Paul Fletcher, the Federal Minister for Urban Infrastructure, seems to have an interesting relationship with the truth all of a sudden.
If I’m not mistaken, that odour you’re smelling … it could easily be weapons-grade bullshit.
Paul Fletcher, whom I had previously considered a decent federal politician - one of the oxymoronical few - has shot himself in the foot, announcing today he would renege on his promise 18 months earlier to allow private imports of near-new vehicles from right-hand drive markets.
AUGUST 2017: "...the Turnbull Government has decided not to proceed with one element of changes proposed earlier, which would have allowed personal importation of new motor vehicles from the United Kingdom and Japan."
- Minister Paul Fletcher
Full 2017 ministerial announcement >>
Full 2016 ministerial announcement >>
Jump down the page to my original Feb 2016 report on Minister Paul Fletcher green-lighting grey imports >>
18 months earlier, on the 10th of February 2016, he announced
FEBRUARY 2016: “Planned changes to the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989, announced today by the Australian Government, will give more choice for car buyers and save industry over $70 million a year in lower regulatory compliance costs.” - Minister Paul Fletcher
It hardly seems equivocal. This is a minister making a commitment. A done deal. At least that’s how I read it. He dribbled on:
FEBRUARY 2016: “The law will be changed so that, from 2018, a consumer will be able to personally import a new car or motor cycle from another country with comparable standards to Australia's, up to once every two years, if specified conditions are met. The vehicle must be a motorcycle or right hand drive passenger vehicle, be no more than 12 months old and have no more than 500km on the odometer.”- Minister Paul Fletcher
I can’t believe it’s just me who is getting a sense that this is absolutely going to happen. A commitment. With a due date. But in case there was any doubt, he added:
FEBRUARY 2016: “The changes announced today follow an extensive consultation process undertaken as part of the review announced in 2014. Legislation to implement the changes will be introduced into Parliament later this year.” - Minister Paul Fletcher
Isn’t it hard to believe these two positions - separated by just 18 months - are issued from the same ministerial mouthpiece? But no - we were firmly committed to doing that. Only, now, we’re not. Because politics.
Mr Fletcher cited:
AUGUST 2017: “...the cost and complexity of providing appropriate consumer awareness and protection arrangements, including investigation of each vehicle before it was imported to Australia; ensuring consumers were aware that the manufacturer’s warranty may not apply in Australia; and establishing systems to deal with a manufacturer’s safety recall.” - Minister Paul Fletcher
This is exactly the barrow the car industry’s arsehole lobbyists have been pushing from Day One on this, if memory serves.
I have actually tried to imagine some viable middle ground that justifies the Minister’s apparent bullshit position on this. Some movement in the goalposts that change the state of play, necessitating this insane policy reversal.
Trump becoming president, pehaps. Kim Jong Un Vaginabrows threatening to bomb Guam with his ‘shake and bake’ nukes. But I can’t see a single salient strategic piece that’s even moved inside its own square on the chessboard in the past 18 months.
What follows is my honest opinion, and of course I could be wrong. I’ll leave that to you to judge.
In my view, the relationship between the first and second announcements is that they are mutually exclusive. The apparent absence of justification - real, tangible change in circumstances - leaves me holding only two possibilities.
One: that the minister is an epic bullshitter who goes off half-cocked - or who acts on behalf of bullshit information from half-cocked departments inside the bureaucracy.
It’s either that, in my view, and/or (two) he and/or his department is/are incompetent.
I cannot see another universe in which there are other options. It cannot be a done deal 18 months ago after (quote) “extensive consultation” sufficient to justify the ministerial declaration that legislation will be introduced to parliament to effect the required changes.
This new law was designed to give you a fairer go. To increase effective competition in the marketplace and give the importers of (in particular) high end cars a wake-up call that customers now had other acquisition options. So sharpen your friggin’ pencils.
I suspect, but I have no way of proving, that the car industry’s arsehole lobbyists effectively got to the minister on this, blowing out of all proportion the industry’s ‘hell on earth’ depiction of private importation and its purported perils.
And this is part of the problem with being a minister - or should I say ‘empty suit’. Mr Fletcher is a lawyer. Parliament is full of them, and in my estimation they are fucking useless. Look me in the eye and name one way in which those litigious bastards improve the world.
Doctors, scientists, engineers, tradies, the guy who un-blocks your sewer: all quite valuable, positive contributors. Lawyers, however, are not worth a pinch of shit in terms of the overall advancement of society.
