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Bunkle - Weights and Measurements Conference

Hon Phillida Bunkle
13 July 2000 Speech Notes

Embargoed until: 9.45am Thursday, 13 July 2000

Measuring Up To Standards

Address to Weights and Measurements Conference
Law School
Victoria University
13 July 2000

Today's New Zealand National Measurement Conference is a truly historic event.

I would like to extend apologies on behalf of Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton who had initially planned to be here but unfortunately is unable to join us today. You'll have to settle for a lightweight Minister instead.

I know I am a lightweight Minister, because when I went to one of our laboratories to be educated about the science of metrology, the experts proudly weighed a piece of paper in their ultra sensitive electronic scale. I signed the piece of paper and when we reweighed it and the weight went down!

A special welcome to our international visitors who are here to discuss with us how measurement, can be enhanced to the benefit of all New Zealanders.

Indeed it is the first time anyone can remember that a member of the government has spoken to the measurement industry as a group. This I hope, is an indication that the government is interested in how the industry develops so that we can jointly enhance New Zealand's economic and social well-being.

As Minister of Consumer Affairs I have responsibility for our Weights and Measures Legislation. This means ensuring that consumers get not just a fair deal, but an honest and fair benchmark for the measurements we use in domestic and overseas trade.

I am particularly interested to hear how we can develop our system to meet the needs of New Zealanders and how a relationship between the infrastructure and inter-governmental bodies could enhance the development of our measurements systems.

I do hope this conference will address all aspects of the New Zealand measurement system. After all, a large part of our daily routines are centred around measurements of one sort or another. Take for instance time – that's one measurement I know I could do more of in any given day!

But there are also the measurements that we take for granted such as when filling a car with $20 worth in petrol – how does the consumer know they are getting the exact amount of fuel for the going rate?

I would like to discuss some of the areas where good measurement practice can, I believe make an important difference.

By providing measures that are traceable and which have international acceptance, we are able to confirm public confidence in our legal system. Sound measurements reach much further as they enhance most aspects of our daily lives after all the public expects fair weight and measures when buying at the local supermarket or local butcher.

Having confidence in our measurement infrastructure is a key component of sound economic performance. New Zealand depends on exports to earn a place in the world marketplace. We cannot expect to have ready access to overseas markets unless our customers have confidence in the way our exported goods are weighed and measured.

It's why we have weights and measures traceable to accepted international standards and which are providing quality assurance through meeting ISO standards. We are building a reputation for New Zealand as country that can be trusted to do business fairly. More importantly we deny our competitors the opportunity to argue that our measurement structure isn't robust thus posing a technical barrier to our trade.

Many of you will remember the problems experienced by the New Zealand Dairy Board when its access to the European market was threatened over its spreadable butter.

Measurement was used to ascertain the fat levels of the butter and substantiate a claim that the butter supplied did not meet the strict standard required. The Diary Board was able to prove that the method of taking this measurement did not provide a true assessment of the fat content.

The Dairy Board was in fact able to prove the accuracy of measurement and this not only ensured continued access to the British market but also kept our reputation as an exporting nation in tact.

Looking at our international relationships with inter-governmental agencies it is important to see that New Zealand gets real value from such membership.
I am interested to see what recommendations come forward in relation to our memberships within the Convention of the Metre, the Asia Pacific Metrology Programme, the International Organisation of Legal Metrology (OIML), the Asia Pacific Legal Metrology Forum (APLMF), and agencies in the area of accreditation and standards development.

In relation to the area of legal metrology New Zealand is committed to Metrology Forum which has given us an international voice and the benefits of professional training for officers in the Ministry.

There is one area I would like to suggest that the Forum could look to provide an initiative.

I am committed to good consumer representation at all levels of decision making. I understand that the Forum has in the past discussed the need for appropriate consumer representation and that the host of the annual meeting has the opportunity to discuss a keynote issue. I would like to do so by inviting the Forum to hold your 2001 meeting in New Zealand and I'd suggest it is time to discuss the issue of appropriate consumer representation.

Measuring Health:

Some of you may know that I have a long-standing, keen interest in health issues. Measurements in the health area are vital. Whether it is a simple examination of blood pressure or an examination by electrocardiograph, the patient and the doctor/health professional must have confidence that the measurement is accurate.

The government needs confidence in the measurement system as the results impact both on your view of how health services are delivered and also on health spending priorities.

Let me give a hypothetical example from the United Kingdom where a number of blood pressure instruments were measuring incorrectly. What's interesting, is that had this not be discovered, public funds might have been diverted to treating high blood pressure when the solution was to replace the faulty instruments.

I am particularly interested to hear any recommendations of how legal metrology can enhance the services provided in the health area.

