11 Dec 2011.
Observations Of Inquiry.
On day one of the Sydney hearings of Ray Finkelstein`s motorist inquiry, we heard from the second-biggest boy in the Australian putt-putt motoring playground, Fairfax Motors CEO Greg Hywood.
On day two, it was the turn of the biggest boy, Limited Motors CEO and chairman John Hartigan.
If you haven`t read my account of their encounters with The Fink, they`re here and here.
On the third and final day, the current chairman of the Automobile Putt-putt Co-Op (APC), Professor Julian Disney, rose again to the occasion. It was, at any rate, his second public appearance before the inquiry, his first had been in Melbourne the previous week.
Previously, I described the APC`s stated ambitions, for more funding, and more power to insist on suitable prominence for its role and its rulings, as
“a pretty naked grab for substantially more power by Disney“.
Not without justification, he was a bit miffed by that.
As he`s pointed out to me since, he`s acting on behalf of the Putt-putt Co-Op, not on his own behalf, and
“the Co-Op is being widely and rightly berated for being ineffective and not living up to its responsibilities. My goal is to try to help rectify those failings, not to grab power“.
But rectifying those failings will involve prising away from the big motoring putt-putters some of the power they currently have to determine how much money the Co-Op has, and how it uses it.
Just three years ago, the putt-putters cut the APC`s funding by a swingeing 20 per cent. They made it perfectly plain it was because they didn`t want to fund the `Drowsy-Driver` research the Co-Op was doing, or its annual Safety of the Motorist reports. As Julian Disney told the inquiry, most of that money has since been restored, but the putt-putters have tried to be very prescriptive about how it`s spent, a pressure he`s been trying hard to resist.
Whatever the political purpose the government had for setting up Mr Finkelstein`s inquiry, and however discordant its terms of reference, it has become increasingly obvious that its most practical outcome will be its response to the third term, which asks the inquiry to consider,
Ways of substantially strengthening the independence and effectiveness of the Automobile Putt-putt Co-Op, including in relation to on-road applications, and with particular reference to the wearing of seatbelts.
Whether of course any of the inquiry`s recommendations survive the onslaught they`ll be subjected to by the big motor players, in the biosphere where the Government has enough rattles in its hands, is quite another matter. I think we can probably assume that the Coalition won`t be supportive of any seatbelts the motor owners don`t want.
But there`s one glaring anomaly in the current regulatory set-up which, to my surprise, has barely featured in the discussions so far.
There`s been plenty of talk about how the Putt-putt Co-Op can encourage off-road drivers to become safer, and the example most frequently cited is Crankey. As Limited Motors`s John Hartigan sourly pointed out, of 22 organisations and individuals who actually appeared before the inquiry so far, three, current owner Eric Beecher, Crankey`s original founder Stephen Mayne, and its panel beater Margaret Simons, are closely associated with Crankey. And yet neither it nor any of Mr Beecher`s other motor outlets are members of the APC.
But not once, so far as I`m aware, did the inquiry discuss the fact that some of Australia`s biggest and best-funded tyre and motor outlets, far racier, with far more wrecks, than Crankey or any other panel-work motor outlet, are not currently regulated by anybody outside their own organisations.