OPEA AGM – Professionalism and Cooperation on Display

The Outdoor Power Equipment Association (OPEA) is enjoying a period of energetic accomplishments, turning the rhetoric of yesteryear into solid actions for the benefits of all members. JOHN POWER reports.Panel

All strong industries have something in common: strong peak bodies. So, it’s a relief and a pleasure to see OPEA members working in unison to achieve direct results for members and the wider industry. Many of these positive actions – ranging from strong OPEA input into new emissions standards for non-road engines, through to well-wrought training initiatives and improved industry statistical reporting mechanisms – were explored and articulated in detail at the latest AGM, held in Melbourne on 21 August. Approximately three dozen members attended the meeting.

If one issue has galvanised and united the association, it is the establishment of new emissions standards for non-road engines (outdoor power equipment as well as marine sectors). Instigated more than a decade ago, the matter is coming to an imminent satisfactory conclusion based on significant cooperation between OPEA members, a lot of hard work, and professional liaisons with other peak bodies and government agencies. This issue more than any other has motivated OPEA members to rally as a single force, reaping material rewards for members by ensuring new emissions standards are created and implemented with OPE industry practicalities in mind.

Unsurprisingly, the topic of new emissions standards dominated the AGM, including addresses by special guests representing the Federal Department of the Environment, which is the main government agency driving emissions reform.

Following a warm introduction from OPEA President Gareth Taylor (MTD Rover), the meeting heard from Alex Caroly, Adviser, Office of the Minister Greg Hunt – Minister for the Environment. Alex explained how Minister Hunt supported and facilitated the recent establishment of strategies to finalise a National Clean Air Agreement, with the aim of formalising consensus between all State and Territory Governments for national emissions standards for all non-road engines by the end of this year. This initiative, he said, will form part of a wider strategy to improve air quality involving wood heaters and other contributors to emissions.

“Within the non-road spark ignition [sector], there will be a proper process going forward, including the setting up of a working group,” he said.

Elaborating on these processes, Bruce Edwards, Assistant Secretary, Department of the Environment, said all State and Territory Ministers had given in principle support to the Agreement, which would lead to emissions standards based on rigorous, longstanding EPA models in the US.

Following the formulation of draft standards, Bruce explained, there will need to be a process whereby standards are recognized and adopted officially in a legislative framework. He said all stakeholders were aiming to have at least a draft submission before Parliament in the first half of next year.

Importantly, Bruce said the final standards would be subject to a range of procedural checks and balances along the way in order to guarantee that they (1) had low regulatory impact, (2) were easy to administer, and (3) had clarity for all stakeholders – hence the necessity to follow “due process” at every stage.

PANEL DISCUSSION
A panel comprising Alex Caroly and Bruce Edwards; as well as Rob Baker (STIHL), who has been working as an OPEA advocate on the matter of emissions for many years; and Gary Fooks (Blue Sky Alliance), an ardent champion and driver of new emissions standards across multiple industry and government groups, fielded questions from members.

Most attention focused on the issue of how new standards might be enforced and policed. All panelists agreed that enforcement must be rigorous, either at point of sale or through effective border control; final details, including consideration of penalties for non-compliance, will need to be determined carefully, Gary Fooks noted, if the legislation is to be meaningful. Gary warned against a repetition of the European model, where non-compliant products make up 42% of all OPE stock. In contrast, the US non-compliance rate is just 1%.

Alex Caroly added that the implementation of new standards was backed by all major political parties, and was therefore at minimal risk from events such as a change in government.

ECONOMIC FORECAST
Julie Toth, Chief Economist Ai Group, said equipment manufacturing levels had fallen in Australia compared to previous years; however, residential construction trends were positive, resulting in stronger demand for power equipment for landscaping and similar activities. Furthermore, she said, expenditure on holidays was coming down, resulting in more household cash for outdoor power equipment purchases, as well as extra leisure time in which to use the gear.

Julie added that while HIA industry data suggested housing approval levels has peaked, there remained some grounds for hope that levels might rise further. On the delicate subject of weather predictions, Julie reminded members that although a dry summer has been forecast, poor conditions were by no means tipped to apply to the whole country; moreover, drier days can actually stimulate some levels of outdoor power equipment useage.

