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Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Page: 6266

Mr MARLES (Parliamentary Secretary for Innovation and Industry) (10:04 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The National Measurement Amendment Bill 2010 is a bill to amend the National Measurement Act 1960. This legislation will make changes that have been deemed appropriate for the long-term operation of Australia’s new national trade measurement system.

The government is committed to reducing the regulatory burdens on Australian business and through the Council of Australian Governments is pursuing a business regulation reform agenda designed to advance Australia towards a seamless national economy.

A national trade measurement system is one of the regulatory hot spots identified by COAG as an area where overlapping and inconsistent regulatory regimes were impeding economic activity.

Trade measurement is the use of measurement as the basis for the price in a transaction. A trade measurement system is the infrastructure needed to ensure that a trade-measuring instrument is sufficiently accurate to give a fair result to a buyer and a seller. Trade measurement has a long history in human affairs. The earliest known systems of weights and measures, the precursors of trade measurement, date back to the Bronze Age—some 5,000 years ago—and the need for fair measures in trade is stated in the Bible, the Koran and the Magna Carta.

We are all familiar with everyday aspects of trade measurement, even if we do not realise it. Any purchase of, say, petrol, fruit and vegetables, or precious metals has a price set by the product’s weight or volume.

In Australia, an estimated $400 billion worth of trade based on some kind of measurement takes place annually, with around 75 per cent of transactions being business to business and 25 per cent being between business and consumers. Businesses and consumers have always placed a high degree of reliance on trade measurement systems to provide confidence in all transactions based on measurement.

Since—and indeed before—Federation, Australia has had separate trade measurement systems, one for each state and territory. Clearly, with the level of economic activity involved today, it is vitally important that 21st century Australia has a single efficient and uniform trade measurement system to give confidence across the nation to business and consumers. In the area of trade measurement we have an example of government establishing the infrastructure that makes it possible for markets to operate both efficiently and effectively in a country as large and geographically diverse as Australia.

The establishment of a national system of trade measurement on 1 July is one important part of the government’s business regulation reform agenda. The new national system will introduce significant deregulation benefits by reducing the previous eight systems of trade measurement in Australia down to one. The new national system will provide a net economic return to Australia and produce benefits to business and consumers by reducing regulatory burdens and compliance costs. These advantages will be gained through a simplified system which will operate with nationally consistent rules and charges.

Following the COAG decision of April 2007 to create a national system of trade measurement, amendments to the National Measurement Act 1960 were made in 2008 to give effect to that decision by providing the legal framework for a truly national system. This was well supported by Australian industry. The corresponding National Trade Measurement Regulations were made in September 2009.

In the period leading up to the start of the new system of national trade measurement, the National Measurement Institute (NMI), which will be responsible for the operation of the system, has begun an information and public awareness campaign—launched here in Parliament House on 20 May—aimed at consumers and the public in general. NMI is also providing information to relevant industries, industry associations, and consumer groups. Providing key groups with the information they need on trade measurement will assist in quickly building confidence in the new national system. I congratulate the Chief Executive of NMI and his staff for their dedication and hard work in developing the new system and its public awareness campaign.

In respect to legislating for a system of national trade measurement, the Commonwealth’s approach has been to incorporate key features of the model Uniform Trade Measurement Legislation (UTML) used by the states and territories, as well as consumer protection principles based on the states’ and territories’ fair trading legislation.

As has been the case in state and territory trade measurement systems, the government will perform an all-important inspection function in the new national system to ensure that traders and licensees are maintaining the accuracy of trade measuring instruments.

The Commonwealth legislation also includes improvements on the UTML, such as introducing provisions for the internationally accepted average quantity system (AQS) for packaging that may be used by industry on a voluntary basis. An AQS option was requested by Australian wine producers and major packers and this will bring additional efficiencies to these industries.

Indeed, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) recently applauded the establishment of a national trade measurement system. The Australian Food and Grocery Council stated in a press release of 20 May that the adoption of an internationally competitive and uniform system of national trade measurement has been desired by industry for a decade and ‘will bring Australian requirements for weights and measures on prepackaged goods into line with other major OECD countries, including New Zealand and Europe’.

Although welcomed by industry as a whole, after the amendments to the National Measurement Act were made in 2008, some sectors of Australian industry expressed concerns about the application of a small number of the new provisions in the act. It turned out that the translation of the trade measurement provisions of the state and territory UTML into the Commonwealth environment has resulted in some unintended uncertainty for the measurement industry.

It is common for measuring instruments used for trade to be supplied, installed and verified—that is, tested to determine that the instrument works correctly—by different people and at different times. Therefore, it is often impractical and/or inappropriate for a measuring instrument to be verified until it is installed on site in the actual location where it will be used. In recognition of this, this bill amends offence provisions currently associated with the installation or supply of unverified measuring instruments. The penalty for the installation or supply of measuring instruments which are not of an approved pattern remains. The bill will also explicitly state that it is an offence to let for hire or loan unverified measuring instruments used for trade. The law should be completely fair and transparent in this respect.

The government takes seriously the concerns of industry and, on balance, has decided that there is a need to provide legislative certainty in this matter. These amendments will ensure that if a measuring instrument is installed prior to its verification but is of an approved pattern, then no offence will have been committed. Further, if a measuring instrument is sold to an intermediary before its final installation and use for trade, the strict liability provisions will not make the original supplier liable to prosecution for the supply of a measuring instrument in an unverified state.

The National Measurement Amendment Bill 2010 introduces amendments to the National Measurement Act 1960 which will make these circumstances clear in law. Other amendments will allow for the explicit recognition of prior knowledge and experience in making appointments of trade measurement inspectors, replace or redefine particular technical terms, and make some minor clarifications. These changes will assist by making greater efficiencies possible in the operation of the new national system of trade measurement.

The bill will also assist by making greater efficiencies possible in the operation of the new national system of trade measurement, by providing a greater role for the Chief Metrologist in determining various procedures of a technical nature that would be administratively complex and slow to be determined by legislative amendments.

This government has resolved to create a seamless national economy unhampered by unnecessary duplications, overlaps and differences in regulation. In particular, we are determined to remove those inconsistencies that create unnecessarily complex and costly burdens on business. This legislation is a further step in the pursuit of the government’s much-needed business regulation reform agenda.

I am pleased to introduce the National Measurement Amendment Bill 2010, a bill that will bring appropriate and desirable changes to the trade measurement provisions of the National Measurement Act 1960.

Debate (on motion by Mr Anthony Smith) adjourned.