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Used imports ruled out

Grey area: Federal assistant industry minister Jamie Briggs has ruled out mass importation of used cars to Australia.

Mass used car imports off the agenda, but rules for personal imports might change

14 Apr 2015

FEDERAL assistant industry minister Jamie Briggs has indicated that the government is unlikely to allow mass importation of used vehicles when it revises the Motor Vehicle Standards Act.

Mr Briggs has also ruled out any possibility of the government offering incentives to encourage the purchase of hybrid vehicles or others that use alternative fuels.

Changes to the Act would be considered at this week’s cabinet meeting in Canberra, said Mr Briggs, who is assistant minister for infrastructure and regional development.

Delivering the keynote address at the Australasian Fleet Managers Association national conference in Melbourne, Mr Briggs said the government did not want to replicate New Zealand’s situation with mass used car imports.

“The experience in New Zealand has not been a terrific experience as far as the safety and age of vehicles is concerned,” he said.

“The age of the fleet in New Zealand has got older with the mass importation of used vehicles. That’s not an outcome we want to see in Australia.

“We don’t want to become a dumping ground for the world’s lemons.”

More than once Mr Briggs highlighted the need to maintain or improve safety standards of the vehicles on Australian roads, but made no mention of efficiency or emissions.

“We know that the younger we can make our fleet, the better the safety outcome will be,” he said.

“We don’t intend, through this review, to make amendments to the Act that will impact on safety outcomes. Road safety is a very important part of what this Act is intended to do.

“We want Australians to have access to the best possible vehicle fleet, the safest vehicle fleet and the cheapest vehicle fleet they can get access to.”

He said the government was aware of the issue that has been raised recently regarding the difference between mass used vehicle imports and the personal importation of used vehicles.

“We are looking at the issues in and around that and we recognise there are safety concerns in particular when it comes to the import of used vehicles.

“We want a safer environment on our roads and newer cars are safer cars.”

Mr Briggs said safety technology was improving at such a speed that allowing used vehicles into the country would hinder the spread of that technology.

“The technological advances we are seeing in vehicles are quite remarkable,” he said. “The automated braking systems that are now becoming part of vehicles are moving ahead at light speed.

“We want regulations that encourage the uptake of that and not make it harder for people to get access to that type of technology.”

However, while the mass importing of used vehicles was not on the agenda, Mr Briggs indicated that the personal importing of used vehicles and, in particular, the 12-month rule, will likely be liberalised.

“We are looking very hard at the changes we can make in and around what people can do for personal importation.”

Mr Briggs said the regulations in this area were “rubbery and inconsistently applied”.

The current regulation is that a vehicle owner must have lived overseas for 12 months with the vehicle that they wants to import into Australia.

The Act gives the minister the discretion to waive the requirement, and Mr Briggs said that power had been delegated to a person in the minister’s department.

“We recently had a case where someone had been overseas for only a short period of time, had purchased a motorbike, traveled around on it and sought a waiver to bring it back in. The official in my department who has been tasked with that decision did so.”

Mr Briggs said he wanted to introduce a more transparent system.

“What we want to get out of this is a much clearer system of how people can, if they choose to, access vehicles from overseas in what is now an extremely competitive vehicle market,” he said.

“But we want to ensure that they do that and at the same time keep the safety standards we expect in Australia to be upheld. That is the balance that we perceive through the review and the discussions we have through the cabinet process.”

Mr Briggs also hinted at possible changes that could affect the competitiveness at the upper end of the new vehicle market, although he did not specify what the alternatives were.

“We want a competitive vehicle market. Of course, we have got a great amount of competitiveness, particularly at the small and medium level.

“Our dealerships across the country do a terrific job providing Australians access to high quality and safe new vehicles.

“We think there are some areas we can make improvements, particularly at the higher end of vehicles to improve the competitiveness and improve the opportunity for Australians to get access to vehicles which are safe, cheaper and will improve the quality of cars on our roads.”

It was not clear whether this was a reference to the luxury car tax although that is not part of the Australian Motor Vehicle Standards Act.

After his address, Mr Briggs was asked if the government would offer incentives to encourage the purchase of hybrid or electric vehicles and those that use alterative fuels.

“The market will do that,” he said. “The market will change as consumer preferences change and that is what we have seen in recent years.

“Consumers choose now whether through ANCAP ratings or Safercars, particularly when they have families.

“You’ll see the same impact of changes (in vehicle preferences) in the way fuel pricing works.

“The reality already is hybrid vehicles are much more commonly on our roads today than five years ago and that’s because manufacturers are making models that are much more accessible for people to purchase.

“The government won’t be intervening in that market.”

Mr Briggs said that, after this week’s cabinet discussions, the government would release a Regulatory Impact Statement that would outline the effects of any changes proposed for the Australian Motor Vehicle Standards Act.

“There will be a consultation period on the Regulatory Impact Statement before a final decision is made some time later this year to change the rules.

“I envisage we will look to change rules in respect of the importation provisions some time around 2018 when manufacturing in Australia will have ended.

“We want a modern Act. It’s a very different world to what it was when this Act was first put in place. As far as the way people access vehicles, what those vehicles are and what standards will apply.”

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