Why the Right to Repair is big news
And why you should care.
It feels like repairing stuff has gone mainstream. And it’s about time. Our current system sees far too many resources used for products that become landfill far too quickly. It’s us, as consumers, who pay the price while manufacturers and retailers reap the profits.
The Right to Repair has been everywhere in the news: US president Joe Biden has signed an executive order requiring it in the US; Steve Wozniak (the nerdier Apple founder) thinks it’s important; Australian legislators say car companies must share repair resources with independent garages; appliance manufacturers in the UK now have to supply spare parts; and David Parker (our Minister for the Environment) has a broken fridge and wants a Waste Minimisation Act review to include a right to repair.
You own the products you buy, so it’s up to you what you do with them. You can paint them purple and tie them to a flagpole if you like. So, if something breaks, it’s your right to choose to repair it, whether you attempt it yourself or call in an expert. You’re more likely to get a product repaired if it’s cheap and easy to do so.
Manufacturers of tech devices, appliances and cars have been working to stop this for decades: sometimes intentionally, sometimes because it costs them more to make repair easy. It’s also lucrative controlling who does the repair – an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission market study found Australian car companies make more than 60 percent profit on servicing and repair, compared to less than 10 percent from selling cars.
Manufacturers deploy tactics to steer us towards buying new things: spare parts are scarce, expensive, or “out of stock”; there’s no repair advice; and products are tough to crack open as they’ve been glued or have odd-shaped fasteners that your screwdrivers don’t fit. All the time, they market new models as so much better than your old, faulty one. The message is that repair isn’t worth it.
They aren’t going to change without legislation and pressure from customers.
International developments have centred around legislation to make spare parts and repair information available. That’s a start, but we’re still a long way from having big tech or big whiteware designing products that are easily to repair.
What happens overseas directly affects us here. We import nearly all our electronic or electrical products. Those appliances and devices are global products, so legislation in the US or Europe that forces Apple, Electrolux and Ford to make repair easier will also affect products we get here. However, we need our own legislation to keep our importers and retailers in check and ensure we don’t end up a dumping ground for products that can’t be sold elsewhere.
It’s often easier and cheaper for our importers, who don’t have manufacturing expertise, to replace faulty products or refund our money, instead of operating a repair service. Our otherwise excellent Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) allows them to do this, as its requirement to provide spare parts and repair for a reasonable period can be ignored if the consumer is told before the goods are supplied. Scratch the surface and you’ll find this is all too common: Ryobi states on its website: “We do not have any repair facilities and cannot repair any Products.”
As I found when I returned a blender with an easily repairable broken blade to Kmart, Consumers are “sold” replacement and refund as a good thing. This means we junk far too many products with faults that should be easy and cheap to fix.
Minister Parker’s desire to review the Waste Minimisation Act is welcome, though governmental processes take forever so our own right to repair legislation is likely to be some way off.
Along with new Right To Repair legislation, we think the 1993 CGA should be brought up to date. The loophole in Section 42 allowing manufacturers to opt out of offering repairs needs to be removed. Furthermore, the amendment should clearly state that the guarantees described in the act do not require the use of a manufacturers’ authorised repairer or parts.