due on 23 July 2021. A number of public roundtable discussions about the draft recommendations will also be held early next month. The commission is expected to hand down the final report to the government by the end of October.

On Thursday, the New York Senate passed the Digital Fair Right Act, which was a major step forward for making it easier for consumers to get their devices repaired. The Bill requires original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to make diagnostic and repair information for digital electronic parts and equipment available to independent repairers and consumers.

“This Bill will protect consumers from the monopolistic practices of digital electronics manufacturers,” the Bill reads. “This legislation will require manufacturers to make non-trade secret diagnostic and repair information available for sale to third party repairers. Nothing prevents third party repairers from being technically competent to complete digital repairs other than the lack of information being withheld by manufacturers.”

The accompanying memo of the Bill continued, stating that “in too many instances, repairs of digital items are intentionally limited by the manufacturer .. [and] these limited authorised channels result in inflated, high repair prices, poor service or non-existent service in rural areas, and unnecessarily high turnover rates for electronic products”.

The Bill, however, does not require OEMs to reveal any “trade secrets”.  

As next steps, the Bill will need to be passed through the State Assembly in order for it to be signed off as legislation by the governor. 

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