Productivity Commission considering labelling scheme to improve right to repair

The Productivity Commission said it is investigating whether to follow in the footsteps of France where a labelling system exists to help consumers better understand the life of a product.

Productivity Commissioner Paul Lindwall has highlighted the commission is investigating whether introducing a labelling system could assist consumers in making more informed decisions about electronics they purchase in the future.

In delivering a speech to the Australian Repair Summit on Friday, Lindwall said a labelling scheme could help consumers better understand the life of a potential product, after being unable to find any clear evidence that manufacturers deliberately design products to fail early.

"There might be merit in some labelling scheme to help consumers understand how easy it is for their product to be repaired and its durability," he said.

Lindwall pointed out that such a labelling scheme exists in France and could work in Australia, particularly as the cost to replace a product is often less expensive than to repair.

"The labour-intensive nature of repair is such that the relative price of new electronics (produced in mass in a capital-intensive factory) has fallen rapidly in real terms while repair costs have grown with labour costs," he said.

He noted the commission was investigating the idea ahead of presenting its final report to government, which is due at the end of October as part of its right-to-repair inquiry.

Last month, the commission handed its draft report into consumers' ability to repair faulty goods at reasonable prices in Australia. The report cited there were opportunities to make it easier for consumers to repair or replace products such as mobile phones and tablets. 

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

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. 

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.   

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.

Right to repair has become a global movement, with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak also throwing his support behind it, citing that being able to openly tinker with electronics as a young engineer was what helped him start Apple. 

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