Government knew about Takata airbags before man’s death
The government agency overseeing the Takata airbag investigation had no airbag experts in its ranks and it's chief didn't tell the minister or the public about a "misdeployment" a year before a Sydney father was killed by an exploding airbag.
Huy Neng Ngo was killed in July 2017 when he was in a minor collision in Cabramatta and the Takata PASN in his Honda CR-V misdeployed, firing a piece of metal through his neck.
He was the 18th global death attributed to the airbags.
It prompted a nationwide recall and, as of May 31, the consumer watchdog has found 2.7 million vehicles have had their airbags refitted.
But an inquest into his death, this week, heard the Commonwealth's Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development were aware of potential incidents in 2015 and a confirmed Takata misfire in 2016.
The department's former chief, Jeremy Thomas, can't remember if he told his successor about a BMW airbag that exploded in Melbourne in September 2016.
The inquest, in March, heard a Takata airbag had been taken out of a BMW before it malfunctioned with such force a five-centimetre fragment was found on a roof nearby.
Mr Thomas said the information had not been handed over to the minister or publicised because BMW had provided it "confidentially".
"The information provided to us was provided confidentially, we negotiated with BMW to provide it with the Takata working group," he said.
Mr Thomas acknowledged the incident didn't appear in the document he handed over to his successor when he left his post in 2017.
The public servant recalls having a detailed conversation with his successor but can't remember if the BMW incident was mentioned.
"I think it should have been in the document," he said on Monday.
The inquest heard that, while the BMW incident was considered the first "confirmed" misdeployment, the agency was aware of other potential incidents involving Takata.
In November 2015 a woman called Mrs C contacted the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission after her lungs were injured by her Mazda airbag.
The complaint was referred to Mr Thomas' department before the investigation was closed in February without Mrs C's knowledge.
Mr Thomas spoke with Mrs C in October 2016 but there is no evidence neither Mrs C or the ACCC was informed the investigation had closed.
In the middle of that same year, the inquest heard, a "media handling document" had been passed around the department that said there had been one known "abnormal" deployment of a Takata which resulted in no injuries.
Mr Thomas was unable to "shed any light" on what incident that document was referring to.
The former chief also acknowledged he can't remember if he ever accessed his department's Safety Investigation and Recalls Database, where the Takata airbag incidents were ultimately logged.
The inquest heard none of the department's investigators were experts in airbags, the only had "general expertise" in Australian vehicle design and safety standards.
"(They were experienced) at a high level, but at a detailed level such as the way in which different propellants could deploy - no they didn't have expertise," Mr Thomas said.
The inquest heard there are almost 170,000 Takata PASN-fitted vehicles still on Australian roads, Counsel Assisting the Coroner David Kell SC said on Monday.
Of those, 6000 are considered "critical".
"Those critical inflators are considered to be so dangerous they should not be driven at all," Mr Kell said.
There are a second type of Takata airbag, the NADI, which are also faulty and are not yet remedied, the inquest heard.
There are up to 78,0000 NADI airbags, manufactured between 1995 and 2000, being recalled by BMW, Audi, Mazda, Honda, Ford, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Suzuki.
"The ACCC has reported being are of two deaths and two injuries in Australia resulting from misdeployments of Takata NADI airbags," Mr Kell said.
The inquest heard it was a matter of "extreme urgency" for Australians to check their vehicle for Takata airbags.
Mr Kell said the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions has seen more people return to the roads, meaning the checks are more becoming more important.