Up to standard?

WHILE Melville council has recently been crowing about its recent Business Excellence Award win, the company behind the foundation which awarded it has some questions looming over its business model and a deadline of 2018 to sort it out.

SAI Global, wholly owned by Singaporean company Baring Private Equity Asia, has the monopoly over selling Australian Standards – the legally binding ‘rulebook’ for construction and manufacturing.

The standards are developed by industry experts for Standards Australia, a non-profit organisation which was formed in 1922. SAI Global was created as a profit-driven subsidiary in 1990, but was floated on the stock exchange a decade later over concerns of a conflict of interest; one of the teasers for the market was an agreement giving SAI the right to publish and sell the Standards for 15 years.

That agreement runs out in 2018 and was the subject of a WA Parliamentary inquiry last year which heard the current system is resulting in overly expensive Standards which are difficult to access.

SAI Global has guarded its domain so jealously that Standards are no longer freely available in any state library across the country.

“State library is very concerned about the high levels of restrictions SAI Global places on the access and availability of Australian Standards, despite the fact that those standards are created by committees with significant and long-term input of experts who are often paid employees of private companies, government and universities across Australia,” former acting CEO of the State Library of WA, Alison Sutherland told the committee.

The issue has apparently seen some experts who volunteer their time refuse to participate, upset their labour helps generously line the pockets of SAI Global’s shareholders.

An earlier Productivity Commission report of 2006 also heard complaints of unnecessary cross-referencing, which forces users to buy multiple Standards to ensure they are being compliant.

Despite the federal government signing a memorandum of understanding with Standards Australia to stamp the practice out, last year’s inquiry found it “continues seemingly unabated”.

The committee’s report recommended the federal and state governments step in and fund the production of Standards themselves so they could be made freely available.

It found that it was unfair to force builders and manufacturers to comply with legislation which forced them to purchase increasingly expensive Standards from a for-profit company.

The committee said government support would lead to a significant saving for councils across WA, who in 2013/14 spent $161,702 purchasing Standards.

But there doesn’t appear to be consistency across the sector; for that same period Melville spent $7375, while Cockburn forked out $20,535 and East Fremantle didn’t spend a cent.

by STEVE GRANT and WILSON BELL 

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