Road Transport (General) Amendment (Written-off Vehicles) Bill 2007

About this Item
SpeakersGibson Mr Paul; Williams Mr Ray; Williams Mr John; Whan The Hon Steve
BusinessBill, Message, Agreement in Principle, Passing of the Bill, Motion

Page: 3245

Agreement in Principle

Debate resumed from 23 October 2007.

Mr PAUL GIBSON (Blacktown) [12.30 p.m.]: I support the Road Transport (General) Amendment (Written-off Vehicles) Bill 2007. It is a move in the right direction. I can assure people of the State that road safety is definitely improving. The recorded number of people killed on New South Wales roads last year was the lowest since the 1940s. Taking into account there are millions more cars on the roads today than there were in the 1940s, that is a good effort. We cannot rest on that and say the job is under control, because it never is. We must always aim for zero. We may never get there, but that should be our aim. This bill forms part of the road safety family of bills for the protection of the people of our State. Hopefully, this bill will ensure there are fewer accidents and fewer people killed on our roads.

The Road Transport (General) Act 2005 requires the Roads and Traffic Authority to keep a register of written-off and wrecked motor vehicles. The object of the bill is to amend the Act so as to accord, generally, with a national system of notifying, registering and managing written-off vehicles. In particular, the bill makes the terms and categories used in the New South Wales Act, such as "late model vehicle", "total loss", "written-off vehicle", "statutory write-off" and "repairable write-off", consistent with those used in the laws of the other States and Territories and enables the body maintaining the national database to have access to the details on the New South Wales written-off vehicles register. This is an important issue. The more knowledge people have when buying a vehicle the better chance they have of making a proper choice and the better chance they have of staying alive. Many of these vehicles are death traps. They are sold in various car yards every day of the week. The people buying these vehicles have no idea that they may have been written-off or rebirthed until it is too late.

I was chairman of Staysafe for more than 10 years and we conducted a detailed inquiry on this very issue. We called it "Repairing to a Price, Not a Standard". The findings of that inquiry were made in December 2005. Staysafe looked at more than 100 submissions. We spoke to more than 30 witnesses and many hours of verbal evidence were given at hearings. As a result, we came up with 44 recommendations. Those 44 recommendations went to Parliament and they are still sitting there. We discovered at the time that the average age of a vehicle registered in Australia was 10 years and, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics research, 17 per cent of passenger vehicles manufactured in Australia were built before 1985. Our recommendation No. 11 stated:
      The Motor Vehicle Repair Industry Authority and the Roads and Traffic Authority, in conjunction with the Insurance Council of Australia and the motor vehicle insurance sector, develop a register of motor vehicles that have undergone major repairs, including listing of major or structural components [that] have been replaced, repaired, and not repaired on the vehicle, which can be attached to the Register of Encumbered Vehicles—REVS, or the Roads and Traffic Authority's motor vehicle registration database.
This bill is the first step towards that. This bill talks about a database for vehicles that are written-off under various categories. The Staysafe committee is a bipartisan committee of this Parliament, made up of members from both sides of this Chamber as well as from the other House. In all the years I chaired the Staysafe committee not one decision was ever made on political grounds. No decision was ever made with concern that it may offend the Government or the Opposition. The Staysafe committee made decisions that would make it safer for everybody on the roads of New South Wales. If there is a better committee in this Parliament, I am yet to see it. Some of the things the Staysafe committee has initiated since its inception include random breath testing, seatbelt legislation, 50-kilometre-an-hour speed limits and the graduated licensing system. Not everything in road safety today was an initiative of the Staysafe committee.

The committee made recommendation No. 11 because we thought a person buying a car that has been involved in an accident in which structural damage has been done should know about it. Not only that, the person should pay less for that car at the point of sale. We looked at many accidents over the years. We have all seen photos of cars that have been involved in accidents and cut in half. People will say that tremendous speed must have been involved to do that. In many cases high speed was involved, but in many other cases the car was cut in half because of the nature of the repairs to that car. Often it was cut in half because it was a rebirthed vehicle, and nobody had any idea that it was. This bill intends to deal with that, and hopefully will be the forerunner of a database on cars that have been in serious accidents. Another of our recommendations was recommendation No. 19, which stated:
      Motor vehicle insurers be required to supply policy holders with a certificate of road worthiness for a motor vehicle after crash damage involving major repair or structural repairs, if requested, and to ensure that policy holders are advised that they can request the certificate of road worthiness from the insurer under this circumstance before taking delivery of their motor vehicle.
If that recommendation were adopted it would mean that once a person receives his car from the panelbeater he would get a certificate of roadworthiness. If he found out some time down the track that faulty work had been done or faulty parts had been put in, or the car was not repaired the way it should have been, he has a claim. This not only helps the car owner but also ensures that the quality of work in workshops is up to scratch. We also found that safety is compromised by the use of non-original equipment manufacturer—non-OEM—parts in the repair of motor vehicles, including classes of parts termed new non-genuine, parallel, grey, recycled and second hand. Many parts that repairers use today are not genuine parts from Ford, Holden or wherever—they are parts built overseas and shipped here in containers. These parts have not been checked as to quality, strength or roadworthiness.

