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Friday, 23 November 1979
Page: 2970

Senator Rae asked the Minister for Science and the Environment, upon notice, on 14 November 1979:

(   1 ) How many letters of complaint have been received by: (a) the Department of Science and the Environment or its predecessor, and (b) the Government, in relation to the introduction of Metric Conversion, since January 1 976.

(2   ) What have been the principal areas of complaint.

(3)   What is the total number of: (a) petitions; and (b) signatures on petitions, lodged in both Houses of the Federal Parliament since the first Parliamentary Session in 1976, protesting at aspects of the implementation of Metric Conversion.

(4)   When were those petitions lodged.

(5)   Did the Government establish an Inter-departmental Committee to assess the implications, impact and costs of the implementation of Metric Conversion, or for some other related purpose; if so (a) what is the nature of any such other related purpose; (b) when was the Committee first established, and when did it first formally meet; (c) which Government Departments or Statutory Authorities have been represented on the Committee; (d) which officers have represented Government Departments or Statutory Authorities on the Committee; (e) did the Inter-departmental Committee undertake, or instigate the preparation of, a costbenefit analysis on the implementation of Metric Conversion in those areas where conversion is not yet complete, and if not, why not; (f) when did the Minister receive the findings of the Inter-departmental Committee, or when does he expect to receive its findings; and (g) when will those findings be presented to the Parliament.

Senator Webster - The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(   1 ) It would require an extensive examination of a large number of files to give a precise answer and the work involved would not be warranted. However, as an indication I have received only approximately 40 letters, including those referred by other Members of Parliament for my comments, during the period 1 August 1979 to 3 1 October 1979. To put this in perspective, I received over 780 other letters during the same period on a diverse range of issues.

(2)   The letters have covered many aspects of metric conversion but have tended to concentrate on current programs. Generally the problems are transitional ones which will disappear when conversion is complete.

(3)   and (4) Petitions are held by the Clerk of the Senate and the Clerk of the House and full details have not been available within my Department. However Hansard has recorded that 189 petitions were submitted during the autumn sittings of this year. They were generally in one of the few standard proformas circulated by opponents of the change.

(S)   Following the passage of the Metric Conversion Act 1970, the Government established a standing Interdepartmental Co-ordinating Committee for Metric Conversion. It has been revalidated by succeeding Governments. Its composition and terms of reference have varied with time but currently it comprises the Departments of Science and the Environment, Defence, Prime Minister and Cabinet, Attorney-General, Finance, and Industry and Commerce. Its prime responsibility is to stimulate and monitor conversion in government departments and to provide advice as required. It has not been asked to comment on the implications, impact, or cost of implementation of metric conversion or undertake a cost-benefit analysis. However, the Departments of Industry and Commerce, Productivity, Business and Consumer Affairs, together with my Department recently reviewed the progress of conversion and any action required to complete it. As a result of that I announced on 23 October 1979 that the Metric Conversion Board would continue in operation till at least June 1981.

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