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Making sure it all adds up for consumers

The National Measurement Institute (NMI) has released its annual report on national trade measurement compliance for 2016–17.

Article date:
19/10/2017 4:00 PM

Australian consumers can have confidence they are getting what they pay for at the supermarket, fuel pump or greengrocer.

The National Measurement Institute (NMI) today released its annual report on national trade measurement compliance for 2016–17, which showed around two-thirds of businesses were compliant with regulatory requirements.

And most of the remaining third were quick to correct any issues once notified of their non-compliance.

Bill Loizides, General Manager Legal Metrology at NMI, highlighted the importance of NMI’s trade measurement compliance activities in ensuring consumer confidence.

“Australians purchase millions of goods every day expecting that they will get exactly the goods they pay for, whether by weight, volume, area, length or count,” Mr Loizides said.

“NMI’s regulatory activities enable both businesses and consumers to have confidence that trade measurements are accurate, and provide value for all Australians by reducing transaction costs across the economy.”

NMI has 75 trade measurement staff based in 22 locations across Australia supporting the essential regulation of measurement transactions and helping businesses comply with their legal obligations.

This small army of trade measurement inspectors test measuring instruments, inspect packaged goods and review business practices, and provide advice on meeting compliance obligations. They follow up on complaints about potential breaches and take enforcement action when necessary.

“The report confirms that most businesses are doing the right thing by their customers, and those found by an NMI inspector to have minor errors are usually quick to rectify the inaccuracies,” Mr Loizides said.

“However, where severe or persistent offenders are found, NMI has the option of imposing fines or referring matters for prosecution.”

In 2016–17 three convictions were recorded for offences under the National Measurement Act 1960. NMI also referred a further three matters for consideration by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

“If businesses are using measuring instruments such as scales for trade purposes they should make sure they are of an approved type and are accurate at all times,” Mr Loizides said.

“They should also ensure that any packaged goods they’re selling contain the amount stated on the label.”

Whilst accuracy in petrol and diesel dispensers is a consistent consumer concern, NMI inspectors tested 1779 bowsers and found just 105 (6 per cent) were measuring inaccurately.

And perhaps contrary to consumer perceptions, the report showed that almost as many bowsers dispensed extra fuel as those that did not dispense enough—2.9 per cent compared to 3.0 per cent.

Other key findings include:

  • While 34 per cent of businesses were found non-compliant in an initial audit, after 2284 follow-up audits only 372 (16 per cent) of businesses were still breaching the law.
  • Only 1.8 per cent of 17,093 measuring instruments inspected in 2016–17 were inaccurate to the consumer’s detriment, while 571 (3.3 per cent) were inaccurate to the consumer’s advantage.
  • Of the 87,964 lines of prepacked goods, or 355,438 individual packages examined, a healthy 96 per cent had correct measure.

Product categories found to have the highest rates of incorrect measure included:

  • seafood (fresh) —7 per cent
  • meat (fresh) —7 per cent
  • ready to eat/cook meals — 9 per cent
  • meat (processed) —  9 per cent.

NMI’s trade measurement inspectors are busier than ever. In 2016-17 they:

  • audited just over 10,000 business premises, up 1 per cent from the previous year
  • tested over 17,000 measuring instruments, up 12 per cent
  • inspected over 1000 weighbridges, up 14 per cent
  • inspected nearly 88,000 lines of packaged goods (over 355,000 individual packages) for correct measure and measurement labelling, up 10 per cent

Where non-compliance was identified during trade measurement inspections, NMI:

  • issued 3708 non-compliance notices, 26 per cent more than 2015–16
  • sent 306 warning letters, up 65 per cent
  • issued 75 infringement notices with fines totalling $70,200, down 18 per cent from the 87 fines totalling $85,100 in the previous year.

For more information or to report a suspected breach of the rules, consumers and business should contact the national trade measurement hotline on 1300 686 664 or infotm@measurement.gov.au.