Oz Federal, State govts seek removal of e-commerce barriers

Australia's federal and state governments have moved to speed the development of electronic commerce by removing legal obstacles to the industry's growth.

The decision to adopt a "light-handed" regulatory framework to support and encourage development of e-commerce followed ongoing talks between the commonwealth and state and territory governments.

The federal government expects the private sector to lead this development.

However, in adopting a light-handed approach, the government has signaled it does not see any need for sweeping changes to existing laws, which it regards as providing the certainty necessary for e-commerce, subject to some modifications to account for technological changes.

These modifications will include legal recognition of electronic data messages and provisions to allow electronic data messages to satisfy existing requirements for writing, signatures and originals.

Behind the government's approach is the belief that business transacted electronically, and contracts entered into over the Internet, should be treated in the same way as is current paper-based commerce.

The government's decision to act on the legal impediments follows release of an Electronic Commerce Expert Group report that recommends removal of legal impediments to e-commerce.

But the government has served notice it believes that the issue of e-commerce is a national one and a uniform law must be developed for all Australian jurisdictions.

It has said it will work in consultation with states and territories, but warned last week that any delay by the states and territories in developing uniform legislation will see the commonwealth acting alone.

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