Are Australia's Quality Assurance Regimes Adequate?

Kath Heiman — 21 April 2017

Investing in a new camper involves an element of risk, especially given how the industry has changed and grown in the last five to 10 years. From my own experience, I’ve been consistently happy with our rig with its overseas pedigree. And this extends from the point of sale, through to the after-market support, including reach-back to the country of manufacture. But some of the feedback that crops up, particularly around the quality of offshore offerings, suggests not everyone is enjoying the same experience that I am. So I’ve been wondering what regulatory regimes apply in this country to give reputable operators the space to pursue their legitimate commercial interests, while protecting the buying public from producers who may be more interested in making a quick buck. Are the quality assurance regimes adequate? To find out, I wrote to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. And what I learnt from his department was pretty interesting.

There’s a nationwide system that operates in this space. This system is managed cooperatively between the Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development with its state and territory counterparts. Between them, these agencies regulate the importation, manufacture and supply to the market of trailers that don’t exceed 4.5 tonnes aggregate trailer mass (ATM). This system includes a national code of practice set out in Vehicle Standards Bulletin 1 (VSB 1) which establishes a set of design and construction standards including, for example, considerations such as suspension, axles, braking and wiring.

VSB 1 tasks manufacturers and importers to self-assess their design and production against the requirements of the Vehicle Standards – noting that they remain responsible for making their trailers safe for use. If the trailer doesn’t make the grade, then the supplier isn’t allowed to offer the product to the market. And if a trailer with a design-fault is inadvertently released to the market, the manufacturer or importer is required to recall and rectify it (VSB 1.4 and 1.10). They face fines and penalties for failing to comply with these requirements.

But there’s nothing ‘on the books’ that involves a process of quality control by an independent regulator in the warehouses and factories where camper trailers are made. So I suppose some products may ‘slip through the cracks’. And outside of safety-related issues, VSB 1 doesn’t specify ‘durability’ or ‘quality’ as design and production requirements in their own right. These aspects are regulated instead under relevant state or territory laws dealing with, for example, registration, roadworthiness and consumer protection.

So what do we do if we have a concern about the quality of the camper trailer we’ve bought, our first port of call are our local Consumer Affair regulators to work out what options we have to deal with the problem. And there’s something else we can do, too. I’m also told that the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development can conduct targeted auditing and compliance activities if they reckon there are systemic safety issues with a particular supplier. But the department needs to receive reports of faults before it can help – we can’t just talk about it among ourselves.

There’s probably no one size fits all fix. When our rig doesn’t perform as we expect, we may wonder whether to blame the manufacturer, the distributor or ourselves for using our rig in a way it wasn’t intended. That said, there are probably more productive things we can do than venting our spleen on social media – and we may find ourselves in some legal hot water if we do! 


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