Bills Digest No. 89   National Measurement Amendment (Utility Meters) Bill 1998

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This Digest was prepared for debate. It reflects the legislation as introduced and does not canvass subsequent amendments. This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the Bill.


Passage History
Main Provisions
Contact Officer & Copyright Details

Passage History

Date Introduced: 3 December 1998

House: House of Representatives

Portfolio: Industry, Science and Resources

Commencement: Formally, on Royal Assent. However, the substantive provisions commence:

  • on a day to be fixed by proclamation, or
  • if not proclaimed within six months of Royal Assent - on the first day after the end of that period.


To amend the National Measurement Act 1960 (the Act) to provide mandatory requirements for the manufacture of specified utility meters and legal measuring instruments attached to reticulated water, electricity and gas networks.(1)


History of standards development in Australia

From 1788 to the late 1800s, standards in the Australian colonies were introduced by way of Regulations, General Orders, Proclamations and Ordinances based on British statutes and included regulation of the distillation of spirits and the determination of coinage for the colony.

Introduction of the Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act in 1905 set in place national standards for trade descriptions of the quality of certain goods sold for export.

By the late 1920s and during the early 1930s State Commissions and local authorities were set up with responsibility for power generation, the regulation of installations and the safety of appliances and equipment powered by electricity.

In 1936 the National Gas Association was formed to provide a consolidated national approach to standardisation. An approvals scheme for gas appliances was instituted.

In 1937 responsibility for Commonwealth statutory standards of measurement (length, mass, quantities, etc.) was handed over to the CSIRO from the Department of Defence.

When the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme commenced in 1949 all manner of standards were utilised to administer the project, including those set down in building, electrical and industrial safety regulations as well as those peculiar to the purchasing specifications involved with the Scheme.

From the 1950s through to the 1980s considerable attention was directed towards industrial and public health and safety and, consequently, to standards for personal protective equipment and codes for safe working practice. Design rules for road vehicles laid down specifications for safe design of components such as seat belts, tyres, brake hoses and steering columns. Sophisticated computer-based technology was introduced in the finance and banking sector with automatic banking facilities a prominent development. These types of facilities are heavily reliant on standardisation to allow the transfer or interchange of messages or information, to provide security measures, and to provide agreed terminology within the industry.

The Kean Inquiry

The Kean Inquiry(2) was initiated as part of the former Labor Government's microeconomic reform process and in response to business concerns that Australia's standards and conformance infrastructure was not meeting industry's needs adequately. The executive summary of the Kean Inquiry noted that:

Standards and conformance infrastructure is a crucial element of the commercial and scientific fabric of a modern society. An efficient and effective system will encourage innovation and underpin competitive advantage. It is vital to the integration of Australian industries into the world economy. It helps to ensure that Australian products comply with international specifications and gives buyers confidence that the products will perform as claimed and are fit for purpose.

The infrastructure comprises three components:

  • Measurement
  • Standards, and
  • Conformance.

Measurement provides the foundation of commercial and scientific activities.

Standards provide the basis for efficiency in producing and trading goods suited to the needs of the community.

Conformance provides confidence in performance and certainty that goods and services meet specifications and that regulatory needs are being met.

This proposed legislation implements the recommendations of the Inquiry relating to utility meters. Recommendation 6 provides that:

The National Measurement Act be amended to provide for mandatory requirements for specified utility meters and legal measuring instruments and that these requirements be based on those adopted by the International Organisation for Legal Metrology.

Pros and cons

  • Legal mandates on meter accuracy and calibration will increase consumer confidence
  • National standardisation will enhance export opportunities for Australian manufacturers through compliance and compatibility with world markets
  • Standard metering will provide a platform for competition among manufacturers and other incidental articles of trade
  • Compliance with the proposed legislation will cause additional costs for manufacturers
  • The National Standards Commission will incur costs associated with coordinating the system.

Main Provisions

Schedule 1 items amend the National Measurement Act 1960 (the Act) as specified throughout the Schedule. The amendments relate to utility meters.

Items 1-3 provide for definitions of 'utility meters', 'verification' and 'verifying authority'.

Item 6 extends the objects of the Act to encompass a system of verification of utility meters used for trade.

Item 8 provides for a general rule that Commonwealth laws apply to utility meters used for trade. However, certain State and Territory laws shall coexist where those laws relate to improper practices, provided there is no inconsistency with Commonwealth laws. Re-verification of utility meters remains under the control of State and Territory authorities.

Item 9 extends the functions of the National Standards Commission (the Commission) to encompass the verification of utility meters used for trade and the application of the new Part VA.

New Part VA inserts five new Divisions into the Act.

Division 1 provides for definitions and the application of Chapter 2 of the Criminal Code to all offences under new Part VA. Chapter 2 of the Criminal Code codifies principles of criminal responsibility.

Division 2 mandates verification of utility meters used in trade and provides that they must be used in a way that gives an accurate measurement. Persons must not install or supply an unverified utility meter. The Division also imposes a requirement that gas, electricity and water are to be sold by reference to a prescribed measurement.

Division 3 deals with the requirements for verification and persons permitted to verify utility meters. The Division also provides for offences related to verification.

Division 4 provides that the Commission is a verifying authority. The Commission may, subject to conditions set out in proposed section 18ZD, appoint other persons as verifying authorities. Provisions relating to officers and agents of the Commission and employees of appointed verifiers are also dealt with in this Division. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal may review a Commission decision under proposed sections 18ZC(3) and 18ZJ.

Division 5 deals with authorised officers and sets out the framework for enforcement and monitoring. Five subdivisions provide for the:

  • Appointment of authorised officers (subdivision A)
  • General powers of authorised officers (subdivision B)
  • Obligations of authorised officers (subdivision C)
  • Rights and responsibilities of occupiers (subdivision D), and
  • Warrants (subdivision E).

Item 14 provides that gas, electricity and water meters currently in use for trade are verified under proposed new Part VA. Any new meters must be separately verified upon commencement of this proposed legislation.

Schedule 2 addresses anomalies in the Act arising from amendments made in 1991. Consequential amendments updating references were not made at the time. Schedule 2 remedies that omission.


  1. For example, the National Electricity Grid and inter-State gas pipelines.
  2. Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Australia's Standards and Conformance Infrastructure, Linking Industry Globally, March 1995.

  3. Relates to the appointment of verifying authorities by the Commission.

Contact Officer and Copyright Details

Ross Kilmurray
27 January 1999
Bills Digest Service
Information and Research Services

This paper has been prepared for general distribution to Senators and Members of the Australian Parliament. While great care is taken to ensure that the paper is accurate and balanced, the paper is written using information publicly available at the time of production. The views expressed are those of the author and should not be attributed to the Information and Research Services (IRS). Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion. Readers are reminded that the paper is not an official parliamentary or Australian government document.

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and their staff but not with members of the public.

ISSN 1328-8091
© Commonwealth of Australia 1999

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Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1999.

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