Mr Fletcher can’t help being a lawyer, I suppose. Perhaps we should pity him. But the problem is: He swore an oath to - essentially - integrity. To put the interests of the Australian electorate - you and me - above all other considerations. And I cannot see today’s announcement as a faithful servant of that oath.
If this reversal is built on foundational bullshit, I’d suggest being a bullshitter does not serve that oath. If the underpinnings are incompetence, I’d suggest being incompetent does not serve that oath. And I am really struggling to find an opportunity for integrity within the apparent irreconcilability of the minister’s 2016 and 2017 statements.
I find it detestable and disgraceful when I am presented with apparent evidence that points to disrespect for the truth and integrity by our elected representatives. It cannot be true both that “the law will be changed so that, from 2018, a consumer will be able to personally import a new car” and also that “the Turnbull Government has decided not to proceed” with that legislation.
How is this not bullshit - under the terms of reference detailed by Professor Harry G Frankfurt?
To me this is just evidence in support of the common perception that quaint notions like objective truth and integrity are infinitely malleable inside Canberra. It’s Bill Clinton saying “I never had sex with that woman” all over again. Talk about blowing it...
To the minister I’d say that you get only one chance to betray the electorate - and in my view - you’ve just blown it. Those arsehole lobbyists - I bet they sold it to you on what a disservice it would be to consumers to change the law.
But the reality is: They’re paid for entirely by the car industry, which has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo simply because it is better for the industry to remain so. Those lobbyists are paid for by the industry. They act exclusively for the industry.
CONTACT THE MINISTER
Minister, you are clearly not a stupid man, having worked as a corporate advisor yourself. But you may have just been stupid enough to presume that the electorate has a boundless appetite for ministerial bullshit and/or incompetence and weapons-grade inconsistency.
Minister, you are not paid for by the car industry, to act in its best interests. You are paid for by the taxpayer to act in our best interests. It would be awfully nice if you chose to do so. It would also be refreshingly different if you just kept your promises.
Because if you cannot do that, what good are you to the rest of us?
FEBRUARY 2016 REPORT ON MINISTER FLETCHER GREE-LIGHTING GREY IMPORTS
The Federal Government green lights grey imports: New cars set to get even cheaper. And, in related news, corporate barrow-pushing bullshitters see red over green light for grey...
The Federal Government has agreed to relax Australia’s to-date draconian restrictions on independent imports of new cars. Grey imports. Parallel imports. (Tomaeto/tomato - same thing.) From 2018 you will be allowed to import a new - or near-new - car into Australia from Japan or the United Kingdom, as long as it’s under 12 months old and has fewer than 500 kilometres on the clock. And it’s about time they opened this particular door.
The changes were announced this week by Major Projects Minister Paul Fletcher - it will also be easier to import classics and collectibles provided they’re at least 25 years old.
Green lighting parallel imports is great news for Australian new car buyers because it will exert pressure on dealers and importers to sharpen their pencils and cut the cost of new cars, just to compete - thereby removing the 'Australia Tax' - that inexplicable financial premium that makes new cars more expensive here. Sometimes almost twice the price.
Organisations telling you this is a bad idea are bullshitting you on an epic scale to conceal a vested interest - usually a hidden agenda to protect their profit - because this is unreservedly good news for ordinary new car buyers. More competition will drop the price.
The car industry’s grubby little lobby group in Canberra has been on the back foot over this for ever. But with no local car industry to protect any more, they’ve had to rely on a host of apparently made-up reasons that just don’t pass the pub test. They seem to be really struggling to sell their objections.
The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries - the lobby group (they refer to it as the ‘peak body representing the car industry') - uses what in my view is an especially dodgy form of thought closely related to, but not quite, logic. Their spokesperson, Tony Weber, said (click to enlarge):
Me? I would have hired in Donald Trump. He could have just built a car-proof wall around Australia - except for vested interest groups. The fact is, the car industry lobbied very hard against Australian Consumer Law. They issued an 18-page submission (right) to the Commonwealth Consumer Affairs Advisory Council in September 2009 claiming the status quo of under-done then-existing consumer protection laws was not just adequate, but in fact excellent, using the same neat blend of almost, but not-quite logic.