People having their cars repaired have no idea how their cars have been repaired, although this bill will give some credibility to those repairs because people who buy a motor vehicle will now know whether a vehicle has been written off. However, the bill needs to go further with the establishment of a database to register any vehicle involved in a major accident or where structural damage has been occasioned so that buyers know that the car has been involved in a serious accident. That database is necessary because people selling motor vehicles today should not have the right to sell somebody a car and withhold the knowledge that it has been involved in a serious accident.

One of my secretaries bought a motor vehicle and paid a top price for it. It was not until 12 months down the track, when work was needed on the car and it was put up on a hoist, that they found the entire front end of the car had been rebuilt. She was not told about that when she bought the car. I am certain that type of thing happens on a daily basis. This bill is welcome and I congratulate the Minister on its introduction. I hope it is a forerunner to what I believe and what the Staysafe committee believes is the necessity for a database not only for written off vehicles but also for every vehicle that has been involved in a serious accident where structural damage has been occasioned. I congratulate the Minister on this initiative.

Mr RAY WILLIAMS (Hawkesbury) [12.41 p.m.]: The purpose of the Road Transport (General) Amendment (Written-off) Vehicles Bill and what it actually encompasses is to minimise the number of stolen vehicles in this country that are rebirthed by vehicles deemed to be unroadworthy. Statutory write-offs have gone a long way towards achieving that in the past but there still exists an opportunity to rebirth vehicles because we do not have a national register. Police have been crying out for this particular legislation for many years. A register alone will not go far enough. If we are serious in this country about stopping vehicle theft and rebirthing vehicles, we must utilise the latest technology that is available to us today that will stop vehicle theft in its tracks. Global positioning satellite systems are well known but expensive. However, this has been implemented in new vehicles today and could be implemented into vehicles to stop the rebirthing of vehicles and identify vehicles for their lifetime.

However, we have much more simple technology available today such as swipe cards and bar codes that can be implemented into secret panels within every component of a car that will limit and identify the movement of those parts throughout the life of the vehicle. When a vehicle is suspected of being stolen or when it is presented for re-registration, a simple swipe of the particular vehicle or part of the vehicle would identify where that part originated from and identify that part for life. This would allow police and Roads and Traffic Authority inspection stations to understand the implications of the parts being resold, placed back on the market or placed back on a car. The question is why the technology has not been embraced, which would most certainly stop vehicle theft in its tracks.

In this country we still see thefts of over 100,000 vehicles each year, and the majority of those are in New South Wales. It should be stated that some are for joy riders, but many of these vehicles are recovered. The major problem is the expensive, popular vehicles, which are stolen, only to be fraudulently rebirthed. The theft of these vehicles, usually the family car, impacts seriously on people's lives and their budgets. People who have had their vehicles stolen can testify to the trauma and impact that it has on families. Vehicles that are stolen and driven across State—with the help of backyard panel beaters—subsequently lose their identification. These people then reinvent, reregister and resell the vehicles to unsuspecting buyers, as the member for Blacktown quite rightly pointed out. The buyers are unaware whether qualified mechanics or panel beaters have rebuilt the vehicle.

Recently horse trailers were targeted. Hundreds of horse floats were stolen from New South Wales and transported to Victoria. These floats were rebirthed in a matter of days, put back on the market and resold, some over the space of a weekend. It is far too easy to re-identify a vehicle. We must ensure that all road transport vehicles retain their original identity throughout their entire life—one vehicle with one identity and one identity to all the parts and components that make up a vehicle. Simple, hidden electronic identification is nothing new; we use it every day without even recognising it by purchasing groceries, petrol or accessing information from our computers. We all use simple electronic identification that can be inserted into vehicles and which would largely remove the massive theft of vehicle experienced today.

