In my considered opinion, setting the times for the start and end of Daylight Savings Time (DST) should be a federal government responsibility. Australia should join with most of the rest of the developed world and observe at least six months of DST, and preferably 7-8 months; and Australia's time zones should be brought up to the 21st century, instead of languishing in the 19th century. Let me explain.
The only other countries that comprise a federation of states or provinces and that span multiple time zones are the United States and Canada. In the US, setting the dates for the beginning and ending of DST is a federal government responsibility, as it should be, because it impacts significantly on interstate and international trade, as well as other issues beyond state responsibilities.
Provinces in Canada have opted (with the exception of Saskatchewan) to follow the US in observing the beginning and ending of DST, effectively making it a federal decision, although the provinces retain the right to make their own decisions, if they choose.
Leaving the responsibility with the states is an invitation to chaos, and certainly gives rise to the anomaly in Australia, where Tasmania starts DST a month earlier than any other state.
The states and territories should have the right to decide whether or not to adopt DST, but should then be required to change clocks on the federally determined dates. The US federal law that sets daylight time does not require any area to observe daylight saving time, but does require that any area choosing to observe DST must follow the starting and ending times set by federal law.
Second, Australia, while priding itself on being an outdoors oriented nation, observes DST for a shorter time than any other nation that observes DST. Apart from Tasmania, we observe DST for just five months. Most nations in the northern hemisphere that observe DST do so for at least six months, and most do so for seven or eight months.
Logic would suggest that, if it is the length of daylight hours that is at issue, then we should start and end DST at times that are equal relative to the Equinoxes on March 22 and September 22, when there are exactly 12 hours of daylight. Admittedly, few countries do so. However, we currently do not change to DST until about six weeks after the Spring Equinox, when the day is already much longer than 12 hours, but we end DST about a week after the Autumn Equinox, when the day is already a little less than 12 hours.
As a result, we had the situation this year where, on the day before we changed the clocks, sunrise occurred at 4.59am in Sydney. Logic would suggest that, instead of changing the clocks at the end of October, we should change them in mid-September, when the length of daylight hours is the same as at the end of March. Better yet would be to begin DST at the end of August, and end it at the end of April, giving eight months of DST and four months on standard time.
Experience in other countries suggests that starting DST earlier and ending it later would have beneficial effects on air quality, energy use, and road safety, to name but a few of the advantages.
A 1975 study by the US Department of Transportation showed that extending DST from starting in April to starting in March would save about 1 per cent of the nation's electricity use. Furthermore, when the US extended DST in 1974 and 1975 as a result of the 1973 energy crisis, the US DOT found that observing DST in March and April saved 10,000 barrels of oil a day and prevented about 2,000 traffic injuries and 50 traffic fatalities in the period, representing a traffic cost savings at that time of US$28 million.
There are also expected benefits of crime reduction, although these have not been estimated quantitatively. For that matter, many people who, like the author of this piece, find it frustrating to have the dawn occurring well before 6am in the Spring, would no longer have that frustration.
There are also potential benefits to international business. During periods of DST, Australia has a smaller difference in time with the United States and Canada. As a result, when Australia observes more days and weeks of DST, there is more opportunity for business contact during the working day. Because of the larger time difference with Europe and the UK, changes to DST will basically not affect trading with those areas of the world.