Dr Bronwyn Evans

10 April 2014 — The Abbott Government’s “repeal day” was a fine reminder why legislation can’t always be relied on to effect lasting change for the better, with the Omnibus Repeal Day (Autumn 2014) Bill including some questionable and well-buried items like a relaxation on reporting requirements for ozone-depleting gases imported by small and medium enterprises.  

From the point of view of Standards Australia, repeal day was also a reminder that standards can offer an alternative to legislation through the development and adoption of consensus-based benchmarks.

Three-quarters of Australia’s 6500-plus standards are voluntary, yet as the chief executive of Standards Australia Dr Bronwyn Evans told The Fifth Estate, they have a tendency to create a beneficial status quo.

“Standards are simply an agreed way of doing something. They capture current good practice through a trusted consensus process. So in this way, standards provide the building blocks to further develop products and systems,” Dr Evans said.

“This does two things: one, it promotes knowledge and technology transfer to research findings into practice and innovation; and two, it frees up technicians and managers to focus on the innovation, rather than re-inventing the wheel.

“Voluntary consensus-based standards have a surprising capacity to shift market practices and consumer preferences. In some cases regulation will always be needed, but voluntary standards are often as effective and less prone to unintended consequences of legislative approaches.

“Indeed, because of their openness and independence, standards have the necessary legitimacy and market acceptance to be the appropriate tools to use.

“The question of whether a standard becomes compulsory is entirely a matter for the relevant regulatory authority or jurisdiction.”

One of the issues with voluntary standards, such as the proposed standard for energy audits for commercial premises currently out for public comment, is the onus is on business to comply as a matter of market credibility, and also on the consumer to demand that businesses are not simply saying they meet the standard but also have audited proof the product or service does so.

Verification services for standards can be provided by a range of organisations from accounting and audit firms, through to certifiers such as NATA, SAI Global and Bureau Veritas.

“Consumers would do well to look for products which meet standards, Dr Evans said.

“Because standards are developed using an unrestricted open consultation process and then undergo systematic review, consumers can have confidence in products and services that meet standards.

“While Standards Australia is not a certifier or involved in compliance, it’s obviously important to verify such claims if possible.”

The Repeal Day bill has been read twice in parliament and was referred to Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee on March 27, with the committee’s report due on May 14.

The Omnibus Repeal Day Bill can be found here.

Let The Fifth Estate know if you spot any other well-buried elements of environmental protection deconstruction amidst the overwhelming details of legislative clutter-busting.