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Thursday, 11 May 1972
Page: 1592

Senator POYSER (Victoria) - It is rather fortuitous that this Bill has been introduced in the Senate immediately after the debate on the report of a Senate standing committee. In fact this is historic legislation in view of the committee work that was done by the Senate Select Committee on the Metric System of Weights and Measures appointed by the Senate in 1967 under the chairmanship of the late Senator Laught. The historic legislation to implement the recommendations of that Committee is now before this House. We are carrying out what would be termed routine legislation' for the purpose of converting to the metric system of weights and measures the excise and customs duties which are payable on certain spirits, diesel and other fuels. The simple fact is that the debate which occurred prior to this debate shows quite clearly the tremendous interest which honourable senators as members of committees have in examining issues which are put before them.

I can recall a similar debate which was as interesting as the debate which we have just concluded. It was the occasion when the report of the Committee on the Metric System of Weights and Measures came before this House. It is a matter of history that as a result of that Committee's examination of the advisability of Australia's converting to the metric system this country is moving a long way towards that system's implementation and completion. Up to date it appears that conversion is moving reasonably smoothly although later in my speech I shall refer to some matters which disturb me in relation to consumer goods. It is interesting to look briefly into the whole history of Australia's interest in converting to the metric system of weights and measures. In 1902 the Parliament of the Commonwealth approved the decision of a Prime Minister's Conference in London for the British Commonwealth, or the British Empire as it was then called, to convert to the metric system of weights and measures. Now, 70 years after that decision was approved in Federal Parliament - one year after Federal Parliament opened in this nation - we are implementing by legislative action the conversion procedures in the initial stages.

It is rather refreshing to see that at last the Commonwealth is being a little generous. In the rounding off of the figures in relation to what the Commonwealth will collect in one full year as a result of this conversion I think that 3c in every $1,000 is being taken off the annual income of the community from excise and customs duties collected. I hope that this will be reflected in the consumer market. Senator Keeffe, my colleague and friend, has already been able to bring to the attention of this Parliament the fact that some retailers and wholesalers have already cashed in and are making profits out of the conversion to the metric system. All honourable senators will recall that Senator Keeffe, by example, produced products in this chamber which were being converted to the liquid litre measure. He showed that these people have made a smaller container. They have put the orange juice, lemon juice or whatever it may be into that smaller sized container and they are charging exactly ".he same price as they were charging prior to their effort at conversion.

When examining witnesses throughout Australia the Committee seriously considered what would happen at the time of conversion. I think it is correct to remind this House that the Committee was an all party committee of this Senate. In its wisdom it decided that it would put into the report a special conclusion regarding this matter. The conclusion was that the Metric Conversion Board - which is a Board set up as a result of a recommendation of this Committee - should watch extremely carefully the conversion position to ensure that the public would not be exploited. It is interesting to see in the first annual report of the Metric Conversion Board that it has referred to the responsibilities which have been placed on it. On page 16 of that report it states:

Metric conversion provides many opportunities for rationalisation and economies in the consumer industry and where appropriate those concerned are being encouraged to take advantage of these. At the same time the Board is particularly mindful of its responsibility to keep under review any attempts to take unfair advantage of the public under metric conversion and to bring such instances to the attention of the relevant authorities. Foremost in consumer protection activity has been the development by the Board of a simple cost comparator to enable consumers to make ready comparisons between the costs of packages marked in imperial and metric units. The device is intended to be widely distributed and freely available to the consumer.

The Committee in its deliberations, as 1 said earlier, was extremely concerned to try to establish some control at Commonwealth Government level to ensure that no exploitation took place. Although decimalisation of Australian currency ran reasonably smoothly, we all know that there was exploitation of the consumer at that level. We all know that a lot of money was made by people at the time of conversion. We know that the Metric Conversion Board will do its very best to ensure that no exploitation takes place but it disturbs me to read the phrase: 'bring such instances to the attention of the relevant authorities'. To my knowledge we have no organisations or authorities with legislative powers to deal with this matter. I think Senator Keeffe has brought this very forcibly before Parliament with the examples which he has produced here. Up to this time no action has been taken at any level to recompense the consumer against what is obvious exploitation in this minor field. Unless we can stop this now and have a system whereby action can be taken at some level by some authority certain unscrupulous people are going to take no notice whatever of the ideals and the needs that we see.

Senator Byrne - Where is the honourable senator's army? There is one general and no army.

Senator POYSER - Yes, there is one general and no army. This is the position. We are in the situation now that despite the fact that the Committee was most meticulous in bringing this aspect before Parliament, to my knowledge there is no legislation which will give security to the consumers of this country. I understand that we can have a cognate debate on the 6 Bills rather than go through them one at a time. I hope that that is the position.

Senator Cotton - We shall be happy to do that.

Senator POYSER - In the brief time during which 1 aim going to speak to these 6 Bills which we have, before us I want to pay tribute once more to the late Senator Laught who was the Chairman of the Committee and particularly to the executive officer whom we were fortunate enough to have assisting us. He is now Chairman of the Metric Conversion Board. I refer to Mr Alan Harper, who was the expert adviser to the

Committee at the, time of its sittings and who has probably been instrumental in the smoothness with which the conversion has taken place up to date. The co-operation which has been received from all sections of industry, from all sections of the educational Held and by the committees and the sub-committees which have been formed by the Metric Conversion Board to ensure that the conversion will take place within a reasonable period indicates quite clearly that the country is ready for and accepts conversion to the metric system of weights and measures.

It is interesting to observe that in its first annual report the Metric Conversion Board indicated that the only major country in the world which is now not actually committed to conversion to the metric system is the United States of America. I note from page 11 of this report that Canada, which is very closely associated geographically and economically with the. United States of America, has already made a decision to convert. The United States is now examining this matter very closely. I predict that within the next 2 or 3 years a definite decision will be made by the United States, which will mean that all major countries will have converted or be in the process of conversion.

We oldies are going to have some difficulties in the next 2 or 3 years in training our minds to adjust to the conversion. My grandchildren will be able to help me along the road. But in the long term great advantages will be experienced not only internally but also internationally. We will experience in the export field the advantages the Committee had in mind in its recommendations. I have great pleasure in indicating the Opposition's support for the 6 Bills before the chamber.

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