Australian Standards Must Be Free For The Benefit Of Education, Business And The World.

australian solar standards and freddie

Australian Standards must break free. Charging hundreds of dollars per standard is nuttier than wearing high heels while vacuuming.

People say I have no standards, but that’s only true in a legal sense.  You see, I do have access to Australian Standards that have been purchased by my employer, SolarQuotes.  While these particular standards have a heavy focus on how not to kill people when mucking around with electricity, there lots of other ones covering almost everything you can think of – and quite a few things you’d be very unlikely to think of.  

For example, good old AS 2608-1983, the superseded Australian Standard for adding and calculating machines covering the numeric section of ten-key keyboards.  While some standards may sound useless — and for all I know that one was — overall they are very handy for improving and maintaining the quality and safety of products and services.

But the problem with Australian Standards is that most cost huge sums of money.  A single copy can be several hundred dollars.  In my opinion this is far too much and I’m going to argue that downloading an Australian Standard is infinitely too expensive.  In other words, I think downloading them should be free.

I want to be clear I don’t think Standards Australia should be forced to go around robbing kids of their tuck shop money so they can afford to continue to develop and distribute standards.  What they do is an important activity that needs to be adequately funded.  It’s just that charging huge amounts of money for copies of Australian standards is the stupidest possible way to go about it.  This is because people are far less likely to use standards, or provide up to date ones for their employees, if they have to pay for them out of their own pocket.

If instead the Australian government provided for the cost of developing standards and allowed them to be downloaded for free as a public good it would benefit:

  • Students and trainees
  • Businesses
  • Overseas suppliers
  • People in developing countries
  • Australians in the future by increasing demand for Australian products

What Is An Australian Standard?

For an excellent overview of just what standards are, it’s hard to beat this page right here by the Australian Government1.  I would paraphrase the information it gives, but in researching this article I also looked into Australian copyright law and now I am too afraid to paraphrase anything ever2.  I may stop researching articles entirely just to avoid the possibility of ever accidentally paraphrasing someone.

Australian Standards are developed by Standards Australia, a non-profit organization that should receive a trophy for the the most self-explanatory name.  Their role is to help individuals, industry groups, and experts work together to develop standards.  For example, at the moment they are working on battery storage standards.  While they organize their development, they are not actually responsible for the content, so don’t ring them up and ask questions about baby rattle safety standards.  They hate that.

Standards Australia gives their own definition of standards on their FAQ page and I will directly quote it below and definitely not paraphrase it:

“Standards are published documents setting out specifications and procedures. They are designed to ensure products, services and systems are safe, reliable and consistent. They are based on sound industrial, scientific and consumer experience and are regularly reviewed to ensure they keep pace with new technologies. They cover everything from consumer products and services, construction, engineering, business, information technology, human services to energy and water utilities, the environment and much more.”

Most standards are voluntary but following them can be required by law.  This is often the case where safety is an issue.  For example, if you are doing electrical work you’ll need to follow AS/NZS3 3000 Electrical Wiring Rules.  In addition, they’ll expect you to be qualified to do electrical work.  It seems like a hassle, but it is important because only chips should be crispy, not people.

A Parody -- Honest!

This is totally a parody.

Australian Standards Are Expensive

You might think the electrical wiring rules would be free in order to encourage people to always refer to them when doing electrical work, as they are vital for safety.  Unfortunately, it’s as if there is a conspiracy to kill stingy people and it’s necessary to pay through the nose for them.  If you want a spiral bound hard copy of AS/NZS 3000 Electrical Wiring Rules it will set you back $235.20.  If you think you can save money by just downloading a PDF that will reduce the price by nearly $49 all the way down to $186.62.  It is possible to get networkable PDFs that can allow multiple people in an organization access them at once, but they start at $100 more than the hard copy.  While not every standard costs this much, it’s not unusual for them to be even more expensive.

Standards Can Be Superseded

Buying a standard is not a one off expense.  Old standards can be superseded by new ones which will need to be purchased.  The more rapidly technology and techniques change in a area the less likely standards will last for long.  So someone working in solar installation can expect to have to purchase an updated standard at least every few years.

You Can’t Copy Australian Standards — Much

You might think you could buy one PDF and print out as many copies as you like, but that is not permitted.  The files are protected to stop you doing that — so I’ve been told.  I certainly haven’t tried it myself.  Sure, it might be possible to get around this protection…

If you made copies it would violate the copyright holder’s right not to have copies made of their copyrighted writing.  And we can’t have that.  If people started making copies willy-nilly things would fall apart, the center would not hold, and anarchy would be loosed upon the world.  Cats and dogs would get married and have kittuppies and horses would ride each other.   So don’t violate copyright.  It’s bad, m’kay?

