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Wednesday, 29 September 2010
Page: 267

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (3:37 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The bill 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 system of trade measurement. 

The government is committed to reducing the regulatory burdens on Australian business and through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) is pursuing a business regulation reform agenda designed to advance Australia towards a seamless national economy.  Trade measurement is one of the regulatory hotspots 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 determining 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 both a buyer and a seller.  We are all familiar with everyday aspects of trade measurement, even if we do not realise it. Any purchase of, say, fruit and vegetables, or petrol, 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 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. 

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.

The establishment of a national system of trade measurement on 1 July this year was an important part of the government’s business regulation reform agenda.  The new national system introduced significant deregulation benefits by reducing the previous eight systems of trade measurement in Australia down to one.  The national system will produce long-term benefits to business and consumers by reducing regulatory burdens and compliance costs.  These advantages are gained through having a simplified system that operates with nationally consistent rules.

Trade measurement is 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.

In 2008, amendments were made to the National Measurement Act 1960 to give effect to the 2007 COAG decision to create a national system of trade measurement by providing its legal framework.  This was well supported by Australian industry.

In respect of legislating for a national system, the Commonwealth's approach was to assimilate key features of the model Uniform Trade Measurement Legislation (UTML) used by the states and territories.  The 2008 amendments also incorporated consumer protection principles (based on the states and territories fair trading legislation) and allowed for the voluntary use of the internationally accepted Average Quantity System for packaging.

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

Although welcomed by Australian industry as a whole, after the amendments to the National Measurement Act were made in 2008 some industry sectors expressed concerns about the application of a small number of the new provisions.  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, decided that there is a need to provide legislative certainty.  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.

The bill will also assist by making greater efficiencies possible in the operation of the 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.

Ordered that the bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.