Mandatory federal safety standards on quadbikes, including the fitting of operator protection devices, will devastate rural motorbike dealers, according to the head of Small and Medium Enterprise Australia.
SME Australia chief executive Dean Logan said he'd been told some Western Australian motorbike dealerships were facing the loss of up to 60 per cent of their business.
The federal government has mandated a new safety standard, overseen by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, that includes labelling requirements, stability tests and the fitting of operator protection devices like the Quadbar.
"It's going to decimate a large number of rural and regional dealers - they just won't survive," Mr Logan said.
"The question I have got for government is how many more decisions, like this, are we going to make, and expect small to medium businesses to stay open, stay viable and employ Australians?"
Mr Logan said government couldn't expect to take a major sales line away from dealerships and expect them to stay alive, or make money.
He said he'd like to see a "strategy of choice" introduced, to let farmers decide which quad bikes they wanted operator protection devices fitted to.
"The farmer has then made a judgement call and complied with state regulations to do the right thing."
He rejected the position by the National Farmers Federation, which led the push to compel the government to accept the ACCC recommendations to improve quad bike safety.
"That's NFF nanny state nonsense, as opposed to giving farmers and opportunity to choose," he said.
"The momentum is going against the NFF on the basis they didn't do their homework, they didn't go out to their constituency.
"I think there is an opportunity to put the standard on hold, to get the warring factions around the table, and to put in an education and training program, similar to road safety campaigns.
"We need a national approach, we need education and change."
Mr Logan said the problem lay with the NFF, in terms of changing quad bike user behaviour.
"How can they best look after their sector, and stop putting 12 year old kids, on quad bikes?"
NFF chief executive Tony Mahar said it was unfortunate that it was Mr Logan who had not done his homework.
"The NFF operates pursuant a federated structure," Mr Mahar said.
"Our membership is a broad church, representing more than 30 state farming organisations and peak commodity groups."
All positions of national importance to farmers, including on quad bike safety, were developed through NFF's committee process and then endorsed by the whole membership at Members Council.
"The NFF membership's support for the Government's Quad Bike Safety Standard is product of lengthy and evidenced-based consultation with and through the Workforce Committee and with industry and experts.
"We continually check the 'pulse' of our members in regards to their support for the standard. They continue to support the standard."
Mr Mahar said there were a range of views on the issue, and what was not in dispute was the issue of safe work places and options for farmers.
"Our approach provides both options and a safer workplace,' Mr Mahar said.
"The NFF wants to safeguard farmers' continued access to quad bikes by making them safer.
"Quad bikes are for many farmers one of their most essential pieces of farm equipment.
"It is Mr Logan who is proposing to expose farmers to industrial manslaughter laws and protect some manufacturers who won't take ownership of safety issues that have been clearly exposed."
Save the Quad Bike
Craig Hartley, founder of Save the Quad Bike in Australia, said Standards Australia had confirmed in writing, they would not develop a quad bike standard or a technical specification for crush protection devices.
"The decision by Standards Australia to walk away from the NFF strategy to force manufacturers to fit CPDs to all new quad bikes, melds with Queensland's peak agricultural group AgForce doing the same," Mr Hartley, a Queensland motorcycle dealer, said.
"State motoring bodies are genuinely concerned with the federal government's decision.
"They argue a lack of consultation and the fact that the ACCC did not in any way consider the impact this decision would have on motoring group members, in rural and regional Australia, is the main driver for their concern: especially when there is a better solution."
Mr Hartley said 25 per cent of last year's quad bike deaths were farmers, with another 25 pc involving recreational quads, with one child fatality.
Yet the remaining 50pc were side-by-side buggies with half of the SSV deaths attributed to children.
The latest Safe Work Australia figures show as at September 10, there had been 13 quad bike fatalities in 2020.
Safe Work reported three of the fatalities were for riders, 13 years of age, or under.
"The NFF bang on about COVID-19 and the impact it's having on rural Australia and yet they are happy to design ridiculously poor policy - that members don't agree with - that effectively closes hundreds of rural and regional dealers," Mr Logan said.
"The NFF and federal Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar clearly have no concept of the role allied industry sectors play in farming."
Mr Hartley said it was the interconnectivity of small and medium business that drove rural economies.
"State motoring groups are now seriously concerned, as manufacturers pull out and rural dealers go broke.
"We never needed to go down this road.
"The solution global manufacturers argued from day one was simple: develop a national harmonised approach to education and training. Run the program and then address the potential of licensing.
"Instead we now have a situation where every international manufacturer is leaving Australia and rural businesses will not survive. Someone needs to step in and say enough is enough," ended Mr Hartley.
Farmers will adapt
But leading Warrnambool dealer David Reinheimer, who runs Roe Motorcycle and Mowers, said he expected farmers to adapt.
There were no Honda ATV's available in Australia, at the moment, but he said he could still offer pre-sales, under the name of individual customers.
"There are some Honda dealers that go out of business," Mr Reinheimer said.
"In my case it's probably 30 per cent of sales."
But he said another product would fill the loss of quad bike sales.
"If you and I were in business together making hamburgers, we might decide we are not going to do hamburgers any more, we might sell coffee.
"There are other products, on the market."
He predicted side-by-side sales would increase, to replace quads.
"The farmers are not going to walk around the cows, in the mud, at 6am," he said.
"They are going to fix up their old ones, so workshop sales are going to increase, or they are going to buy side-by-sides."
they are going to fix up their own ones, workshop sales are going to increase.
"You have to adjust, something else will fill the void - we have an alternative product on offer, the side-by-side, and those sales will go up, as the quad sales go down."
Standards Australia Engagement and Communications general manager Adam Stingemore said the body would welcome further proposals, on rollover protection devices.
"Despite the best efforts of Standards Australia, industry and government, there was no alignment on how to progress this work," Mr Stingemore said,
"Several stakeholder groups remain interested in developing a standard in this area."
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