Response 104392825

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Introduction

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Dave Bath

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Current regulatory framework

4.1. What should be the role of Australia’s measurement laws in a modern economy?

What should be the role of Australia’s measurement laws in a modern economy?
Provide accurate and relevant information to consumers, for the purposes of safety and decisions to use or purchase one item over another.

Measurement laws in other countries

5.1. What should be within the scope of Australia's measurement laws?

What is the appropriate scope of Australia measurement laws?
Any item that can be used, whether there is a purchase involved or not, where measurements are relevant.

5.2. Are there ways in which the current scope of Australia’s measurement laws could be expanded or limited?

Are there ways in which the scope of Australia’s measurement laws should be limited?
They could be expanded to ensure that all products are described in metric/SI terms whenever that is an appropriate measure. For example, many clothes that used to be described in terms of cm for neck, waist, or leg, are now labelled only in inches, or "S/M/L". The legislation should ensure that the only time imperial measurements are used are when no exact metric unit can be used to describe the item (for example, some spanners designed for nuts and bolts in existing furniture and machinery, where those bolts are exact imperial units, such as 3/4 inch).

Principles-based legislation

6.1. Would you be confident of operating in a principles-based regulatory environment for measurement? Why or why not?

Would you be confident of operating in regulatory environment for measurement that is characterised by principles-based legislation? Why?
There is no need for principles-based regulatory environment for measurements, because the number of circumstances that cannot be prescribed is limited in this particular domain. There are many ambiguities possible when the description of measurements is not prescriptive. The use of dots to separate units such as metres from other units, to disambiguate the SI prefex "milli-" is one example where prescriptive rules are required, especially when choices are arbitrary, and either choice could be justified according to the principles. One can make an analogy "Cars should travel on roads in a manner that minimizes the risk of oncoming collisions" - with travelling to the left or right of the road satisfies the principle, but the prescription "stick to the left of the road" is required. By another analogy, you could argue for roman or arabic numerals to define quantity, as either satisfies any principle you could express. But the prescription "use arabic numerals, with a dot not a comma as a decimal point" is required. There are no new dimensions that need new forms of measurement. Distance, frequency, temperature, magnetic flux, mass, charge - so it should be trivial to enumerate all possibilities. Principles-based legislation are suitable when enumerations are impractical, or subject to change. For example, legislation dealing with endangered fish: the exact species that might be endangered will vary over time, and the criteria for defining the required level of risk may be fine tuned over time. In THAT case, principles-based legislation is appropriate.

6.2. Would the need for detailed guidance material limit the value and flexibility of a principles-based approach to measurement laws?

Would an implemented principles-based approach acquire such a quantity of additional guidance and specification that the value of the principle-based approach was neutralised?
Details guidance cannot limit the value and flexibility of a principles-based approach to any laws, any more than explanatory memoranda limit the value and flexibility of any legislation. If anything, because of the finite number of dimensions that are subject to measurement, detailed guidance material (such as the National Measurements Guidelines 2016) should be moved from guidance to the status of either statutory regulations or delegated legislation, defined by the appropriate statutory authority and not subject to modification by a minister.

Measurements used for trade

7.1. Are there benefits from directly regulating an area of measurement as opposed to providing broad principles of good measurement practice without direct intervention?

Are there benefits from directly regulating an area of measurement as opposed to providing broad principles of good measurement practice without direct intervention?
There are benefits. One of the key benefits is that consistent measurements, for units, and for some products, tolerances, allows easy comparisons of products by those making choices. It is for this reason that supermarkets are required to provide not just the price of the item, but the price per unit of measurement, so those making choices do not have to multiply through different units. Again, the specifics need not be prescribed by legislation, but need to be prescribed in regulations from the relevant expert statutory authority. There are some elements that might be government by principles, and where there are arbitrary divisions, the measurements should be provided in both alternatives, equally prominent. Some products that might need dimensions or behaviour described well outside of typical experience could include operating temperatures suitable for use with liquid nitrogen, or with plasma. Such products should have operating temperatures defined by both Kelvin and Centigrade.

7.2. What regulatory models should Australia’s measurement laws enable (for instance, principles-based, compliance-focused and/or rules-based), and why?

What regulatory models should Australia’s measurement laws enable (for instance, principles-based, compliance-focused and/or rules-based), and why?
Compliance and rules based. These allow easier comparisons between products, easier choices by suppliers making items, and no "weasel room".

Changing nature of trade measurement

7.1.1. What types of measuring instruments should be regulated by Australia’s measurement laws?

What types of measuring instruments should be regulated by Australia’s measurement laws?
Any instruments that measure any relevant dimension or characteristic of a product. These should include not only simple measurements (such as a distance or frequency, or even hydrogen ion concentration as pH), but complex measures such as biological activity, the oxidizing power of a bleach, or the toxicity of a compound. The toxicity of compounds can be measured by a range of assays, and these could be considered "measuring instruments".

