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Monday, 6 June 1994
Page: 1290

Senator DEVEREUX —My question is directed to the Minister for Small Business, Customs and Construction. I refer to a report in today's Financial Review about a review of Standards Australia which the minister intends to establish. I ask the minister whether the report is accurate and, if so, whether he can provide more information on the proposed review.

Senator SCHACHT —Yes, I have seen the story in today's Financial Review, and I want to make the comment that the emphasis in the story about a review only of Standards Australia is not correct. This morning I released a statement in detail which announces a review of Australia's standards and conformance infrastructure and which gives the full details of the terms of reference, the membership of the committee to carry out the review and its reporting date of January of next year.

  The statement makes it quite clear that this review, which was first indicated in the white paper statement on industry early in May, will take place. It will deal not just with Standards Australia but with the whole structure of standards and conformance infrastructure in Australia. It will have a look at and receive submissions from bodies such as Standards Australia, industry and the community. It will deal with and look at the structure of organisations in Australia that play a role in standard setting, such as Standards Australia, NATA, the Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand, the National Standards Commission and the National Measurement Laboratories; a whole range of bodies that have been developed over the last 50 years—or more in some cases—to provide this standards setting role for Australian industry and the Australian community.

  However, in recent times there has been some controversy amongst these organisations about how standards are set and about the difference between providing a commercial and competitive service to industry and those standards that should be provided in the national interest. There has been some dispute between these organisations about how that is to be carried out.

  Australian industry has made it clear that it wants a simple, transparent system that is cost competitive. In particular, small business wants a system that is cheap and effective, as well as providing a standard setting arrangement that enables its product to be recognised not only in Australia but also overseas at the appropriate level.

  I give an example to the Senate of where some of our standards setting operations are not to the level everyone would wish. I was informed last year that there are over 400 water authorities in Australia, providing water services to the community. Each one has a different standard for the water meter that goes onto the pipe that comes in to people's houses or businesses.

  The manufacturers of water meters in Australia—the manufacturing sector—are saying, `Please give us one standard for all water meters, so that we can produce a cost-effective product at a volume level that would also make us internationally competitive and we would be able to sell our product overseas.' But when there are 400 different standards for the same product, that is impossible to achieve. That is just one example of deficiencies in the system.

  This is a major micro-economic reform issue for Australian industry—and the government sees it as such. It has been very strongly welcomed by many industry associations which have strongly supported the holding of this independent review. When honourable senators look at the terms of reference, they will see that it is to be a very broad review. We will welcome, of course, full contributions from industry and the Australian community. I table my statement and the terms of reference.