The Australian senate has approved e-commerce legislation that is likely to become a blueprint for the New Zealand Labour Party-led government's strategy.
The text of the Electronic Transactions Act says the legislation aims to provide a regulatory framework that "recognises the importance of the information economy to the future economic and social prosperity of Australia."
It uses electronic transactions, "promotes business and community confidence in the use of electronic transactions (and) enables business and the community to use electronic communications in their dealings with government."
Its passage means that electronic communication between Commonwealth departments and agencies and Australians is now as legally binding as paper-based transactions.
Labour Party commerce spokesman Paul Swain drew on the Australian government report, "Creating a Clearway on the New Silk Road", in examining policy directions in other economies in his e-commerce strategy paper, "Labour Online".
The character of the Australian legislation also seems to meet the four key aims of Swain's paper: to establish a role for the government as a leader in e-commerce; as a model user of e-commerce technologies; as a promoter of New Zealand's interests internationally and as an "active key enabler".
Another factor pointing to the likely role of the Australian act in forming New Zealand legislation is its inclusion as an appendix to the Law Commission's report on e-commerce to the National Party-led government this year. But, with Swain unlikely to comment at least until the newly elected coalition announces a cabinet, a timetable for new laws remains unclear.
Labour Online promises that the government will, in its first six months, convene an e-commerce leaders' summit and establish a leadership team to develop strategy arising from the summit.
It also promises to begin preparation of a guide to e-commerce for small and medium enterprises and has begun work on an e-commerce education program "in active partnership with local government, the information industries and the education sector".
Undertakings for the three-year term of government include the acceleration of legislative reform and the establishment of an ambitious "single window" program for Internet-based service delivery to the public and business by central and local government. It remains possible that New Zealand will reach such goals ahead of Australia.
Under the Electronic Transactions Act, transactions involving businesses are not recognised under the law. Australian businesses will not benefit from the introduction of e-commerce legislation until state and territory governments enact similar laws.