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News / Why Joint Standards are a Win  for the Electrical Sector and Consumers – and What we Need to Do to Achieve Them

Why Joint Standards are a Win  for the Electrical Sector and Consumers – and What we Need to Do to Achieve Them

June 24 2024

Many industries in New Zealand and Australia have long worked with and relied upon joint standards – referred to as AS/NZS standards – to ensure consistency, safety, and efficiency. These standards, developed collaboratively, are crucial for regulatory compliance, facilitating smooth trade, and ensuring product safety. 

How de-jointing has happened

Though joint standards have been a bedrock of New Zealand’s electrical industry, among others, a significant challenge has been brewing for years: the steady de-jointing of these standards due to funding issues. Unlike other standards bodies globally, Standards New Zealand operates on a 100% user-pays model, without direct government funding.

Standards Australia acts as the secretariat for many AS/NZS standards and requires a participation fee to cover the costs of coordinating joint standards development, as does Standards New Zealand for the joint standards for which it acts as secretariat. 

Participation fees range from $7,000 to $80,000 per standard and became more burdensome when Standards New Zealand was absorbed in 2016 into the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment but without updating the funding model. The outcome is that over 500 joint Australia-NZ standards have been de-jointed since 2016, and more are being de-jointed each month.

Energy Safety (WorkSafe) has contributed funding in line with its own regulatory interests, however, this is not the secure, future-proofed approach the New Zealand economy and commercial sector needs. The issue is compounded by the larger problem of regulations being years out of date, which affects the confidence various stakeholders feel in making long-term financial commitments – but standards will inevitably be updated at some point, and there needs to be a suitable replacement ready.

Why it matters

Joint standards are essential to maintain economic, regulatory, and practical alignment between Australia and New Zealand. They ensure that products, processes, and services comply with both countries’ regulations, facilitating smoother trade and reducing compliance costs for businesses operating trans-Tasman. They are vital for public safety and confidence and quality assurance because they ensure that electrical products and installations meet rigorous safety criteria.

The de-jointing of standards poses significant risks across sectors, including the electrical industry. Without joint standards, companies face increased complexity, potential trade barriers, and higher costs due to the need to meet different regulatory requirements. De-jointing may compromise safety and increase the risk of substandard products entering the market, and we have no control or influence over content of international standards and cannot make sure they are fit for the New Zealand context.

The larger issue for New Zealand is that if we do not come up with the funding for fees we will not be included in development, and affected standards will become Australian IP and an Australian-only standard. Once a standard is de-jointed our only options are to adopt the AS standard or another international standard or develop our own unique NZS standards. The latter costs a lot of money and time and doesn’t guarantee continued compatibility with AS or other international standards – so may be detrimental to our international trade relationships while failing to solve the real problem. It is easier and more logical, in the informed view of industry, to focus on solving directly the core problem of de-jointing.

Securing a solution

In response to this critical issue, a raft of industry groups including Master Electricians, and spearheaded by Business New Zealand, lobbied the Government to find a sustainable solution. 

As of mid-June the Government has advised industry stakeholders that it is progressing work to ensure greater regulatory alignment with overseas jurisdictions to help facilitate trade and improve competition in New Zealand. It is seeking to harmonise or adopt regulatory approaches from other jurisdictions, with an initial focus on Australia. Meanwhile, MBIE is progressing a package of legislative changes to make it easier to use building products and systems that are approved in comparable overseas jurisdictions.

Our collective advocacy has to date elicited a positive response, with several key initiatives emerging from the Australia NZ Regulatory Coherence Forum on 4 June:

  • The Government has committed to using the Building Levy to support joint standards development. This levy had accumulated significant funds and will now be partially redirected to cover the participation fees required by Standards Australia, ensuring that the de-jointing of standards is halted and important standards can be re-jointed.
  • The Government will focus on re-jointing standards that are deemed critical. This process involves both funding and collaboration with Standards Australia to reintegrate these standards into the joint framework, preserving their New Zealand-specific conditions and maintaining international alignment.
  • The Forum included key stakeholders from Australia and New Zealand and aims to foster continuous dialogue to resolve regulatory differences, improve regulatory coherence, and support the Australia-NZ Single Economic Market. 
  • Future efforts will include auditing existing standards to identify further issues, educating businesses about mutual recognition agreements, and creating mechanisms to maintain alignment.

What happens now

While this funding commitment marks a substantial win, the journey continues to achieve complete resolution. Ongoing dialogues between industry groups, MBIE, and Australian counterparts must address remaining barriers and ensure long-term alignment. Efforts such as auditing existing procedures, raising awareness about the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Agreement (TTMRA), and adopting more international standards are pivotal advancements.

Master Electricians is in close dialogue with MBIE as the voice and advocate for the electrical industry, and we are offering our active participation in the standards processes to contribute technical input and support re-jointing efforts for the electrical industry. We have noted that among the listed standards proposed for re-jointing, the AS/NZS 2293 series is critically important and should be treated as a high priority. These standards play a vital role in ensuring the safety and efficiency of emergency lighting systems in buildings.

Addressing the immediate issues with de-jointed standards while working towards a more sustainable funding model for Standards New Zealand is a prudent approach. The proposed measures will help prevent future de-jointing and ensure that New Zealand can continue to adopt and maintain relevant standards in a timely manner.

We have also flagged concerns around the standards that are not included in this funding process. As indicated, only standards related to building, construction, and health and safety will be covered. We are currently seeking a definitive list of standards that will and will not be included so that industry can be kept fully up to speed and we can find further funding solutions that will enable re-jointing wherever this is the most desirable outcome.

This successful outcome represents a triumph of the collective effort and persistent advocacy of various industry groups, the leadership of Business New Zealand, and the industry bodies that collaborated to find solutions.

By securing the necessary funding and commitment from the Government for the first stage of re-jointing, the electrical industry and other sectors can look forward to a more stable and cooperative future. This achievement underscores the power of collective action and serves as a reminder of the importance of maintaining strong, unified standards for the benefit of all.

Do you have feedback? Get in touch with us with your thoughts at techsupport@masterelectricians.org.nz 

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