Australian copyright law has Fair Dealing provisions.  With a name like that you’d think that if you were doing some electrical work it would be fine to copy down some notes in order to help you do it safely.  But you’d be wrong.  Australia has no “fair use” doctrine as in the United States, so copying down just a couple of sentences or even numbers can technically be a violation of copyright.  You might think this is insane and contrary to one of the main purposes of having standards – which is to improve safety – but if you think about it, it’s only insane if you value human life more highly than not violating copyright.

Despite the lack of fair use provisions in Australia, it is still easy to avoid unwitting copyright violations by following these simple rules:

1. Never copy anything verbatim.

2. Don’t use social media including Twitter.

3.  Don’t use the internet.  (Clearly you need to pull your socks up on this last point.).

“Essential” Standards Can Cost A Solar Installer Over $2,000

The cost of purchasing all the standards a solar business is likely to require can quickly add up.  The Clean Energy Council lists 8 relevant standards for solar installers and clearly states:

“It is essential that Clean Energy Council-accredited installers own and use the relevant standards for design and installation of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.”

At the moment I am not aware of any standard police who will come round and check whether or not you have “essential” standards or of any penalties for being without them, but as there is a legal requirement to follow the standards, owning them is more-or-less essential for solar installers to do their job.

Some of the standards on the Clean Energy Council list have been superseded and the final standard on their list has two parts, so I have put an updated version of their list below, along with the price of a single hard copy:

  • AS/NZS 4509.1:2010  (R2017) Stand-alone power systems Part 1  $144.69
  • AS/NZS 4509.2:2010  (R2017) Stand-alone power systems Part 2  $267.66
  • AS 4086.2-1997 Secondary batteries for SPS Part 2  $144.69
  • AS/NZS 5033:2014 Installation of photovoltaic (PV) arrays  $267.66
  • AS/NZS 3000 Electrical wiring rules    $235.20
  • AS/NZS 1768:2007 Lightning Protection  $312.49
  • AS/NZS 1170.2:2011 (R2016) Structural design actions Wind actions  $235.20
  • AS/NZS 4777.1:2016 Grid connection of energy systems via inverters Installation requirements  $235.20
  • AS/NZS 4777.2:2015 Grid connection of energy systems via inverters Inverter requirements  $235.20

The total cost of a single hard copy of each of these standards comes to $2,078.  Even to a worldly, rich, sophisticate, such as myself, it’s a fair chunk of change.  That’s my entire birthday present budget for ex-wives this century4.  The high cost is the reason why less reputable solar panel installers will skip buying standards they are less likely to use and “wing it” when they are required.

Standards Should Be Free

Australian Standards should be free to download.  If Standards Australia wants to charge a fee for printing and shipping hard copies, that’s fine, but otherwise there should be no charge for anyone, anywhere, to obtain electronic copies.  The reason why they should be free is because the easier standards are to obtain the more they will be used and this provides a number of advantages:

  1. It’s good for business.  Every employee will have easy access to any standard they need without restriction.  This will improve efficiency as no one will ever have to do without because their boss was either stingy or poor.  It will also cut administration costs as businesses won’t have to worry about managing access to the restricted number of copies they legally own.
  2. There will be safety and efficiency benefits as the number of up to date standards in use increases.
  3. Being able to freely study standards benefits education and training.
  4. Overseas suppliers will be more likely to access Australian Standards and provide products and services that meet our requirements.
  5. Developing countries that don’t have standards of their own will be able to easily adopt Australian Standards or modify them for their own use.  This is likely to increase overseas demand for Australian products and expertise in the future.  As this can spare them the cost of developing their own standards it will be a useful form of foreign aid.

Making Standards Free Costs Australia Nothing

The neat thing about making standards free is we get all the above benefits at no extra cost to the country.  We’ll just be changing where the cost falls.  Money will still be required to develop standards.  That’s unavoidable if the quality is to be maintained at their current… standard.  But if the government funds their development as a public good, then the overall cost to the country will remain the same.

If anyone is worried direct government funding will reduce the efficiency with which standards are developed, I’ll point out Standards Australia is a government permitted monopoly and is not exposed to market competition that keeps the cost of wheat, pizza, Hyundais, and solar panels low.  These forces can’t apply to the collaborative process of making standards and the best we can do is manage it efficiently.

