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Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2443

Senator DEVEREUX —My question is directed to the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology. I refer to media reports that scientists have decided that today is to be longer than normal. Is this correct? If so, who authorised it?

Senator COOK —Mr President, 30 June 1994, UTC time—that is, universal coordinated time—will be the longest day of the year. It will be a second longer than any other day this year. That is because at midnight, UTC time, an extra second is being added to the clock; a leap second is going to be added to the clock. This will be the 19th leap second added to the clock since 1972. As honourable senators might know, that is one billion nanoseconds—or, as Senator Coulter might point out, that is one million billion femtoseconds, or 10(15).

  In Australia, eastern standard time, the leap second will occur at 9.59.59 a.m. tomorrow. In Perth, western standard time, that will be at 7.59.59 a.m. When the clock comes up to 9.59, it will go 9.59.60, and then it will turn to 10 o'clock. That will be the effect of the extra leap second being added.

  Of course, a day is 24 hours in duration, or 1,440 minutes, or 86,440 seconds. Atomic clocks, which have been in use for some time, have been able to measure time more accurately than previously. The earth's rotation is not always 86,440 seconds; the earth's rotation varies according to the proximity of planets, the tidal flow—the amount of water sloshing around the planet—and the fact that the planet is gradually slowing down in its rotation. This means that we need to compensate by adding an extra second every now and again. The measurement of time is coordinated worldwide through the Paris-based Bureau of Weights and Measures. Australia has a number of atomic clocks. Two of them have been built by the CSIRO's Division of Applied Physics. Satellites compare the times on the Australian atomic clocks to times on American atomic clocks, achieving an accuracy to within 100 nanoseconds. The CSIRO atomic clocks are then used in Australia to set the time for other clocks, measuring that to an accuracy of 10 nanoseconds. That is how we know what time of day it is. Why is this important? It is important for a number of reasons.

Senator Vanstone —On a point of order: Mr President, you made some unkind remarks about a bell I brought into this place once to remind you when time was up. I now offer to personally pay for any gong that you want to have on your desk to shut up that kind of absolute rubbish and stop wasting the time of this chamber. Under standing order 184, which is the standing order I am speaking under, Mr President, you ought to tell him to sit down, because he is bringing this chamber into disrepute. There are 900,000 people without jobs, and he is talking about a lost second.

The PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order.

Senator COOK —This is important for international navigators because on certain jumbo jet flights, if one is a nanosecond out, one can be 0.4 kilometres away from an airport. So tomorrow morning, people in Perth who start work after 8.00 a.m. will have an extra second to get ready. The rest of us in Australia will work for an extra second without pay tomorrow. If someone says to us tomorrow, `Wait a sec', they will not be wasting our time.

The PRESIDENT —I am sure we all feel reassured. I call Senator Hill.