Standing up for Canberra

National Measurement Amendment Bill 2010

I also rise in favour of the National Measurement Amendment Bill 2010. This bill may not be the most glamorous piece of legislation to come before the parliament, it may not be the most famous and it may not be the most controversial, as the member for Indi has acknowledged, but this piece of legislation is incredibly important to reducing the regulatory burden on Australian business and the cost of compliance. It is incredibly important to streamlining the way we trade in this country, and it is incredibly important to ensuring business and consumers have access to reliable and uniform measures in all their transactions, no matter where they live.

This bill is the kind of legislation that many in the Australian community rely on every day, but probably only a few people know that it exists and that it is enshrined in our Constitution. I am reminded by this bill of the work I did when I was in Foreign Affairs and Trade in the nineties to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. I was not aware, as most Australians were not, of the fact that the UN is involved in a number of laws that control the law of the sea and a range of other areas. These are invisible laws that have an impact on our life every day and that are just there quietly going about their business, as is the work that is being done around this bill. But this legislation impacts on an estimated $400 billion worth of trade each year, so it is very important and significant. Everyone benefits when correct measurement is applied in trade. Customers benefit by receiving the actual goods they have ordered and paid for, sellers benefit by not giving product away in excess of the stated measurement and the whole community benefits through customer confidence in a trade measurement system that delivers consistency, reliability and verification to international standards—and that is the most important thing.

Going back to mention of the UN, I am reminded of the people who are involved in ensuring that trade measurement is consistent and accurate across the country—the invisible heroes I referred to in my first speech. Those invisible heroes are our public servants, who make up about 50 per cent of Canberra’s population. They are people who are dedicated to the service of his country, to improving people’s lives, to improving the economy, to keeping our country safe, to protecting our children’s toys and to a range of other things. As I said in my first speech, they are often derided by people in this House and by people around Australia. I find that really sad. These people should be lauded for what they do. They are dedicated to improving people’s lives and to public service, as is the gentleman in the advisers box. This bill reinforces the fact that we have this range of invisible heroes who are doing work which is very much buried in everyday life but which has a huge impact on our economy, on business and on the lives of consumers.

Trade measurement—along with ‘lighthouses, lightships, beacons and buoys’ and ‘astronomical and meteorological observations’—is the responsibility of the Commonwealth under section 51 of the Constitution, which says: The Parliament shall … have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:  (xv.) Weights and measures … The need for a harmonised and national trade measurement framework was identified by COAG in 2007 and, I understand, teased out by a working group. That group was chaired by the former member for Melbourne and the member for Rankin and continued the long Labor tradition of economic reform and deregulation, particularly in the business sphere. The group identified the need for a range of reforms to the regulatory environment:

• to accelerate and broaden the regulation reduction agenda;

• to accelerate the existing COAG hot spots— they have been referred to a number of times this morning—

• to improve processes for regulation making and review; and

• to deliver significant improvements in Australia’s competition, productivity and international competitiveness.

One of the top priorities of that meeting was the need to harmonise occupational health and safety laws. I applaud the Gillard government for its reform in this area. The transition to a national system of trade measurement came into effect in July this year. The national framework introduced significant deregulation benefits and streamlined and reduced eight different state and territory systems down to one national system. The framework is managed by the National Measurement Institute, whose purpose is to: … deliver capability for measurement in Australia that is world class, increases national economic efficiency, enhances export trade prospects, empowers sound environmental regulation, and enables effective social and health policies.

When the framework was introduced the former ACT Chief Minister, and now CEO of the Australian Food and Grocery Council, Kate Carnell, said: The new single national system will allow industry to improve efficiencies through reduced regulatory burdens on manufactured food and groceries. The CEO of the National Measurement Institute said in his guide to the new trade measurement regulations: Consumers and businesses alike rightly expect that goods that are sold on the basis of such measures as length, weight and volume, are accurately and faithfully represented. Suppliers of measuring instruments expect clear and comprehensive regulatory requirements. Governments and the economy as a whole require a trade measurement system that establishes and maintains a national and international reputation for equitable trading.

A trade measurement framework gives buyers and sellers confidence that their transactions are accurate and consistent anywhere in Australia; so in December 2008 the National Measurement Act 1960 was amended to make way for the framework. The corresponding National Trade Measurement Regulations were made in September 2009.

The new framework has broad industry support. However, there have been some unintended consequences of the amendments and the government has introduced these changes in response to industry concerns and to reduce uncertainty. This amendment bill addresses these concerns. The bill will narrow the circumstances in which some offence provisions may apply by removing doubt about the application of offences to inappropriate people if a measuring instrument is sold to an intermediary before its installation and use for trade. The strict liability provisions will not make the original supplier liable to prosecution. It will not be an offence to supply or install an unverified measuring instrument provided the measuring instrument is of an approved pattern. If a measuring instrument is sold through an intermediary before its final installation and use for trade, then the original supplier will not be liable to prosecution. The bill will explicitly state that it is an offence to let for hire or loan an unverified measuring instrument used for trade. This wording is clearer, but it is not a new penalty, as such behaviour would previously have been subject to penalty under broader wording.

The Attorney-General’s Department has been consulted regarding the offence provisions in these amendments, as has industry. The bill will also assist by making greater efficiencies possible in the operation of the new national system of trade measurement by allowing for the explicit recognition of prior knowledge and experience in making appointments of trade measurement inspectors and by ensuring that the secretary of the department appoints only competent verifiers of utility meters. It also clarifies, replaces and redefines a number of technical terms. In making these changes, a careful balance has been struck between the operational and practical needs of those in the industry and the needs of consumers and end users for a fair and reliable system of measurement. This bill also provides for an expanded role for the Chief Metrologist. The 2008 amendments contemplated a number of technical standards and procedures that were to be set out in the regulation or determined by the minister. However, it has since been found that these regulations may need to be updated on a more regular basis. Given the administrative complexity and nature of the legislative process, and the technical nature of the changes, this bill seeks to provide the Chief Metrologist with powers to make certain alterations. This change is made all the more practical as the Chief Metrologist has the expertise in this area.

This bill represents part of the ongoing commitment by the Gillard government to reducing the regulatory overlap between the states and territories and reducing the regulatory burden on business, while at the same time ensuring a fair, single national framework for business and consumers. In my first speech I mentioned my own experience of too much government intervention in my posting in India. I have seen firsthand the effect of overregulation. I have seen firsthand how economies and innovation can be stifled by too much compliance, red tape and disparity between states and territories. I believe that government and this parliament have a dual role—that is, not only to reduce the regulatory burden on business and the community but also to ensure Australians get the right outcome from its regulations. I believe this bill gets that balance right. I am proud that the Gillard government has committed to reducing regulation and protecting business and consumers. I am also proud that we have listened to the concerns of industry and acted on them to deliver a better system. I hope we continue to listen to industry, continue to streamline our regulatory frameworks, continue to reduce the cost of compliance, continue to protect business and consumers and continue to improve and grow the Australian economy. I commend this bill to the House.

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