A Look at E-Commerce in Oz

3 February 1999

In Australia, the Attorney-General's Department (AGD) represents Australia at the biannual meetings of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law's (UNCITRAL) Working Group on Electronic Commerce. They have been involved with UNCITRAL in developing a model law on electronic commerce. The aim of the Model Law on Electronic Commerce is to provide national legislatures with a template of internationally acceptable rules to remove legal obstacles and create a more secure legal environment for electronic commerce. The Model Law is intended to facilitate the use of electronic communication and storage of information.

Electronic commerce raises a number of legal issues. However, the Attorney-General has consistently stated that the legal issues raised by electronic commerce are not so novel that an entirely new body of law is required to deal with them. It is the Government's view that our legal system is, subject to some minor adjustments, generally capable of dealing with the issues raised by electronic commerce. What is needed are laws that make the necessary alterations to ensure that the technological developments brought about by electronic commerce can be dealt with within the existing legal system while allowing business to determine the appropriate technological choices for its purposes.

Australia's Electronic Commerce Expert Group examined the legal issues raised by electronic commerce and made a number of recommendations for legislation to remove the existing legal impediments to the development of electronic commerce in Australia. The Expert Group focussed on developing an appropriate legal framework for the development of electronic commerce. It specifically excluded from its deliberations particular legal issues - such as, for example, copyright.

The Government accepted the recommendations of the Expert Group. In principle, agreement has been reached with the States and Territories to develop legislation that will be implemented in each jurisdiction. Commonwealth legislation is currently being developed. It is likely that a public exposure draft of the Commonwealth Bill will be issued in early 1999. The purpose of this Issues Paper is to set out the background to, and content of, the Commonwealth's proposed national uniform legislative scheme to remove the legal impediments facing electronic commerce. Australian Federal Attorney-General Daryl Williams said he expects "light-handed" regulation of electronic commerce under new laws to be put before Parliament. He launched the draft of the Electronic Transactions Bill which he said would form the backbone of a national uniform, legislative scheme for electronic commerce.

The legislation will enable electronic transactions to be legally recognized. The draft bill outlines how, subject to certain conditions, electronic communications will satisfy legal requirements for writing, signature, document production and the retention of documents.

"The draft Electronic Transactions Bill meets the Prime Minister's commitment to providing a light-handed regulatory framework for the online environment which supports and encourages business and consumer confidence, " said Williams.

If you want to find more detail about this issue and how it's being viewed in Australia, you'll find some great information at http://www.law.gov.au/ecommerce/.