On 10 June 2016, the New South Wales Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello announced a $A2 million rebate program to improve safety associated with the use of quad bikes on farms. According the media release (curiously released late on the eve of a national long weekend):
“The NSW Government will be offering rebates of up to $500 towards the purchase of compliant helmets, Operator Protective Devices, the purchase of a safer vehicle, such as a side-by-side vehicle, and undertaking training courses tailored to farmers.”
The rebate package seems to tick all the safety boxes and should make a difference.
$A500 may not seem much but, according to one online store, the price of one operator protection device (OPD), the Quadbar, is only $A697. (A competitor’s device retails for over $NZ1,200) It is understood these are installed by the purchaser so it should be possible to reduce the injury risks of a quad bike rollover for less than $A200. The value of $A500 off a side-by-side (SXS) vehicle seems less attractive as such vehicles can cost over $A15,000.
The timing of the announcement is understandable as it relates to the New South Wales Budget due to be announced on 21 June 2016. However May and June each year is the period prior to end of Australia’s financial year when, if there is unspent capital, companies can purchase reduced priced work-related items. Minister Dominello’s announcement that the scheme commences on 1 July is likely to delay the potential purchase by some farmers into the new financial year’s budgets.
This timing is unfortunate but recent government rebate schemes and industry support programs, for instance the Home Insulation Program (HIP), are illustrative of the folly of rushing the implementation of these schemes. Dominello’s political opponents will argue that “the devil is in the details” (one of the silliest clichés) and there are no details yet on how the rebate scheme will be introduced, who will manage it or what the processes for payments will be. However just as the HIP showed the risk of rushing, it showed there is always the risk that some people will see opportunities to exploit government schemes.
Exploitation did not seem to be an issue with the Roll Over Protection Structures (ROPS) schemes in the 1990s but then the ROPS rebate scheme was not introduced after years of industry argument, aggressive marketing, misrepresentation and hostility from the vehicle manufacturers and their lobbyists. In 1999 Monash University evaluated the ROPS rebate scheme and found
“The 1997/98 scheme was extremely successful when measured against a number of criteria. The scheme reduced the number of unprotected tractors in Victoria by 70% from an estimated 17,420 to 5,290. The proportion of unprotected tractors in Victoria is now approximately 7%, compared with an estimated 24% at the commencement of the scheme. The demand for the ROPS rebates was substantially higher than in any previous scheme.” (page 3)
SafeWork NSW should prepare for a similar evaluation strategy on the quad bike rebate scheme.
One issue that may come up in relation to the Government’s encouragement to purchase SXS vehicles could be whether vehicle sellers will accept quad bikes as trade-ins. Given the increasing perception of quad bikes as unsafe, or at least less safe, what will the vehicle sellers do with quad bike trade-ins? Will the quad bikes be sold as second-hand vehicles, and if so, would they need to be sold with an OPD already fitted? One would expect that the market for second-hand quad bikes for work purposes would decline if it is not already doing so.
The New South Wales rebate announcement is a positive move on farm safety but such schemes have been expected for some time. It is likely that the other Australian States will follow suit even though there may be some haggling (political one-upmanship?) over the amount of the rebate, the introduction dates or applicability. If, as SafeWork NSW estimates, there are
“….around 200,000 quad bikes in operation across Australia in both a commercial and recreational capacity, and this program is a step forward to reducing injuries and saving lives”
there is plenty of room for improving the safety of Australian farms.