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Breaking down the great Australian standards paywall

(This article was originally published as an opinion piece in HVAC&R News on 8 November 2023)

Australian Standards are the unsung heroes of the HVAC&R world, defining the technical legal obligations that keep our heating, cooling and refrigeration systems in check. From the fine art of electrical wiring (AS/NZS 3000) to the riveting world of ducting installation (AS 1668), they’ve got it all covered. It’s like the ultimate HVAC&R rulebook, right?

Well, that’s what you’d expect, but here’s where the plot thickens. You see, these standards aren’t freebies – they come at a price.

Australian Standards: Hidden costs for your licence

Imagine this: you’re gearing up for your driver’s licence test, and you’re told it’s a mere $100. Fantastic!

But then, the bombshell drops. The driving rules are set out in a series of 34 rule booklets. And each of the 34 booklets you need to master before you hit the road costs around $100, adding up to a jaw-dropping $3,000! And no, you can’t share them with your fellow road warriors, everyone’s got to buy their own.

Sound strange? Well, not all that strange when we take a peek into the world of refrigerant handling licenses. At first glance, the annual fee for an Australian Refrigeration Council (ARC) refrigerant handling licence seems like a steal at a mere $80 a year.

But don’t let that price tag deceive you. This licence comes with strings attached, and by strings, we mean a laundry list of 34 Australian Standards that must be adhered to. (For those eager beavers who like diving into the nitty-gritty, check out Regulation 135 of the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Regulations 1995.)

As noted above, these 34 Australian Standards aren’t free. They must be hunted down and purchased individually. Brace yourselves, because at the time of writing, obtaining the full set of all 34 standards for your ARCtick licence could set you back a staggering $3,122.26.

Hitting the HVAC&R airways

You know that feeling when you book a budget airline ticket, and suddenly, you’re hit with extra fees for baggage, seat selection, and even oxygen? Okay, maybe not oxygen, but you get the idea.

Now, picture your journey into HVAC&R standards and the National Construction Code (NCC). It all starts off so well, like a traveller packing for a breezy vacation. You think, “It looks like for my mechanical ventilation system, I just need AS 1668 and AS 3666, and I’m all set!” A “manageable” $950 odd – not too shabby, right?


Check the wording of AS 1668 and AS 3666 and you’ll find many references to other standards. Suddenly, your “budget” ticket turns into a high-priced adventure, rivalling the costs of a luxury vacation.

Unlocking the mystery of electromagnetic emissions

Let’s continue our budget flight adventure, now veering into the electrifying world of electromagnetic emissions regulations. If you’re in the business of HVAC&R equipment, you’re in for a shock. To find out the correct emissions limits, you need to delve into the Radiocommunications Labelling (Electromagnetic Compatibility) Notice 2017. And this notice, my friends, will send you on a whirlwind tour of AS/NZS CISPR 11:2011. Spoiler alert: it’s not free.

But what if you’re feeling a bit thrifty? Well, no worries! In the words of the electromagnetic notice:

A copy of the AS/NZS CISPR 11:2011 standard created by Standards Australia could, at the date of making this Notice, be obtained for a fee from SAI Global’s website at, or could be viewed at an office of the ACMA or ACCC on prior request and subject to licensing conditions.

What a choice! Pay up, or go on a pilgrimage to the hallowed halls of the Australian Communications and Media Authority, or the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. It’s akin to deciding between splurging on in-flight wi-fi or enduring a movie with no sound.

The missing link: Understanding through accessibility

A few years ago, I was researching the HVAC&R sector’s transition from AS/NZS 1677 to AS/NZS 5149. I came across a small business owner and passionate industry advocate, critical of some of the new requirements under AS/NZS 5149. When I asked him to walk me through the new standard, he told me that he only had a single-page extract!

This encounter left me wondering: Could the costs of Australia Standards and the lack of access be leading to a serious lack of understanding in the HVAC&R world and in other industries?

David v Goliath: The SME struggle

Multinationals and big businesses are well represented in the HVAC&R sector. But the industry isn’t just about giants; it’s also home to countless small and medium enterprises (SMEs). For the big fish, the cost of acquiring Australian Standards is pocket change. They even have the benefit of tailored licensing packages offered by Standards Australia.

But for the little guys, it’s like trying to buy a single Tic Tac at the movie theatre – expensive and not very satisfying. SMEs need a fair shot at compliance without breaking the bank.

The road ahead: Breaking down the paywall

Now that we’ve exposed the enigma of Australian Standards accessibility, let’s address the million-dollar question: Is this costly system justified? On one hand, Standards Australia does vital work in developing standards for industry safety and innovation – and it’s only reasonable that they should be able to generate revenue to fund their future activities.

On the other hand, should small business owners and individuals in the HVAC&R sector really have to fork over heaps of cash for essential Australian Standards?

A brighter future for HVAC&R: The free access revolution

It’s high time we shook things up and embraced alternative access models. Here are a couple of bright ideas …

Government-backed access: For any standard referenced in legislation, let’s have governments and regulators pay a “blanket” licensing fee to Standards Australia. This way we can all access these standards for free.

Group power: Industry organisations could negotiate group licenses, making the cost of access much more affordable when shared among members.

These new models need only apply to mandatory standards. The hundreds of other “voluntary” standards could still be available for a fee.

Time to tear down the paywall

By continuing to restrict access to Australian Standards, we’re hindering understanding, compliance, and fostering a culture of single-page extracts.

It’s time to break down the paywall, promote knowledge, and create a level playing field for everyone in the HVAC&R world. After all, who wants to pay for wi-fi on a long flight when you can enjoy it for free?

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