[tz] Australian Time Zone Abbreviations Discussion Review

Greg Black gjb at yaxom.com
Mon Mar 5 09:43:07 UTC 2012

On Mon, Mar 5, 2012 at 18:10, Shaun Bouckaert <shaun.bouckaert at gmail.com> wrote:
> I started a discussion on this mailing list in November 2011 in
> regards to the incorrect time zone abbreviations used for Australian
> time zones. Initially there were several responses, the majority of
> which were positive to change, and yet the conversation seems to have
> died off.

It died off because we have done it many times over the years and have
never found a sustainable reason to make changes. The reference above
to "the incorrect time zone abbreviations" is an example of the
problem. They are not incorrect. At worst they are disputed or silly.
There is no authoritative source for claiming that any abbreviation is

> Recently published on this list was the IETF RFC 6557 "Procedures for
> Maintaining the Time Zone Database". The relevant section of that
> document to this discussion, Section 3 "Making Updates to the TZ
> Database" specifies at the bottom "To be clear, the TZ Coordinator
> SHALL NOT set time zone policy for a region but use judgement and
> whatever available sources exist to assess what the average person on
> street would think the time actually is, or in case of historical
> corrections, was." Also, point 3.3 states "Changes to existing entries
> SHALL reflect the consensus on the ground in the region covered by
> that entry."

The problem is right there. We have been unable to show that there is
any real consensus.

> There were several people involved in the discussion that took place:
> Myself (Shaun Bouckaert <shaun.bouckaert at gmail.com>)
> Edwin Groothuis <edwin at mavetju.org>
> Eric Ulevik <eulevik at gmail.com>
> Elliot Lear <lear at cisco.com>
> Greg Black <gjb at yaxom.com>
> I reside in Australia, however I am not aware of the nationality or
> residency of any of the other contributors.

I doubt if it matters, but I am Australian by birth and have lived in
Australia for almost 60 years.

> I will summarise my points
> then attempt to do so with the points made by others. It is not my
> intention to mislead and if my summaries of their contributions are
> inaccurate then I hope they will correct me. Their contributions to
> the original discussion are available to view.
> I originally started the discussion after finding the Australian
> Federal Government had a web page of information regarding time zones
> in Australia. This can be accessed at
> http://australia.gov.au/about-australia/our-country/time

Even here, there is an error in the reference to the Australian
Federal Government. That's a description, not a name. The name is the
Australian Government. Getting the details right is harder than it

> This lists the timezones as
> Australian Eastern Standard Time: UTC +10 hours abbreviated as AEST
> Australian Central Standard Time: UTC +9 ½ hours abbreviated as ACST
> Australian Western Standard Time: UTC +8 hours abbreviated as AWST
> Where daylight savings is concerned, NSW, ACT, Victoria and Tasmania
> move from AEST to Australian Eastern Daylight Time UTC +11 hours
> abbreviated as AEDT
> SA and Broken Hill in NSW move from ACST to Australian Central
> Daylight Time UTC +10 ½ hours abbreviated as ACDT
> After this initial posting Edwin replied with his support. Eric then
> replied stating that Time Zones are legislated at the state level, not
> the federal level, seeming to imply that only state law should matter.
> Considering the RFC specifically states that the time zone policy
> should be based on available sources to assess what the average person
> on the street would think, and the fact that state legislation doesn't
> specify an abbreviation, there's no reason that this federal
> government information, which accurately reflects what everyone I have
> discussed this matter with understands to be true, should be
> discounted. This was reenforced by Edwin who pointed out two ways
> forward, stay where we are based on the absence of any specification
> of abbreviations in state legislation and continue bickering on this
> issue or move forward with the clearly defined federal information
> that fixes ambiguity that exists on an international level with the
> existing abbreviations and hopefully stop the bickering.
> Elliot then put forward two points, the first in line with the now
> existing guidelines in regards to what people on the street think, and
> the second point being to taking caution to possible side effects that
> could be caused by changing this. He points out that we could be going
> from ambiguous labels to something that is also ambiguous, but is
> there a way of finding out if the AEST, ACST, etc. are ambiguous in
> any way? Considering the significance of EST and CST to North America,
> it certainly seems more significant to reduce the ambiguity there.
> Edwin then found several Australian organisations and reviewed what they use.
> Broadcasters:
> The ABC (National Broadcaster): AEST
> Channel 10: Mostly AEST, some instances of EST
> News Organisations:
> Sydney Morning Herald: EST
> The Australian: AEST
> The Daily Telegraph: Both EST and AEST
> Government Organisations:
> The Australian Bureau of Meteorology: Uses both, but specifies using
> AEST in their submission guidelines.
> Appended to this list I can add the Queensland Department of Transport
> and Main Roads, which I found is using AEST in their website Terms of
> Service.
> I also pointed out at the time that many instances of the use of EST
> could easily be due to the current state of the TZ database and would
> likely be corrected to AEST (or other where appropriate) with the
> update to the TZ database. It was also pointed out that Australians
> would on large understand the use of the A prefixed abbreviations due
> to their widespread use, especially by major broadcasters and news
> media.
> Greg Black added that he received three emails from different
> Australian organisations that used ADST for a timezone that he would
> personally label AEDT. I do not see this being an argument against the
> change, but indeed an argument for. There is existing confusion, some
> of it due to the incorrect labels in the TZ database. The fact that
> the federal government has presented a source for this change means
> that there's significant grounds for using it as a correct version or
> standard.

My argument is that, despite people such as us having clear opinions
about a sensible set of abbreviations, there is no consensus in the
community. In the absence of legislative guidance, I claim that we
have no reason -- according to the rules -- to make a change. Yes, I
personally think we should use AEST and AEDT for the eastern states,
but I don't see that we have a justification to make a change.

> Of the 5 people mailing the list during this discussion, the most
> significant contributions were made by myself and Edwin, both of us in
> support of the change to the A prefix, which also seemed to be
> supported by Greg Black who said he would personally label the
> timezone that the ADST label had referred to as AEDT.

No, I did not support a change. I still don't. If I was 40 years
younger, I might try to push for legislative change. But I'm not and I

> I could find no arguments put forward that demonstrated any advantage
> of the current system over the proposed alternative besides
> maintaining the status quo. I respect the caution put towards
> unintended side effects, but where these are due to corrections on
> what is arguably wrong information, isn't it better to fix it sooner
> rather than later?

It's not wrong. It's just silly. And yes, I'd go so far as to say that
it's very silly. But we have no mandate to fix all the silly things.

> Shaun Bouckaert


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