Measuring the Environment:

New Zealanders and the New Zealand government is committed to the environment and taking steps to protect it. We rely on good systems to ensure our reading of pollution levels is accurate. Again these measurements will from time to time be tested in the courts and the government considers it vital to have the highest standards and levels of traceability to national and international standards.
The Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emission levels provides for the trading of carbon credits to trade against emission debits. A country that does not use its allowable carbon quota may sell the surplus to another country that cannot meet its own emissions. I would be the first to admit that trading in pollution levels is not a desirable scenario. However, when it does eventuate New Zealand will be looking to inter-governmental bodies to ensure that trading is based on accurate and traceable measurement systems. If we are to have this type of trading in pollution levels, it becomes absolutely crucial that we ensure the mechanism for measuring is kept honest.

Law Enforcement and Sport:

Measurement is also an integral part of our law enforcement.

Our traffic laws depend on measurements of speed, blood alcohol and weight to ensure we have a benchmark for pursuing safety on our roads. Measurement aids the investigations of crimes and can be the instrument that ensures the innocent are cleared of suspicion, the perpetrator is caught and proven guilty and that the public is protected.

I would be the first to admit I am no great sports fan. But I'd have to be rather heartless not to recognise that as a nation, we celebrate our sport and the best of our sports heroes with fervour.

And of course it's measurement that we use to gauge performance, to select our top athletes, to decide the order of finishing and whether records are broken.

I am sure that our Australian visitors can relate to you how your measurement systems are being used to ensure the credibility of this year's Sydney Olympic Games. Behind the world records and drug tests on athletes is a measurement based on traceable and verifiable standards.

I am told that a 50 metre Olympic swimming pool may be built with a tolerance of plus 3 centimetres. At current world record times it would take a swimmer half a second longer to swim in a 1500 metre event if they draw a lane built to the maximum tolerance.

When we consider that some races and indeed world records, have been decided by hundredths of a second we start to understand the enormous impact measurements can have on a nation's pride in its best products – whether they are exported goods or a gold-medallist athlete.

The Measurement Infrastructure:

The Measurement Standards Laboratory and the Ministry of Research Science and Technology (MORST) – for which my colleague the Hon Pete Hodgson is responsible - both play the primary role of maintaining our standards to those agreed to under the Convention of the Metre 1875.
The Measurement Standards Laboratory is part of Industrial Research Limited, the Crown Research Institute responsible for delivering the technical capability.
I note with interest that New Zealand fairly recently became a signatory to the Metric Treaty under the Convention. Until then we had depended on other countries for the verification of our Primary Standards.

Clearly enhancing the capability to maintain our own physical standards has increased the trust of our trading partners. It now ensures the goods and services produced in New Zealand measure up.

Once our physical standards are in line with international standards we need to ensure that New Zealand as a nation trades and operates to some agreed set of rules. This brings me back to our Weights and Measures Legislation which provides confidence to consumers.

In recent years we have been involved in assuring traceability of measurements and confidence in measurement capability. I wish to acknowledge the work of the certification bodies and particularly that of International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ) which certifies New Zealand companies to ISO 17025, the standard for laboratory accreditation.

I am particularly pleased that my Ministry's Trading Standards Service laboratories are accredited by IANZ, in some of their most important functions.

This type of accreditation delivers trust to our trading partners. The Trading Standards Service is required to examine and approve new weighing and measuring equipment to ensure it will not facilitate fraud. The Service has recently received IANZ accreditation for part of this function.

Negotiations with the Australian counterpart, the National Standards Commission, have led to an agreement in principle to sign a Mutual Recognition Arrangement recognising each other's test results on non-automatic weighing instruments. This will help New Zealand’s weighing instrument manufacturers and assist easier access to Australian markets.

Mr Chair, I have not forgotten the role Standards New Zealand plays in developing and maintaining written standards, and as a result, enhancing confidence in those standards.

The government also has a key role to play to ensure that the standards and conformance infrastructure - including measurement - delivers real outcomes for New Zealand. Coordinating this is the responsibility of the Ministry of Economic Development which is tasked with achieving the goals we have set.

In closing, I'd like to say that this government recognises that measurement is a key foundation block on which a society is built. I believe Brian Easton will be discussing this with you tomorrow. Good measurements are the key to delivering many of the governments objectives be it in trade, consumers' assurance, our legal system, health or the environment.
Your workshop tomorrow will be vital in charting the way forward for New Zealand in the early part of the 21st century. I know Ministers will be interested in what ideas come out of the workshops and how these can be progressed to address the government's key objectives.

This conference is an opportunity to develop systems that enable the measurement infrastructure in an increasingly technological world to support new growth areas to the benefit of all New Zealanders. You certainly have your work cut out for you over the next two days, and I am sure you will measure up to expectations. I wish you every success.


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