To ensure consumer confidence and safety, it is paramount that this process commence immediately and the implementation of a national publicly accessible register of vehicles would be a step in the right direction. In the past attempts have been made to install hidden and undetectable identification in vehicles. This should be undertaken immediately if we are serious about stopping theft and the problems associated with rebirthing of vehicles. The implementation of statutory write-offs has gone a long way to limiting rebirthing but these vehicles can still be taken across States, which is why the police need this national accessible register to be set up in the shortest possible time frame.

Prior to statutory write-offs the rebirthing market was a free for all. A vehicle written off would go to auction and sometimes the damage was such that the type of vehicle was almost indistinguishable. I have seen these vehicles and one would wonder why they were ever presented for auction because it would appear that there was not one usable part on the vehicle. Yet the vehicle would bring thousands and thousands of dollars. Its identification tags would be removed and placed on a stolen vehicle, and then some poor unsuspecting buyer down the track would purchase that vehicle. This practice has gone on for many years; it is nothing new. As I said, the implementation of statutory write-offs went a long way to preventing that but, unfortunately, we still have a case of repairable write-offs, which need to be tracked across every State of Australia.

New laws restricting the sale of spare parts from vehicle wreckers also aid in stopping the sale of stolen goods. However, this does not prevent the sale from backyard dealers and only restricts the honest people in the trade, such as vehicle wreckers, who have operated within the industry for years. These dealers welcome any advancement in stopping the theft of motor vehicles. It would be of benefit to those honest people who operate within the law, not the criminals who flout the law. Western Sydney has a proliferation of wrecking yards, with reputable spare parts dealers, who undertake to provide a great service not only to qualified mechanics and panel beaters but also to people who seek cheaper parts to keep their family cars on the road because they cannot afford to buy brand new parts.

Long time spare parts dealers such as John Hood of Western Wreckers in Riverstone are the most reputable people in this business that I have met, but these new laws are forcing that business to close. Only the honest operators are suffering while the thieves are still getting away with blue murder. These changes cannot come soon enough for the entire vehicle industry. A national register and the immediate legislation of simple electronic identification being installed in every road transport vehicle and their components sold in this country should be undertaken immediately.

Mr JOHN WILLIAMS (Murray-Darling) [12.49 p.m.]: I shall speak briefly on the Road Transport (General) Amendment (Written-off) Vehicles Bill. As a motor dealer of 30 years and with 25 years running a smash repair shop I have first-hand knowledge and good insight into what happens to vehicles when they are damaged. It would be in every member's interest to at some stage have a look at an auction in which repairable write-offs or written-off vehicles are sold, so they can get a look at the type of people who will possibly repair a vehicle on their behalf—if they are unfortunate enough to buy such a vehicle. Most of them are backyarders, rogue motor traders, or unqualified repairers—people who should not even have the opportunity to rebirth one of these vehicles.

Rogue motor traders should not be allowed to be in business. Anyone who decides that they will engage in this practice illegally should be removed from the industry, as should the people who trade these vehicles through their backyard, because that is the process. The unwitting buyer purchases the vehicle from a backyard repairer, and all of a sudden a repairable write-off is in the marketplace and is driven around by some unfortunate individual. These are the people that we, as members of Parliament, should protect, to ensure that they are not exposed to the sorts of losses they will experience by buying such vehicles.

I do not think there is such a thing as a repairable write-off. I ran a smash repair shop, as I said. We were very keen for business, and we were reluctant to see a vehicle written off. If there was any opportunity for us to repair a vehicle legitimately, we wanted to repair it. The only way in which a repairer can repair a repairable write-off is by cutting corners. That means the repairer either does not complete the repair in the best possible manner, or he uses dodgy parts or a dodgy method of repair. Regardless of what the motor transport department does with regard to its inspection of the vehicle, there are issues with the alignment of the vehicle that will never be right again. Anyone who has been in the motor industry will say it is not uncommon to drive along the road and see a vehicle crab walking up the road. But it should not happen. People should not have to buy these cars.

I believe that if an insurance company determines that a vehicle is a write-off it should remove the compliance plates, destroy any identification on the vehicle, and put the vehicle back into the wrecking yard where it belongs. We should not be dealing with any of this in New South Wales. We should be protecting the people of New South Wales from being exposed to these criminals, as I believe them to be. It is a criminal act. They are dealing with a vehicle that I believe is unsafe and has the potential to cause an accident, and the sooner they are out of the business the better.

