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Wednesday, 26 April 1972
Page: 2038

Mr CREAN (Melbourne Ports) - Basically, the purpose of these Bills is simply to convert into metric equivalents the various quantities and weights and measures that come within the jurisdiction of the Minister for Customs and Excise. Traditionally we operate under the imperial system in which lengths are measured in inches, feet and yards. I do not think that we have too many miles within the jurisdiction of the Minister. Similarly, quantities are expressed in ounces, pounds and tons, and we have the rather odd unit of the gallon which will be converted to a litre. These are the kinds of things that are embraced by these measures. We are not altering the law; we are simply converting the various measures. The Minister for Customs and Excise (Mr Chipp) said: 1 can assure honourable members that where rounding off has been necessary, cure has been taken to ensure that neither the public nor industry will be disadvantaged by any variation in absolute duty collections. Overall in fact the changes will represent a very slight reduction in Commonwealth excise receipts - approximately $30,000 in a full year or, expressed another way, a reduction of 0.003 per cent.

I think that that statement is fair enough. We are trying to get the nearest equivalent. The Minister gave one or two examples. For instance, he said that one gallon converts to 4.54609 litres. There we are getting into the realms of 5 and 6 places of decimals. This is certainly much different from the currency conversion which was relatively simple. The only problem there was the 5 over 6 or the 10 over 12. But here, whilst we say that a kilogramme is equivalent to 2.2 lb, it is not exactly 2.2 lb. Nor is a kilometre exactly five-eighths of a mile. The first annual report of the Metric Conversion Board, which is the only issue, says that 1972 is seen as a year of increasing public awareness and involvement. At least the Minister and his Department have got off the mark early. As he pointed out, about 90 per cent of world trade is conducted in terms of the metric system and we would be foolish to delay the conversion very much longer.

Recently most honourable members received a document called the 'Backgrounder' which is published by the information service of the British High Commission. It was dated 28th March and con tained an article headed 'British White Paper on Metrication'. It indicated - I agree with this - that the advantages of the metric system far outweigh any cost that may be attached to it. This document and the report of the Metric Conversion Board say that it will be several years before we finally get this scheme off the ground, lt is a much more comprehensive scheme than the decimal currency one was because there are so many things that have to be changed. Some changes have already been made. As all honourable members know, medicines are now calculated in grammes and milligrammes and medicine glasses are calibrated in accordance with the metric system. Recently 1 heard someone say that he had a high temperature. I think it was said to be 45 degrees Centigrade. As we all know, the old figure for a high temperature used to be about 103 degrees. It is going to take us some time to become adjusted to all these sorts of things. The report indicates that it is hoped to get the school system on metric calculations operating during 1973. I notice that the British paper is a little more conservative than that. The British paper suggests that teaching in the imperial system is expected to continue for some time as a working knowledge of these units in everyday life will be needed over some years. I suggest that that is a more realistic appraisal of the situation than suddenly to base our mathematics in schools on the metric system in 1973. There are a lot of loose ends to be tied.

The Minister for Customs and Excise took the opportunity in his speech to give a very interesting aside about the determination of proof figures in relation to spirits and I am sure that it blew a lot of illusions held by some people, particularly Queenslanders, who refer to 100 per cent proof rum. Apparently the proof figure has been a fraud upon the public because what appears to be 100 per cent is only somewhere between 0 and 175. The system provides a scale of 0 to 175 in which 0 is pure water and 175 is pure alcohol, so that what is described as 50 per cent proof or 100 per cent proof is very far from being more alcohol than water. I suppose that it is wise that that is the case because there are certain dangers in drinking too much alcohol too quickly. I am sure that nowa- days we have better means of calculating proof figures than by using the gunpowder test. However, it was an interesting aside.

There are one or two matters in relation to these Bills that I wish to raise, although perhaps they are not quite relevant to the particular matters under consideration. I was very impressed by the amount of work that has been done in Australia, as indicated in this first report of the Metric Conversion Board. I pay tribute to the Chairman of the Board and his Committee for the zealous way in which they are going ahead to facilitate the conversion to the sole use of the metric system of weights and measures with the aim that this should be substantially completed by the end of 1979. That is still a long way off and that is why it would seem to me that perhaps we are starting a little soon in converting completely to the metric system in our schools

In its report, the Metric Conversion Board listed conclusions of the valuable report of the Senate Select Committee on the Metric System of Weights and Measures. It is interesting to find that the Senate is becoming useful rather than merely obstructive. One of the conclusions of the Senate Committee was:

About 90 per cent of the world's population already use metric measurement and this use is increasing.

This of course is much more so in international trade as compared with internal operations. I suppose that if we had very little international trade it would not matter much whether we calculated our monetary measures in terms of cowrie shells or something else. I noted the other day that Singapore will no longer handle documents unless they are expressed in terms of the metric system and therefore the Minister is wise to be moving quickly in this field. Another conclusion of the Senate Committee was:

About 75 per cent of world trade is carried out in metric terms. Some 70 per cent of Australia's export trade is to countries using or converting to metric weights and measures. This proportion will increase as Australia's trade with Japan and South East Asian countries grows.

Of course, that is what is happening. Another conclusion was:

A metric system would improve the teaching of mathematics and science, reduce errors and save time.

I think that this will be so but I am sure that we will still have errors and we still occasionally will waste time. Another conclusion of the Senate Committee was:

It would provide an opportunity, to improve industrial and manufacturing efficiency by rationalising existing practices and reducing unnecessary varieties in sizes and components.

It is to be hoped that we will achieve some degree of standardisation in the industrial field, particularly in the building industry. I recently read a document from the building industry indicating that it hoped to convert quickly to metric units. Another conclusion of the Senate Committee was:

Introduction of a metric system was widely regarded as a natural consequence of Australia's earlier conversion to decimal currency. The full advantages of decimal currency would not be experienced until decimal weights and measures were also used.

I think that is a little high kite flying but nevertheless, I suppose mathematics will be somewhat simpler when we are using metric weights and measures as well as the decimal currency. 1 congratulate the Minister for Customs and Excise on moving early in this field because I think he acknowledges that, as the Senate Committee rightly pointed out, in the international field Australia is at some disadvantage when it quotes in the imperial system rather than the metric system. The Opposition offers no objection to the passage of these Bills. They are being dealt with together because they relate to the same matters. I thank the Minister for the way in which he introduced these Bills and also for the sorts of examples he gave as to the real savings that it is hoped will follow the introduction of these measures.

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