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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23546

Mr ENTSCH (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources) (9:19 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The National Measurement Amendment Bill 2003 is a bill to amend the National Measurement Act 1960. This is the legislation that establishes Australia's national measurement system and provides the basis for setting and regulating measurement standards.

The National Measurement Act gives effect to the Commonwealth's constitutional power for `weights and measures', granted under section 51, subsection (15) of the Australian Constitution.

No doubt, when the Constitution was drawn up, `weights and measures' had a more limited meaning than can be attributed to it today. Measurement functions today cover a wide spectrum of physical and chemical, legal and biological standards and measuring techniques.

The National Measurement Amendment Bill delivers the government's announcement in the 2003-2004 budget that it would establish a national measurement institute that will cover all these aspects of measurement.

Measurement underpins every aspect of our lives. It is the foundation for all forms of disease diagnosis and health care, forensic science, environmental monitoring, occupational health and safety, and consumer confidence and protection. It provides the basis for successful trade and commerce. It drives the continuous development of science, technology and industry innovation.

Every nation has a profound reliance on its ability to measure accurately.

Government has a crucial role in maintaining and fostering the development of a rigorous and cohesive metrology system that links to international measurement standards and is responsive to changing technologies and international trade demands.

Many measurement requirements are supported by legislation or regulation. These aspects become part of Australia's legal metrology system.

This bill will enhance the operation of our measurement system and the way in which measurement services are delivered to government and industry.

Establishing the National Measurement Institute involves the amalgamation of three government agencies that currently provide measurement standards and services to government and industry in Australia.

By doing this, the national functions in physical, chemical and biological measurement will be brought together into a single agency and under a single metrology framework.

The National Measurement Institute will be formed by amalgamating the National Measurement Laboratory, a national facility within CSIRO; the National Standards Commission; and the Australian Government Analytical Laboratories.

The National Measurement Laboratory maintains and develops Australia's national standards of physical measurement. It is against these standards that we set our measurement of mass, area, length, volume, time, voltage and light. Ongoing developments in these measurement standards provide industry with the tools to take Australia to the forefront of innovation and technological development. The National Measurement Laboratory also provides services in calibration against our primary standards of measurement that are vital to government and industry.

The National Standards Commission administers our legal metrology system under the National Measurement Act 1960. It provides testing and approval for the basic designs of measuring instruments for use in trade and commerce. It also has a regulatory role with regard to utility meters.

The Australian Government Analytical Laboratories provide a wide range of chemical and biological measurement services. AGAL has an international reputation for its quality production of chemical and biological measurement standards. AGAL's measurement services support key programs of Australian government agencies, such as the forensic work of the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Customs Service; the drugs in sports testing program for the Australian Sports Drug Agency; the National Residue Survey for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry; as well as food import standards required by AQIS. AGAL also provides chemical and biological measurement services to industry that help underpin developments in new techniques, including in the area of biotechnology.

The government's announcement of a National Measurement Institute has been welcomed by industry. The new institute will provide a one-stop shop and better coordinated support for industry clients. Some clients, like those in the electricity and gas industries, need physical, chemical and legal measurement services. These will be now delivered by a single agency.

New enabling technologies, such as biotechnology and nanotechnology, span the traditional disciplines. Measurement in these areas draws on physical, chemical and biological techniques. The National Measurement Institute, with expertise in all these areas, will better support these new technologies.

The National Measurement Institute will provide national leadership in legal metrology. It will work with state and territory weights and measures bodies to foster compliance with measurement standards in commerce.

To ensure the strategic direction and work of the institute remain focused on the needs of stakeholders, an advisory forum representative of key stakeholders will be set up to provide advice on these aspects.

The bill establishes the National Measurement Institute within the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources.

The National Standards Commission will be dissolved and its staff, together with staff from the National Measurement Laboratory and the Australian Government Analytical Laboratories, will form the National Measurement Institute.

Having the National Measurement Institute within the department will provide a strong corporate support network for the new institute and enable better coordination with government policy objectives.

In keeping with the governance arrangements for the institute, metrological functions of the Commonwealth are vested in the secretary of the department. Key metrological functions are set out in the bill. These functions are representative of the broad scope of tasks the institute will undertake and the measurement services it will provide.

The bill establishes a position of Chief Metrologist.

The Chief Metrologist will be an employee of the department under the Public Service Act 1999. He or she will be engaged by the secretary of the department and will be responsible to the secretary and, through the secretary, the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources.

The bill vests in the Chief Metrologist a number of specific functions and powers that are contained in the National Measurement Act 1960. These are currently being exercised by the National Standards Commission and CSIRO through its National Measurement Laboratory. These relate essentially to maintaining and developing standards of measurement and providing pattern approval services.

The bill ascribes other specific functions and powers relating to appointments and enforcement to the secretary. This is in keeping with legislative policy principles.

The Chief Metrologist will be a scientist of international standing with expertise in metrology. He or she will provide scientific leadership within the institute and contribute to further enhancing Australia's contribution in international metrology forums.

The bill also provides flexibility as to the engagement of the Chief Metrologist as the chief executive of the National Measurement Institute. It is expected that there will be a chief executive who will provide leadership and management of the business unit; while the Chief Metrologist will provide scientific leadership and exercise the functions given to him or her by the bill.

The decision to create a National Measurement Institute and to bring chemical and biological measurement into the functions of the institute and into the legislation underlines the contemporary importance of these measurement functions for innovation in industry and trade. It also highlights the increasing need for more rigorous metrological principles to be applied to chemical and biological measurement.

The National Measurement Institute will be a significant milestone in the history of measurement in Australia and a legacy to the commitment and contribution to more accurate measurement that has been made by science and industry.

Australian businesses, research organisations, and government agencies can have increased confidence in the research and measurement services available to them through the National Measurement Institute.

I present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Cox) adjourned.