Luckily for my plan, we have a federal government that loves reducing costs for businesses.  Because of this, I think providing funding for free Australian Standards to anyone in the world who wants them will be right up their alley.

They like helping out businesses so much, that despite going on and on about the need for “budget repair” they still want to lower the corporate tax rate when these two things are the exact opposite of each other and so make no mathematical sense.  Or maybe it just doesn’t make sense to me because my brain isn’t quick enough:

A Call To Action!  Write To Your MP!

Unfortunately, most politicians are far too busy performing the vital task of slagging each other off in the popular press to have time to develop good policy.  As a result, it’s up to common citizens to bring the excellent policy of making Australian Standards free to their attention.  Please feel free to copy the following form letter and send it to your local Member of Parliament.  Just change the example names in italics to those of your Minister or yourself where appropriate:

Dear Member McParliamentface,

 

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed:

 

“Australians let us all rejoice, For we are young and free.”

 

Member McParliamentface, set our standards free! 

 

I have a dream that from the red heartland of the outback to the cosmopolitan cities of the coast; workers, employees, and students will be able to sit down together at the table of free Australian Standards for all. 

 

I have a dream that even AS/NZS 3000, a standard sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of an oppressive price, will one day be transformed into a document of freedom by making it free. 

 

I have a dream that one day Australians will live in a country where they are judged not by the standards they can afford to buy, but by the content of their browser histories. 

 

Mr or Ms McParliamentface, tear down this wall of inefficiency that charging for Australian standards imposes on business and let a thousand businesses bloom! 

 

One Country!  One price for standards!  One big zero!

 

 

Yours sincerely

Votey McVoteface

 

I promise I won’t sue you for infringement of copyright if you use this letter; provided of course, you promise to make only a single copy5 and pay me $235.20.

Footnotes

  1. The Australian Government:  They’re not just several Parliaments full of pretty faces.
  2. Even if every idea in a source document is paraphrased into your own words, keeping those ideas in the same order as the original document may count as a breech of copyright in Australia.
  3. Australia and New Zealand often double up on standards on account of how New Zealand is actually part of Australia.  But don’t tell New Zealand I said that, otherwise they’ll pin my feet to the ground with a couple of Kiwis while wetas kick in my kneecaps.  Or possibly just send a parrot to eat my car.
  4. That’s 2001 to 2100.  This could be why none of my ex-wives has ever wanted to marry me again.
  5. Note:  Copy and pastes of this letter may contain Digital Rights Management protection that prevents it being copied more than the legally permitted number of times.
About Ronald Brakels

Many years ago now, Ronald Brakels was born in Toowoomba. He first rose to international prominence when his township took up a collection to send him to Japan, which was the furthest they could manage with the money they raised. He became passionately interested in environmental matters upon his return to Australia when the local Mayor met him at the airport and explained it was far too dangerous for him to return to Toowoomba on account of climate change and mutant attack goats. Ronald then moved to a property in the Adelaide Hills where he now lives with his horse, Tonto 23.

Comments

  1. Barry ROENNFELDT says:

    Happy new year and thanks for all the info.
    b

  2. I totally agree with you. I have already sent a message to the PM. (Go straight to the top!)
    I have designed some units for persons with a disability: had a job getting access to Standards for that, & also as a consumer, I should be able to refer to standards to check a tradesman’s work (such as the Solar installer who did not understand or follow AS3000!)

  3. Even if not free a low price of $20 should be sufficient but imagine all the knowledgeable people we will have much to the dismay of builders etc no more shonky work accepted no more flouting the standards

  4. Pensioner says:

    In a previous phase of my life, I worked in an industry which required regular purchasing of these expensive Standards. Some business acquaintances (and that’s all I’m saying about them – no names, no pack drill) would purchase one copy then scan it, and make it available to all their pals / employees / co-workers. This reduces the number of copies sold by SA, and defeats the object of having Standards Australia pay its own way.

    My view has always been :
    – if they are free, people will not value them
    – if they cost too much, people will not buy them (and what’s worse, will not follow them because they don’t know what the Standard says)

    My preferred approach is a flat sum of $5 per download or $10 for hardcopy.
    At that price they are cheap enough to not have to worry about the cost, and it’s not worth the effort of getting one and scanning it.

    Strangely, Standards Australia might find that its income actually increases !