A couple of issues need to be addressed, for example, in relation to hail-damaged vehicles. Insurance companies will decide that such vehicles are repairable write-offs. It is an aesthetic issue where a vehicle has been severely hail damaged. The backyarder gets the vehicle and uses whatever method he can use to improve the appearance of the vehicle. Within about four or five months the owner then sees the paint come off the vehicle, and all of a sudden the very expensive vehicle they bought turns into a nightmare for them. This practice should not be allowed. The bill is a step in the right direction. I believe New South Wales should take the lead: we should say we will not accept a repairable write-off and we want to stop this practice. If a vehicle is determined by an insurance company to be a write-off, it should remain in the wrecking yard. Importantly, it should be kept out of the hands of unsuspecting members of the public who think they have bought a bargain.

Mr STEVE WHAN (Monaro—Parliamentary Secretary) [12.54 p.m.], in reply: I thank the members who have contributed to this debate, representing the electorates of Lismore, Strathfield, Castle Hill, Wakehurst, Blacktown, Wagga Wagga, Murray-Darling and Hawkesbury. I particularly thank the members for Murray-Darling and Hawkesbury for their cooperation in ensuring that the Road Transport (General) Amendment (Written-off) Vehicles Bill will be passed this afternoon. Some important points have been made in the debate, and I wish to briefly respond to them. It is unfair to suggest that the National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council has failed to deliver outcomes in reducing the problems of rebirthing, as suggested by the member for Castle Hill. As a collaboration between all Australian governments and the insurance industry, the council has provided the leadership that has led to a sustained reduction in car theft.

The council's current work plan prioritises the examination of the very points raised by the member for Castle Hill, including assessing the case for limiting access to damaged vehicle auctions, to limit exploitation of the auction process. The New South Wales Government will continue to support the council's initiatives. The bill is based on the work of the council, and is an indication of how seriously the New South Wales Government takes the council's recommendations. It must also be emphasised that the national register of written-off vehicles provides the framework for registration authorities like the Roads and Traffic Authority to track vehicles that have had such significant damage that they need to be removed from the road, or at least inspected before being returned to the road. The police, the Roads and Traffic Authority, authorised inspection stations, auction houses and motor dealers all have their part to play in reducing theft and vehicle rebirthing. The register established by the bill is the critical tool, but it is not a substitute for action by all the parties involved in the industry.

Through the work of the council and the New South Wales Government, the Roads and Traffic Authority now has information on vehicles written-off in any jurisdiction, and there are automatic checks against this information before a vehicle can be registered. As the member for Wakehurst said, the scheme also allows a potential purchaser to check whether a vehicle is or has been on the written-off register. The ease of access to this information will be addressed between the Roads and Traffic Authority and the Office of Fair Trading. The legislation enables regulations to be made to provide such access. The recommendation of the Staysafe committee on a register of major repairs is implemented through the legislation. The member for Blacktown dealt to some extent with the Staysafe committee's work. Insurers and self-insurers are required to report damage that needs major repair, to the extent that the vehicle is a total loss, according to a formula contained in the bill. The bill also enables regulations to be made to extend the range and type of incidents to be notified to the Roads and Traffic Authority and placed on the register.

The New South Wales Government is committed to further progress in the reduction of vehicle crime. The measures within the bill will facilitate the further reduction of stolen and rebirthed vehicles being re-registered and onsold to unsuspecting members of the public. This bill is a result of extensive consultation between all States, Territories and relevant industry groups. The amendments will ensure that New South Wales achieves national consistency in notifying, registering and managing written-off vehicles to further reduce vehicle theft in New South Wales and across Australia. The bill complements other New South Wales Government initiatives to combat vehicle theft, and supports the agreement of all Premiers to harmonise registration processes across Australia. The New South Wales Government is actively involved in national vehicle theft reduction forums and will continue to play a leading role. As I said, I thank members for their contributions to the debate, particularly those who spoke today. The member for Murray-Darling brought to the debate his previous industry experience, which is appreciated. I thank the Opposition for supporting the bill. I commend the bill to the House.

Question—That this bill be now agreed to in principle—put and resolved in the affirmative.

Motion agreed to.

Bill agreed to in principle.

Passing of the Bill

Bill declared passed and transmitted to the Legislative Council with a message seeking its concurrence in the bill.

[Acting-Speaker (Mr Thomas George) left the chair at 12.59 p.m. The House resumed at 2.15 p.m.]