7.1.2. How should Australia’s measurement laws apply to transactions for goods and services that are based on measurement?

How should Australia’s measurement laws apply to transactions for goods and services that are based on measurement?
They should prescribe the prominence of the measurements in the preferred units compared to any other units, whether alternative units are visible at all, and what the principles are for penalties of misrepresentation, whether deliberate or through negligence, sensitive to the tolerances demanded for that type of product, and the consequences of innacurate representation.

7.1.3. What regulatory models should be applied to quality and quantity measurements?

What regulatory models should be applied to quality and quantity measurements?
For bespoke products (e.g. a piece of furniture), with little impact for inaccuracy, civil suits ought to be enough. For large-scale production (e.g. packages of food for consumers), suppliers should be able to supply their procedures for good manufacturing practice, be subject to random inspection, inspections prompted by ACCC or consumer complaints, and a requirement for the ACCC to take appropriate action. For measuring instruments used by manufacturers, engineers, science, medicine and bulk trade (e.g. wheat), there should be criminal penalties for misrepresentation of the quality of the instrument, with the penalties sensitive to the use of the tool - that used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals with risks to health much greater than for bulk measurements of wheat.

Exemptions

7.2.1. How should Australia’s measurement laws specify the types of measuring instruments they apply to? For instance, by exemption or inclusion requirements?

How should Australia’s measurement laws specify the types of measuring instruments they apply to? For instance, by exemption or inclusion requirements?
In any meaningful regime for measurement, the vast bulk of products should have accurate measurements, and there should be very few exemptions. Thus any enumerated list of exemptions must be shorter than an enumerated list of inclusions. The other consideration is that consumers can assume that all products have correct measurements except in special cases where the measurement is not at all important. The current measurement laws that have exemptions for bulk products such as gas and electricity, and taxi fares that are charged by distance, are far too lax. Tyre pressure measuring instruments, if inaccurate, can have a safety impact, for example. If it is a characteristic of an item relevant to either the performance, safety, or subject to per-unit pricing, then the measurements should be defined, and have tolerances defined in regulations.

7.2.2. What are your views on the current listed exemptions?

How are the current listed exemptions not appropriate?
The current listed exemptions are far too numerous. With the improvements in technology capable of measuring items, there are fewer and fewer justifications for exemptions now than there were even a few years ago.

Non-trade measurements

8.1. What future measurement needs or priorities would benefit from a measurement framework?

What future measurement needs or priorities would benefit from a measurement framework?
For domestic consumers, it can sometimes be difficult to compare the quantities of a product with different forms of packaging, when what the consumer needs is the amount of the product, rather than the weight of the product and packaging. They need to be able to compare the contents within the packaging, rather than have weights reported inclusive of packaging so that tinned products look to be better value than shrink-wrapped items. The other descriptors of products that are becoming more common are "star ratings", such as energy efficiency ratings, or health ratings on foods. Where these are used, suppliers should be able to justify the measurement relevance and accuracy, and provide the means for consumers to easily discover the actual meaning of the measurement. How are the number of health stars on breakfast cereals calculated? Does this measurement have a meaningful impact on health?

8.2. Should the focus of the Australia’s measurement laws be to regulate measuring instruments or measurement results, or both?

Should the focus of the Australia’s measurement laws be to regulate measuring instruments or measurement results, or both?
Both.

8.3. How should the national measurement framework apply to non-trade measurements and instruments? Should the approach be different for different types and/or categories of measurement?

How should the national measurement framework apply to non-trade measurements and instruments? Should the approach be different for different types and/or categories of measurement?
The approach should be consistent between trade and non-trade measurements, although sensitive to whether what is more likely to be important is the tolerance (e.g. of the voltage put out by an item), or the amount of the product (such as a kilogram of butter, or kilometres travelled, where there is a consistent commercial advantage to undersupply of of a product).

8.4. What are the types of non-trade measurements (and measuring instruments) that would benefit from inclusion within the measurement framework?

What are the types of non-trade measurements (and measuring instruments) that would benefit from inclusion within the measurement framework?
Anything that measures anything could benefit from inclusion with the measurement framework.

8.5. Are there instances in which non-trade measurements (and measuring instruments) requires a nationally consistent approach to measurement?

Are there instances in which non-trade measurements (and measuring instruments) requires a nationally consistent approach to measurement?
As there is, in principle, no disadvantage to exclusion from a consistent approach, providing a level playing field to suppliers, and informed choice by consumers, a nationally consistent approach benefits everyone but cheats, so consumers and producers should be able to assume a consistent approach for everything, except where explicit enumerated exceptions are described in legislation or regulations.