Under the current Motor Vehicle Standards Act (1989), all that is required for anyone importing or manufacturing a low ATM trailer (including caravans and campers) is a self-declaration tick box to say that the trailer complies with federal compliance standards. There are no inspections, no federal licencing or approvals required, and in the event a compliance issue is identified, there is a long and clumsy process which ultimately requires the ACCC to take enforcement action. This almost non-existent barrier has seen an explosion of products being supplied to the market in recent years with little oversight or fear of retribution.
An example of this was shown at a recent consumer show, where we (the CIAA) observed eight exhibitors which each had over six federal compliance issues, and in our opinion should never been allowed to be displayed let alone be registered in the future. This risks the safety of consumers (as well as other road users), with the large majority of other exhibitors committed to the supply of safe and compliant product remaining disadvantaged, while these businesses either remain ignorant to their compliance obligations or blatantly ignore their responsibilities.
For eight years, the CIAA has been lobbying Government saying enough is enough and welcomed the introduction of the Road Vehicle Standards Act 2018 which promised a better result for consumers and industry alike. This is despite opposition from other road vehicle sectors as it requires a change of processes for the likes of trucks, passenger cars, buses, tanks, cranes, or any other road vehicle required to be registered.
The RVSA imposes additional regulations — in fact it is the most significant change for the caravan and camping industry in the past 33 years since the MVSA came into existence. In effect, every manufacturer or importer supplying in excess of four units annually will be required to obtain approval for their business for each specific vehicle category code they carry based around weight classes. In order to obtain this, an application needs to be submitted declaring that an understanding of applicable Australian Design Rules exists and that a satisfactory Quality Management System is in place. For those supplying less than four units annually, each product must be individually inspected for compliance by an approved entity. After 1 July 2023, no new low ATM trailer (or other road vehicle) will be able to be registered unless it is supplied to the market with a valid Vehicle Type Approval under the RVSA.
The background supporting documents are subject to audit at any time and we are already aware of the Federal Department actively requesting information through the application process for necessary evidence.
The enforcement provisions within the Act have also been streamlined, allowing the Federal Department to suspend or remove a Type Approval, issue substantial fines, or mandate recalls or destruction orders. The Minister in charge also has personal powers to effect similar on rogue operators. This will mean some products will remain in limbo awaiting modification work prior to being able to be registered.
As an industry association, we applaud the changes as well as increased accountability within the industry and expect a small number of industry businesses will not meet the required burden — and that is OK. This we believe provides better consumer outcomes as well as making the industry more competitive under a level playing field. The majority of businesses doing the right thing will be largely unaffected and also welcome an increased level of scrutiny within industry, particularly towards those currently unfairly competing in the marketplace.
Recent lobbying by other road sectors, citing that industry was not ready for 1 July 2022, struck a chord with the Government, in particular the impact that mobile cranes not being able to be registered would have on building construction.
Rather than looking at practical ways in which parts of the legislation could be introduced around the existing deadlines, the looming election clashing with the proposed transitional date resulted in the Government taking the easy option and passing a blanket extension for all road vehicles (including low ATM trailers) for another year.
We strongly opposed this as the majority of industry businesses have already investing tens of thousands of dollars to be ready and meet the well-publicised previous deadline. Sadly, we were the only industry association in opposition. In speaking to a number of association colleagues, who did not wish to be publicly named in Parliament, they said they were challenged not to support an extension of time for members who would have struggled to meet the deadline.
So, what now?
We will continue to talk to the Federal Government regarding the tightening of their compliance enforcement processes in the lead up to the new transitional date, while assisting businesses who have not received their type approval. This is in addition to continuing to provide the already strong education and technical advice for those manufacturers and importers under the RVMAP program.
The best thing consumers can do is to make sure when purchasing their RV product that they ask whether the manufacturer holds an RVSA type approval. This should give added comfort through that the manufacturer has some oversight by the Federal Government, have made a commitment around understanding of Australian Design Rule obligations, have control over their manufacturing activities, and have systems in place around making sure construction standards are maintained through the manufacturing process.