Government rewrites corporations law

New Australian legislation will make electronic signatures equivalent to pen-on-paper signatures and ensure data messages are acceptable as original documents.

And the government has initiated a number of other important changes to the law affecting corporations in its bid to hasten corporate adoption of e-commerce. The moves come in the face of new evidence that Australian companies remain cautious about the information economy.

The legislative changes include changes to the Corporations Law to allow increased use of communications technology in calling and holding company meetings, electronic lodgement of proxy forms and documents and electronic distribution of prospectuses.

The government claimed last week Australia was well ahead of most other nations in ensuring laws and regulations were adapted to facilitate the continued development of electronic commerce and online services.

Launching "Building the Information Economy: A progress report on the enabling legal and regulatory framework", Minister for Communications, the Information Economy and the Arts Senator Richard Alston said Australia needed to embrace new technologies and new ways of doing business.

But the report itself made clear Australian business was still wary of the new technologies, citing a recent Andersen Consulting survey that found CEOs and policy makers expected e-commerce to change things for the better, but remained cautious about embracing the information economy.

"Getting ready for the electronic revolution remains a low priority for most Australian businesses. Apart from a few companies moving fast to seize the opportunities offered, most businesses are waiting for their customers to demand service online," the report said.

Other planned legislative changes will allow legal title to commonwealth debt securities to be transferred electronically and create a more certain legal environment for close-outs and market netting in the financial markets.

And the Payment Systems and Netting Bill 1998, introduced into Parliament on April 1, 1998 as part of CLERP (corporate law economic reform program), will make important changes to existing law, responding to the recommendations of the Financial (Wallis) Inquiry. The changes will ensure payment finality under the real-time gross settlement system for settling high value wholesale payments to be introduced by the Reserve Bank in mid 1998 and provide legal certainty for existing multilateral netting arrangements for settling low value retail payments.

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