ONE quad bike death or injury on a farm - or anywhere else where the nimble but risky, transportation machines are commonly used - is one tragedy too many for Small Business Minister Michael McCormack to live with.
That’s why he’s driving improved safety standards and a new way of alerting consumers to potential hazards, before quad bikes hit the track - backed by state and territory ministers, following a consumer affairs meeting, in Melbourne last week.
A statement from the meeting said it agreed to support “all steps necessary” to expedite the regulatory impact assessment process and any other safety measures necessary to introduce a consumer safety quad bike rating system and a safety standard.
The high level political commitment to take action was welcomed by the National Farmers’ Federation President Fiona Simson who said quad bikes represented “significant risk” to farmers, farming families, farm workers and farm visitors and were the leading cause of accidental death on Australian farms.
Since 2001, there had been 230 deaths associated with quad bike use in Australia including six in 2017 with one being a six-year-old boy and another a seven year-old-girl.
“You’d argue that six and seven year olds shouldn’t be on quad bikes but let’s face it, they’re in frequent use on farms and also in recreational pursuits and tourism activities,” Mr McCormack said.
“They‘re widely used but the trouble is they can tip over so easily and not every rider or user puts on a helmet
“They think they’re only just going down the paddock and it’s only a few hundred metres so how can it hurt?
“But the trouble is; quad bikes can tip so easily.”
Mr McCormack said of the 230 quad bike related deaths over the past 16 years, 10 per cent were children.
“One death is too many – one injury is too many,” he said.
“The deaths are not just confined to farms - it’s also tourism operators and recreational users - but quad bikes are largely used by farmers for mustering, getting from point A to point B and all sorts of things.
“However, they can easily flip and turn over - one rock that wasn’t there the day before but has been knocked loose by some stock and you’re flying along through a paddock and all of a sudden, over you go.
“And if you’re not wearing a helmet and haven’t strapped yourself in then you can easily lose your life, in just an instant, and nobody wants to see that.
“But by the same token we don’t want to ban quad bikes because when they’re properly used, they can be very good implements as another part of farm machinery, and also for tourism users.”
Mr McCormack said after last week’s ministerial meeting an interdepartmental committee had been formed to look at implementing a new safety rating system for quad bikes.
He said consumer affairs representatives from NSW had “been leading the charge” to introduce the safety standard and rating system.
“What’s happened from the consumers affairs minister’s meeting last week in Melbourne is the states have agreed for the commonwealth to expedite the process to get a regulatory safety standard for quad bikes – essentially to make sure we have a safety standard which can then be imposed on manufacturers to make sure the bikes have every safety standard in place,” he said.
“At the moment you can have one company selling a quad bike saying their product can go x kilometres per hour and take bumps at x kilometres per hour but there’s really no set safety standard.
“So the meeting has given the Commonwealth the power to expedite the process to get a safety standard in place and that’s important because the quad bikes are coming in from lots of different companies and so we need a safety standard.”
Mr McCormack said the process was aiming to see the safety regime put in place in the first half of next year.
He said responsibility for quad bikes largely came under state jurisdictions which was why he’d “taken a bit of leadership role” along with Employment Minister Michaelia Cash.
“Michaelia Cash in her role as Employment Minister, looking after workers and the work place, has also put in place an inter-departmental committee working in conjunction with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to do whatever she can to look at safety standards as well,” he said.
“Normally we leave these sorts of issues up to the states but the states have given us the power to do this overarching body of work to make sure that there are national safety standards in place for quad bikes.
“We need to do something and my own electorate has had fatalities in recent times.
“I spoke to a young farmer at Ungarie who has a disability now thanks to a mishap from one of these bikes.
“He hit a rock, went over and lay there for some hours before he could raise the alarm.
“These are harrowing stories and as the minister responsible for consumer affairs and as a regional member I understand that we need to do something and especially given the fact that 10pc of the deaths have been children.
“But as the minister responsible, I’ll be working in conjunction with Michaelia Cash and my state colleagues who all agree the federal government can take the lead on this and we are, to expedite the process to get a safety standard in place so we can tell manufacturers that their bikes need to conform, otherwise they won’t be allowed in the country, otherwise they won’t be allowed to be used.
“We’ll have a minimum standard but there will be a rating system and when purchasers want to invest, like any product, they’ll be able to sell if one product is safer than another product.
“It’s like a five star rating on a fridge - you can see which one product uses more energy and is cheaper and in this case, which one is safer.
“People will be far more discerning when one bike is safer than another – but there will be a minimum standard and if the bikes don’t measure up, they won’t be allowed on the market and that’s the way it should be.”
Ms Simson said the NFF supported sensible measures to improve quad bike safety and to reduce the number of fatalities caused by the popular piece of farm equipment.
She a five-star safety system may be complex to develop - but the NFF believed it would remind farmers that safety must be a key factor in their quad bike purchasing decisions.
“We want consumers to make informed choices and to be aware of the relative risk each vehicle poses,” she said.
“It would also provide manufacturers with a commercial reason to build safety into their product.
“Until now, despite the self-evident merits of safety rating systems, there has been significant push back from quad bike manufacturers.
“In some instances, manufacturers are promoting specious ‘five star safe user guides’ which are designed to confuse the consumer into thinking safety is just a matter of behaviour rather than scientific evidence and design."