    • This is what I sent to the PM:

      Mr Prime Minister,
      I am writing regarding the cost of Australian Standards. At present, these cost an excessive amount. (I recently needed copies of standards to check compliance for some home units I am building as part of my Superannuation).
      I was reading an article on the blog, which I totally agree with.I am a retired Biomedical Technician so have worked with various Australian Standards all my life. Even now I occasionally need to refer to a Standard (such as when I recently had a Solar installation: by referring to the standard I as able to pick up some shoddy workmanship.)
      I have been involved with developing standards, so know most of the cost is in Standard preparation, which is mostly covered by the group developing the standard.
      I feel that if the Government subsidized the Australian Standards, the overall saving to business & society would be considerable, reducing the cost of doing business.

      This could be an easy win for your government. I think you would be applauded for making Standards free to access on-line, then only a fee for hard-copy or printable pdfs. (You should also be able to copy relevant pages to a limited extent when accessing the free on-line access.)
      (end)

      So, I agree with the last comment, but I have said that viewing should be free, & you should be able to copy limited information (for instance a table of specs or somesuch) but would need to pay something for the complete printable pdf.
      This would mean that Mr Joe average can peruse the document, & use the information, but cannot save the complete document (limited to say saving 10 pages)

  5. Ronald,

    I have participated on standards development technical committees.

    The current situation exists in no small part due to the incredibly un-smart historical decision to spin off standards publishing (as distinct from standards *development*) into a for-profit public company. That company is SAI Global. That means that presently Standards Australia (which is a non-profit organisation) develops the standards and SAI Global manages the publishing once they are ready for same (and profits in a quasi-monopoly situation).

    In recent reviews, Standards Australia has realised the error of that historical decision and is now tiptoeing through the minefield that is trying to undo this situation. Hopefully they will succeed. Even if they do succeed however, it still won’t get us 100% of the way to making standards affordable. But getting rid of SAI Global from the picture is an essential first step. Let’s hope they succeed because if they don’t, there is very little hope of meaningful change in the cost of standards.

    Cheers

  6. Contact your state library or national library of Australia and see if they can negotiate a solution which might trickle down to the local public library and access.

  7. “But the problem with Australian Standards is that most cost huge sums of money”

    No, the problem is that they exist. As a small country this nonsense is regulatory madness. the cost of buying the papers is trivial compared to the financial burden this is on consumers, insisting that manufacturers provide a specific design for a tiny remote market.

    Regulations are taxes. Close the entire operation and make a bonfire of them, (the papers also) then switch to using a combination of US and EU standards as best suits our situation. They can pay the pencil heads to write this stuff.

    • Chris, your suggestion sounds plausible until you dig a little beneath the surface.

      I have worked on standards development committees (technical committees) for many years and so have some not inconsequential understanding of it (but am by know means the fount of knowledge on the subject).

      There are a number of issues involved:

      1. If standards are called up in Australian legislation (thereby making compliance with all/part of those standard(s) mandatory and non-compliance punishable) then if Australia was to relinquish all control of standards are cede that to another country we would effectively be ceding legislative power to another country. This is not wise.

      2. Some foreign standards are utter garbage. I’ve seen them with my own eyes.

      3. Many foreign standards are (sensibly) written with technical requirements relevant to that jurisdiction (such as super-cold climates in northern USA or Europe) or design requirements relevant to legislation in that jurisdiction (which are not mandated and/or relevant here). In many cases adopting those foreign standards here would lead to some combination of poor performance, safety hazard and unnecessarily high product cost.

      4. Foreign standards are often influenced by the national interests and/or culture of the people and/or government that wrote them and those interests may not align with Australia’s.

      It’s also worth noting that Standards Australia has explicit procedures in place to encourage Australian standards to adopt the relevant international standards (ISO/IEC etc) and only deviate from them when there is a valid reason to do so. Thus a great proportion of Australian standards are very closely aligned with international standards anyway.

      The key issue in the original article of one of costs of access to Australian standards, and I assure you that this is due to the very poor historical decision by Standards Australia to spin off the publication of standards to a for-profit business (SAI Global). Work is underway to undo that disastrous decision as a first step in dealing with the issues of cost-effective access to standards.

      In any case, it is a case of simple logic to me that ANY standard called up by legislation in Australia should be FREE to any Australian, because that standard is in effect an extension of the legislation and no Australian citizen should have to pay to access the legal requirements that apply to them. The concept of writing laws then keeping them behind a pay-wall is ludicrous and needs to change. I think the matter should be tested in the Supreme Court. I have high hopes the argument would win quite conclusively.

  8. David storey says:

    I had a set of stairs built for me recently. Without free access to the standards, how do i know if my new stairs comply?

  9. Richard Warren says:

    SAI Global is a company listed on the stock exchange – not a government entity.
    It is set up to make a profit.

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