Governments plan Y2K good Samaritan legislation

The Australian federal government announced yesterday it will introduce Y2K good Samaritan legislation, early in the next parliamentary sitting, to provide limited liability for Y2K disclosure statements made in good faith.

Meanwhile, state and territory governments have indicated they will also introduce similar legislation as soon as possible.

The purpose of the legislation is to encourage greater sharing of information on Y2K remediation and readiness efforts.

Announcing the planned legislation yesterday Richard Alston, Federal Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, said, "Many Australian companies are hesitant to disclose the state of their Y2K readiness for fear that the disclosure statement could lead to legal action. This legislation will significantly reduce that fear."

"The legislation will encourage companies to be more open about their level of Y2K readiness. This will assist organisations to check their supply chains and target their contingency planning more effectively. It will also assist large companies to assist the remediation efforts of smaller firms - the so-called 'good Samaritan' effect."

The federal legislation will provide protection from the date of its enactment until June 30 2001.

It will mean that Y2K disclosure statements will not be admissible as evidence in any legal action arising out of product or service failure due to Y2K.

It will not, in general, remove liability if a product or service fails as a result of the millennium bug.

The announcement came as ministers from federal, state and territory governments with responsibility for Y2K issues met yesterday in Sydney to discuss approaches to Y2K.

Several private sector representatives, including Maurice Newman, chair, Year 2000 National Steering Committee also attended the meeting.

The meeting issued a joint statement which said, "the state and territory Governments welcomed the commonwealth's announcement that it will introduce Y2K disclosure legislation early in the New Year. All states and territories indicated in principle support for similar legislation as soon as possible. The commonwealth has offered the services of the Office of Government Online to assist the states and territories to develop parallel legislation as a matter of urgency."

Y2K good Samaritan legislation in Australia will be based on the US Year 2000 Information Disclosure Act, which provides companies with protection from lawsuits based on statements regarding year-2000 readiness.

Also announced in the joint statement; all governments agreed in principle to "provide regular disclosures, at least every quarter" on the Y2K compliance of status of government systems, and essential services such as electricity, within their jurisdictions.

Moreover, governments agreed on the need to establish a national approach to emergency planning for Y2K, and they agreed to develop a national communications strategy with the aim of addressing public concern about potential service breakdowns due to Y2K.

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