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Australia's measurement system 

Australia’s measurement system covers physical, chemical, biological, legal and trade measurement.

The system adapts to, services and enhances the productivity and growth of Australian industries. It aims to ensure a fair, safe, healthy and competitive Australia.

The National Measurement Institute (NMI) is the peak body responsible for maintaining Australia’s measurement system.

Measurement functions (both scientific and legal), together with documentary standards, laboratory accreditation and conformity assessment activities make up Australia’s standards and conformance or ‘quality’ infrastructure.

Under the Australian Constitution, the Commonwealth has a constitutional head of power for weights and measures. Under the National Measurement Act 1960, a Chief Metrologist is appointed by the Secretary of the responsible department.

Australia’s measurement legislation

Legislation for Australia’s measurement system includes:

Australian legal units of measurement

The measurement legislation establishes Australian legal units of measurement. The units are realised through standards of measurement, for uniform use throughout Australia.

The legal units of measurement are prescribed in terms of the International System of Units (SI) established under the Metre Convention. Australia is a signatory to the Convention, which provides the basis for international agreement on units of measurement. The General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM), established under the Convention and comprising representatives from the Convention’s signatory member states, is the peak global body responsible for ensuring world-wide uniformity in units of measurement.

Developing and maintaining national measurement standards

NMI maintains Australia’s primary measurement standards to realise the legal units of measurement, and provides traceability to the SI for all Australian made measurements. Traceability in measurement involves ensuring an unbroken chain of calibrations to primary measurement standards. Traceability helps ensure that measurements are comparable to each other and gives industry, researchers, regulators and consumers confidence in the accuracy of measurement results.

NMI fulfils these important roles by:

Legal metrology 

Legal metrology refers to the legislative and regulatory framework that underpins measurements and measuring instruments used for trade and legal purposes.

The framework supports and ensures confidence in accurate measurement, by helping to ensure that where measurements are made for trade and other legal purposes:

  • measuring instruments are fit for purpose
  • measurements are made correctly
  • representations about measurements are accurate.

Trade measurement

NMI administers Australia’s trade measurement laws, including regulating measuring instruments like petrol bowsers and supermarket scales. This benefits all Australians by instilling buyers and sellers with the confidence that measurement-based transactions are fair and accurate. Australia’s trade measurement transactions are estimated to be worth more than $750 billion each year.

NMI has a national network of trade measurement inspectors who audit businesses to assess their trade measurement law compliance. They take appropriate action where there have been breaches of the law.

NMI also issues licences to private operators known as servicing licensees, who help to ensure businesses are using accurate measuring instruments.

Legal measuring instruments 

NMI can provide a pattern approval and certification framework for:

  • measuring instruments used in law enforcement
  • Commonwealth, state and territory agencies who need to meet regulatory compliance.

For example, to assist Australian law enforcement agencies to ensure traceability in breath-alcohol analyser measurements, NMI appoints:

  • approving authorities to ensure the instruments’ designs meet national measurement standards
  • certifying authorities to calibrate the instruments, and to produce reference materials used in calibrations.

Legal metrology authorities and utility meter verifiers

Approving authorities 

Approving authorities conduct pattern approval testing of certain measuring instruments used for trade or regulatory purposes.

Certifying authorities 

Certifying authorities certify measuring instruments and reference materials.

Verifying authorities 

We appoint verifying authorities to verify physical quantities of an artefact and reference standards of measurement.

Utility meter verifiers

We appoint utility meter verifiers to verify electricity meters, water meters and gas meters before you can use them for trade.

International responsibilities

NMI ensures international recognition and acceptance of Australia’s measurement system, by acting as the interface between the Australian and international measurement systems.

The Australian Government is a signatory to two inter-governmental measurement treaties, the Metre Convention and the International Organization for Legal Metrology (OIML) Convention.

On behalf of Australia, NMI participates in the international frameworks established under these treaties, the Mutual Recognition Arrangement of the International Committee for Weights and Measures (CIPM MRA) and the OIML Certification System (CS). NMI’s experts participate in the CIPM and OIML scientific or technical committees. 

The frameworks provide the basis for:

  • international recognition of the measurement standards
  • recognition of each member state’s measurement capabilities
  • international harmonisation of the regulatory frameworks.

This helps to ensure that goods and services can be ‘tested once, accepted everywhere’.

Regional forums

NMI participates on behalf of Australia in the peak regional expert measurement forums, the Asia Pacific Metrology Programme and the Asia Pacific Legal Metrology Forum.

Standards development committees

On behalf of Standards Australia, NMI participates in international standards development committees under the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), as well as leading Australia’s delegation to the Codex Alimentarius Committee on Methods of Analysis and Sampling, on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

These activities enable us to contribute to the development and adoption of trusted international standards, reducing the regulatory burden on Australian business.

Trade Measurement Officer testing a NAWI (non-automatic weighing instrument) in use for trade.
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