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August 2013

On 8 June 2013 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Volkswagen Australia would be formally recalling Golf and other Volkswagen-made models that had suddenly lost power. The family of one driver and the driver of a truck that rear-ended her Golf vehicle are arguing before the coroner that this was a possible cause for her fatal accident. Over 300 other owners of Volkswagen-made vehicles have also reported problems. Similar concerns about some of Volkswagen’s direct-shift gearboxes had led to formal recalls of some models as early as 2009 in the USA, then in China, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia and Taiwan. However, Volkswagen reportedly stated that Australia does not have the same gearboxes, and instead had initially undertaken a program involving its dealers. Marketing experts have criticised the recall recently commenced in Australia, suggesting that Volkswagen will have suffered extensive damage to its brands by not acting publically earlier to address consumer concerns – in addition to the estimated $170m in direct repair costs.

It will probably come as no surprise that Volkswagen conducted recalls more promptly in the USA. Toyota suffered extensive adverse publicity there relating especially to problems instead involving sudden acceleration, generating recalls of over 10 million vehicles over 2009-2011 and a recently-finalised $1.6b class action settlement. Nor should it be surprising that Volkswagen undertook a recall in Japan. Japanese consumers have become increasingly sensitive about product safety issues, especially since 2000 - when Mitsubishi Motors was found to have been conducting illegal clandestine recalls over an extended period. The delay in Australia is disturbing, especially given the increased attention otherwise being paid to consumer protection since “re-harmonisation” pursuant to the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) reforms enacted in 2010.

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Written by Joel Rheuben (LLM candidate UTokyo, LLB/BA (Hons) Syd, Solicitor (NSW))

The 21 July 2013 election for the House of Councillors, the upper house of Japan’s Diet, has reversed the status quo of the past several years by providing the governing parties with a majority in both houses. As Tobias Harris rightly points out, possibly pre-prepared descriptions of the victory as a “landslide” fall wide of the mark. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) did not achieve a majority in its own right, and will continue to be dependent on the support of its coalition partner, Komeito. The majority also falls well short of the two-thirds that would have allowed Mr Abe to more easily realise his cherished goal of initiating a referendum for constitutional amendment. Nevertheless, this election result does have some constitutional and practical significance.

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Japanese Law in Asia-Pacific Socio-Economic Context
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