Interesting Days Ahead

And so, it begins: a new government with a reform agenda and a promise to put some of our critical issues higher on the list.

How are we feeling as an industry about life under a new Federal Labor Government? The answer to that question lies in a review of what’s important to us as industry players, business owners, employers and employees.

We always have a long list, but we probably have three important and key issues for negotiation with the Federal Government: Mandatory Data Sharing, the Skills Shortage and Future Fuels.

Top of our list of course is the choice of repairer campaign, and our Mandatory Data Sharing Law is certainly safe – this new Law passed in June 2021 with bipartisan support. There is no possibility of a change in policy before the start date of 1 July 2022. The Labor Party committed to Your Car, Your Choice in the past election and carried that through to the Policy Platform in 2022.

Very high on our list is our critical and debilitating skills shortage and there is possibly some potential for a fresh approach with a new government. Whilst the previous government was actively talking about skills and labour shortages, the election of a new government has injected a new sense of urgency to address what is a national crisis.

We had a massive national skills gap before 2022, and the global pandemic shutting our borders to potential employees just added to more urgency and desperation to our predicament. The skills crisis is complex – there is a great deal to unravel what is a multitude of policy and government regulations that are clearly broken and not working: we have less new starters into our industry, concerns about retention as other industries poach from each other, and the cost of facilitating skilled migration is excessive and not commercially viable. We are almost one technician short for every single workshop in the country. We have 28,000 independent repairers and close to 30,000 vacancies.

The reality is that new governments are often more willing to open up to change and less likely to be defensive about the status quo. A new government does represent a chance to raise all of the factors at play that lead to vacancies that are unfilled even after weeks of advertising.

I did have several conversations with the Opposition during the campaign period specifically raising the Labor Policy for free TAFE places. These TAFE funded places were based on the Priority Skills List that doesn’t include mechanics. I pointed out that that Skills List is broken – the designers of that policy agree but that’s the best that was available at the time. The way in which the government assesses what is a priority for skills is wrong – it’s been broken for some time. A new government is often more open to a critical review of that system and sometimes this can be better than dealing with one that has governed for over a decade.

Finally, we are looking for some lateral thinking on EVs and future fuels. Rebates for new car owners and building more public charging is an obvious and easy low hanging fruit. We want a dialogue about innovative policy options that embrace the after sales experience; investing in technician training, workshop charging and assisting the aftermarket to become future ready.

There has been some commentary about whether we as an industry association need to spend some time rebuilding and introducing ourselves to the new regime. Fortunately, a good strategy for us has been to always engage with all sides of politics and our relationships are sound and robust. But we have a chance, at least during the early days of this new government, to have a fresh dialogue and open up to new solutions to some of embedded problems. Let the games begin.

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