Govt must stand back on e-comm specs: Magaziner

Leave the information economy to the markets and avoid at all cost applying new and discriminatory taxes on electronic commerce transactions.

That was the key message to government from President Clinton's senior adviser on policy development, Ira Magaziner, delivered at the National Office for the Information Economy's (NOIE) E-Commerce Enabling Australia Summit at Parliament House, last week.

Magaziner said the "nightmare scenario" of the information economy was that every country and state decided to apply taxation in a different way, so that participants needed an army of accountants to sort out their liabilities in each region around the globe.

There was urgent need for uniform laws and regulation which neither discriminated in favour of or against electronic transactions. Governments had a number of different ideas on how to achieve this, but had yet to come to agreement.

And Magaziner said the private sector, not governments, should take the lead, while the Internet should be a market-driven, not a regulated, arena. The E-commerce Enabling Australia Summit was held in a bid to spur business towards adoption of electronic commerce and to consider ways to position Australia to reap the benefits of the information economy. The government said it was also a first step in creating a national agenda to capture the growth opportunities presented by electronic commerce.

Delegates included leaders and decision-makers from government, business, industry, consumer groups and regulatory bodies. Yet not all the select group who received invitations were converts to e-commerce. Quizzed by People Meter as to whether they believed Australia could capture the opportunities presented by the information economy, only 63 per cent said yes, while 34 per cent were yet to be convinced.

Andersen Consulting managing partner John Craven presented results of the first nationwide study of Australian chief executive officers (CEOs) and government leaders which showed most Australian CEOs did not see e-commerce as a high strategic priority today.

Even more scary, he said, was that only 31 per cent even ranked e-commerce as a strategic priority for the year 2003.

Minister for the Information Economy Senator Richard Alston told the summit that while the Internet must be market driven there was an important role for government in the areas of privacy, community standards of content regulation, encryption and national security. But he said the government's role was simply to provide the right legal and regulatory settings to allow business to flourish.

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