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Wednesday, 20 March 2013
Page: 2719

Mr COMBET (CharltonMinister for Industry and Innovation and Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency) (10:03): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The National Measurement Amendment Bill 2013 is a bill to amend the National Measurement Act 1960. It introduces changes appropriate for the long-term operation of Australia's national trade measurement system, which has been in operation since July 2010.

In Australia, an estimated $400 billion worth of trade based on some kind of measurement takes place annually. Australia's trade measurement system provides the infrastructure needed to ensure that buyers and sellers both get a fair result. It provides assurance that the quantity of prepackaged goods is correct and that measuring instruments used for trade are sufficiently accurate.

Trade measurement, of course, is a part of everyday life. We are interacting with the trade measurement system whenever we buy products such as fuel or groceries on the basis of prices set in dollars per litre, or dollars per kilogram, or dollars per metre. These prices are set by the product's volume, weight, or length.

Trade measurement rules also govern prepackaged goods and are significant for the export of commodities, as well as measurements of gold, precious gems and the quality of agricultural products.

The National Measurement Institute (the NMI) is responsible for overseeing the operation of Australia's trade measurement system. As part of its 'trade measurement compliance inspection program', the NMI employs trade measurement inspectors who inspect businesses nationwide for compliance with the act. The proposals in the bill will facilitate their work and the ability of businesses to comply with the act and its regulations.

Key amendments proposed in this bill deal with situations where NMI inspectors find minor non-compliance issues concerning a measuring instrument used for trade or the sale of prepackaged goods. Currently inspectors are required to obliterate the instrument's verification mark and cause the trader to immediately cease using the instrument. Where the non-compliance applies to prepackaged goods, the items are immediately removed from sale.

These requirements can be unduly onerous to businesses and, in some situations, can disadvantage consumers. Forcing products off the shelves, or preventing the use of a measuring instrument, can be a disproportionate response to a minor breach. It can also cause unintended difficulties for consumers, especially in rural and remote areas where the community may rely on a single retail outlet.

The proposed amendment gives an inspector the discretion to issue a notice to a trader to remedy the non-compliance and allows a 28-day period during which they may continue using the instrument or retailing the goods which are subject to the minor non-compliance. This change will give traders reasonable time to remedy any minor breaches and will retain consumer access to goods.

The National Measurement Amendment Bill 2013 introduces a number of other minor amendments to the act. They include:

Enabling trade measurement inspectors to stop vehicles and request that they be moved to a reasonable location to be inspected. This carries over powers previously available to inspectors under the former state and territory trade measurement systems.

NMI inspectors who are undertaking a random inspection of a business will no longer be required to announce their presence to a trader. Random purchases are a useful tool in monitoring traders' compliance under the act and the amendment will support the purpose of detecting non-compliant behaviour.

Clarifying the wording of the act to give greater certainty to customers about the measurement of an article. The amendment clarifies that a measurement must be made in front of the customer or, where this is not the case, the measurement information must be provided to the customer in writing.

Making it an offence to adjust a measuring instrument used for trade in a manner that will affect its accuracy without obliterating the instrument's verification mark.

Providing for National Trade Measurement Regulations to determine the extent to which the definition of 'use for trade' applies to the determination of fuel tax credits.

Amending the definitions of utility meters to allow exempted meters to be verified by approved authorities. This is to facilitate the lifting of the exemption for particular sub-classes of meters in order to introduce trade measurement controls.

Amending definitions of 'reference standard of measurement', 'Australian certified reference material' and 'certified measuring instrument' to bring them into alignment and to clarify the period for which these standards have effect.

This government is committed to maintaining a fair, effective and efficient national approach to trade measurement for business and consumers. The bill forms part of that commitment. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.