Learn more about why we still desperately need lemon laws >>
While we're at it, you better avoid these lemon cars >>
More on which cars to buy - and avoid >>
On recalls, repairs and servicing, mentioned by Me Weber, above: this is either just admin, or business as usual. For example: Say Car Company A issues a recall. They do it by VIN code, and the edict comes from head office, overseas. If your VIN code is affected and you’re here in Australia, they can ship the parts to your local dealer, and the dealer can invoice the parent company for the work. How hard is it?
Are we seriously saying that, in the information age, where global shipping of anything is just a mouse click away, where ISIS can behead you and stream it into every infidel loungeroom on earth, that having a global VIN code database is too hard? Parent car companies will need to facilitate recalls - because if your car has a safety defect, and if it injures you, I’m pretty sure that them saying ‘we don’t have admin practices in place to chase this up’ is probably not a defence that’s able to fly in court.
For the record, also on the FCA position quoted above (see excerpt, right), these businesses are also not altruistically investing in Australia, as the car industry disingenuously alleges, they’re overwhelmingly investing in their own profitability. Workshops and servicing are a valuable business unit in a dealership, not some pstriotic investment in the nation. They’re not fighting homelessness or preventing violence against women. They’re making money - which is absolutely fine, except when you sex it up like they’re curing cancer for Australia.
And let’s not forget the car industry is global - so a Mazda from Japan or a Mercedes-Benz from the UK is fundamentally identical to the ones sold here. If you can get it cheaper in one of those other countries, and land it here cheaper than you can buy it here conventionally … well, that just proves there’s a monumental rip-off at play in the existing Australian new car delivery architecture. Knock me down with a feather. That’s actual logic.
Mercedes-Benz, that company’s been quite outspoken on this issue too - and so has Porsche - because they’ve got the most to lose, potentially.
Mercedes-Benz's spokesperson, David McCarthy in the … distinctive ... shirt and tie (right) has chosen to poke Mercedes-Benz’s head out of the trench on this issue, many times.
Mercedes-Benz has had a lot to say about parallel imports for Australia. When this issue was seriously floated by the Federal Government, over 12 months ago, the Company's Australian head, Horst von Sanden, had something of a spray on it at the time. Reading in between the lines at the time, I formed the view Mercedes-Benz Australia had already calculated just how much money the company stood to lose, should the proposal go ahead.
Full report on that here: Grey imports, 2015-style >>
More on the FCAI's and Mercedes-Benz's absurd position on alloy wheels >>
In respect of the ministerial green light this week, Mr McCarthy recently told the website CarAdvice (Click to enlarge, below):
Good to know the joinery is that robust. Zero daylight. Even at midday during the summer solstice. That’s how you tell. Perhaps it also holds water, this joinery. I’m rapidly forming the view that whenever Mercedes-Benz and the Federal Chamber double-team each other in front of the media, chances are pretty high you’ll be able to fertilise the philodendrons with everything they say. This Mercedes-Benz comment: “and has for decades,” unquote, in respect of consumer protection: If memory serves, Australian consumer laws were so leaky they upgraded them on January the first, 2011. That’s not even decades in dog years.
Look at how adroitly the almost-logic is applied. If you believe what these organisations claim, you’d form the view that the profits of the businesses they represent are unimportant, or at least secondary. Instead, they’d have you believe they’re concerned mainly about you, and your protection. You come first. And isn’t that how you feel, invariably, when you interact with big business?
The statements these organisations make seem to me like nothing more than intelligence-insulting bullshit. The Federal Government is actually doing the right thing by consumers here - and I don’t find myself saying that very often. It seems to me these arsehole organisations just want to keep the profit pumped up - and the only way they can do that, now the governmental deal is done - will be to ratchet up the fear. ‘We won’t support you.” That kind of thing. If they don’t support you, with service or parts, whatever, like they’ve threatened in the past, hey, that’s just a commercial opportunity for an entrepreneurial privateer. Because the commercial world, just like nature, abhors a vacuum - especially one in an organisation’s propaganda.
Time to face facts: A big fat Benz that you might import from the UK came out of exactly the same factory that a big fat Benz you buy here in Australia came out of. The car industry is global. The support must ultimately be global. The importers are overwhelmingly wholly owned subsidiaries of the parent carmaker. These artificial price-pumping-up structures like local import operations and dealer networks here in Australia are feeling exactly the same way taxi drivers feel about Uber. They’re about to get disrupted. I dunno about you, but I’m gunna kick back, put my feet up on the desk, and enjoy watching the bullshitters tread water until they sink without a trace. Which they will. I’m John Cadogan; thanks for watching.