Broken Phone

At long last, the Federal Productivity Commission released the findings of an inquiry into Right to Repair laws in Australia. 

The report released last week found that there are “significant and unnecessary barriers” to consumers’ Right to Repair and recommended sweeping changes to Australia’s consumer and copyright laws that would make repairs to consumer products cheaper, easier, and far less wasteful for the community.

The key findings of the report are that the Australian Government should:

  • Require suppliers to provide access to repair supplies 
  • Undertake more detailed investigations into specific products including mobile devices and medical devices
  • Amend copyright laws to allow consumers to access repair manuals  

The new recommendations have implications not only for tech and household goods, but for any industry (such as manufacturers, installers and suppliers) where spare parts, product information and service manuals are involved. 

This comes after Apple announced its Self Service Repair program last month, which will offer tools, parts, and instruction manuals to help Apple users to repair their iPhones. 

According to a United Nations report, e-waste is the world’s fastest-growing waste stream – with 53.6 million metric tonnes generated in 2019, up 21 per cent from the previous year. 

In many cases, consumers find it cheaper and easier to throw an item away rather than pay someone to fix it. It may even be discouraged by the producers to fix it at all. Giving consumers the Right to Repair their own tech and household goods gives these items a much longer lifespan. 

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Right to Repair Productivity Commission Inquiry Report Overview and Recommendations p5

The Report recommends that product packaging labelling should clearly state how repairable and durable a product is – something that consumer advocacy group CHOICE has been pushing for, and that over in France was already implemented in January this year. These labels are similar to the water and energy efficiency star labels that are already seen on common household appliances in Australia.

Right to Repair Rating System
The Report recommends a rating system, something that has already been introduced in France. (Ministère de la Transition écologique)

It also recommends that warranties be changed to state that consumers won’t lose their rights to a repair, replacement or refund if they use an unauthorised repairer. 

“Good product design, the reuse of materials that would otherwise end up in landfill, and greater awareness of consumer rights and responsibilities can all play a part in reducing harm to the environment caused by the needless disposal of products that are no longer desired,” the report said.

Right to Repair advocates have been pushing back against restrictive barriers to repair for years, and Australia has been lagging behind the rest of the world. The United Kingdom has already introduced new regulations that would give consumers and third party businesses access to spare parts for common household appliances like washing machines – but crucially, not for smartphones or laptops. 

In the United States this year, tech company lobbyists from Apple, Microsoft, and Alphabet Inc have successfully halted more than half of the 27 state-level right to repair bills.

The Fifth Estate reported in July that US President Joe Biden gave the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) authority to target “unfair anticompetitive restrictions on third-party repair or self-repair items”: 

Global progress for the right to repair…of sorts

The Australian federal government is considering the report.

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