ACCC warns restricting access to technology is stifling right to repair agricultural machinery

The Australian competition watchdog wants agricultural machinery manufacturers to share information about software, tools, and parts with independent repairers.

The Australian competition watchdog has raised concerns that restricted access to technology including software tools, technical information, and service manuals and parts held by manufacturers is limiting competition in the agricultural machinery repair market.

The concern comes as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) releases a report [PDF] about the agricultural machinery market, looking at a range of competition and fair trading issues related to the direct sale of agricultural machinery and after-sale services, such as repairs. 

Following consultation with agricultural machinery purchasers, manufacturers, and the retailing and repair industry, including a survey of purchasers, the report also found that manufacturer repair warranties can impact competition for servicing and repair, and limit competition by discouraging the use of independent repairers.

"Competition in after-sales markets would be improved if independent repairers had access to software, tools and parts on fair and reasonable commercial terms. This is an important issue that runs across a number of industries, both in Australia and overseas," ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh said.

In highlighting these primary concerns, the ACCC recommended that agricultural machinery be included in the motor vehicle service and repair information sharing scheme, or alternatively as part of any broader right to repair scheme introduced in Australia.

The ACCC specifically noted it believes future right to repair legislation should include requirements for manufacturers to: Grant access to diagnostic software tools and parts to independent repairers on commercially reasonable terms; provide purchasers with information about how long a certain software system will be supported; and have a sufficient supply of parts readily available in Australia for a defined period from the date of the sale agreement.

The report also recommended that manufacturers and dealers provide information to purchasers about data issues at the "earliest practical opportunity in the sales process and before the point of sale". Some of the specific information that ACCC would like to see provided include information about machinery interoperability, explaining how purchasers can access and transfer their data, and statement about how the manufacturer will use data captured by the machine, including options which allow purchasers to "opt out" of schemes that would share or aggregate the data.

At the same time, the ACCC said manufacturers should continue to adopt ISO data standards to promote interoperability between brands of machinery.

"Our survey findings indicate that many purchasers of agricultural machinery don't understand the circumstances under which manufacturers can collect, share, and use the data generated by their machines," Keogh said.

The ACCC concluded the report saying it would develop guidance materials to assist purchasers of agricultural machinery to understand their business and consumer rights, which will be available by the end of the year.

An inquiry into right to repair by the Productivity Commission is currently underway, with a draft report expected to be released in June. The commission was tasked by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to examine the state of consumer's ability to repair faulty goods at reasonable prices.

In its submission, the ACCC stated that while Australian Consumer Law (ACL) in its current form offers protection to consumers when it comes to product repairs, more can be done. It proposed that reforms to the ACL or specific regulatory intervention be introduced, such as an unfair trading practices prohibition as a way to address these gaps.

The ACCC cautioned that the prohibition, however, should be "carefully developed" so that it's "defined and targeted, with appropriate legal safeguards and guidance". 

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