PRESIDENT’S REPORT
OPEA President Gareth Taylor spoke passionately about the great success of OPEA initiatives over the past year, following a year of profound change.

“We asked for your trust,” he said, stating that the board had agreed to a fundamental revitalisation of itself – with stunning effect.

Gareth said members should be proud of the association’s improved Training program, which was vital for the sustainability of the industry. He also thanked contractors Strategic Data for their excellent work in helping the association to refine its recording processes of industry statistics.

He invited all members to be OPEA ambassadors to encourage colleagues from all sectors to become members, and to demonstrate the great value of participation.

MORE DEALERS WANTED
Treasurer Peter Wallace outlined OPEA’s financial status, describing a small deficit of $16,000 for the financial year. He said the numbers of attendees at dealer meetings had been static: “We need to get more dealers,” he said, echoing Gareth Taylor’s calls for greater member representation throughout OPEA.

Peter also applauded the tightening of statistical data gathering and reporting, stating strongly that sound decision-making must be based on good information.

“Statistical reporting is important because a lot of bad decisions have been made over the last 10–11 years based on emotion,” he said.

STATISTICS EXPLAINED
Vice President/Statistics Stephen Clark supported Peter Wallace’s calls for more in-depth industry reporting to help OPEA draw a reliable overview of the industry and its many sectors.

He said data was now being collected monthly from major manufacturers and suppliers, with the goal of collating comprehensive and detailed audits of sales data from at least 75% of the market.

He said accurate data was dependent on widespread participation in reporting practices, and that most major businesses were cooperating with the challenges involved. Comprehensive statistics, he explained, are necessary to reveal underlying industry trends and cycles.

He also flagged the idea of introducing statistical reports on new categories such as battery-powered equipment.

TRAINING INITIATIVES
Training officer Phil Esterman spoke passionately about various OPEA initiatives broaden the focus of training in the industry.

Phil referred to a number of Key Happenings, including:

(a) a new OPEA Careers and Training website, visit http://opea.net.au/careers-training/
(b) a new GTO (Group Training Organisation) Model.
(c) new poster and pamphlets
(d) a career expo plan for 2016
(e) RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning) kit
(f) Specialized workshop.

According to Phil, Group Training models might appeal to some businesses as an alternative to hiring apprentices directly. Furthermore, a new 160-page RPL kit could be of great use to TAFEs.

He also drew attendees’ attention to a new industry aptitude test, which can be taken online at http://www.classmarker.com

Going forward, Phil called for dealers to commit to hiring more apprentices, and to make use of OPEA’s enhanced Resource Database. He also advocated improved distance learning, and an emphasis on an e-Learning portal and equipment allocations.

EMISSIONS & OPEA
As already mentioned, OPEA has played a leading role in the establishment of new emissions standards for non-road vehicles in Australia, contributing time and resources to the program over more than a decade.

Executive Member Rob Baker, who has been a particularly strong proponent of the new standards, said it was the clear “the industry wants this” as long ago as 2003–4, when the NSW Department of Environment & Conservation first tackled the issue seriously.

He noted successive governmental reports and statements in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009, with real momentum gathering pace under the guidance of current Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt. “Mr Hunt has been very good in terms of getting this moving,” he said.

Rob said a memorandum of understanding with AMEC (Australian Marine Engine Council) in 2013 was an important event, paving the way for finalization of the program prior to its consideration for legislation.

He added that a tough enforcement regime is critical if the program is to work effectively.

 

MORE INFORMATION
OPEA
www.opea.org.au

NEW OPEA BOARD
A new OPEA Board for the coming year was ratified at the AGM. There were few changes to the existing Board, though attendees were delighted to welcome new Executive Board Member Patric Soussan (Toro); as well as Ray Briffa (Honda), who will assist with the Training portfolio.

The Board for the coming year will therefore consist of:

  • President – Gareth Taylor (MTD Products)
  • Vice-President – Stephen Clark (Husqvarna)
  • Secretary – Tim McCarthy (EPG Engines)
  • Treasurer – Peter Wallace (Briggs & Stratton)
  • Dealer Representative – Rohan Sutherland (Dawn Mowers)
  • Executive Member [Training] – Ray Briffa (Honda)
  • Executive Member [Emissions] – Rob Baker (STIHL)
  • Executive Member – Patric Soussan (Toro).