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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 1 Hansard (15 February) . . Page.. 289 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

This bill is model legislation that is to be adopted in all jurisdictions. It very closely follows the Commonwealth Electronic Transactions Act 1999, which adopted most of the United Nations Model Law on Electronic Commerce 1996. The bill assumes that access to and use of the Internet and other computer-based systems is widespread and that it is desirable to transact business using those systems. That may be so in government circles and for medium to large businesses, but I wonder what is really happening in the small business. Do our perceptions, folk lore and IT industry publicly match reality? Do small businesses, including some sole practitioners in the professions, have the time and expertise to wrestle with the Internet or are they too busy staying afloat? However, these questions are really rhetoric because the ACT, like other jurisdictions, must place itself in the best competitive position to take advantage of all opportunities created by the increasing penetration and convergence of technologies in the broadcasting, communications, information technology and media industries.

I am happy to say that the Labor Party is committed to a regulatory environment which encourages the development of new services and new industries for the benefit of Canberrans, and therefore we will support the bill. However, we have to be mindful that there are people in the community who, whether through age, infirmity, poverty or religious conviction, cannot or will not use computers or the Internet to transact business. I would hope that all parties keep these people in mind when designing business regulations in order to ensure that these groups are not forced to use technology they either do not have access to or have a genuine conscientious objection to.

In that regard, Mr Speaker, it has been brought to my attention that members of the Brethren Religion, for example, do have some conscientious issues around the use of some technology, and I acknowledge the presence of a member of that organisation in the chamber today. I believe it is important for parliaments always to be mindful, in the consideration of all legislation, including that involving new technology, that there are people within the community with a range of views, including certain conscientious views, about the use of that technology.

MR STEFANIAK (Minister for Education and Attorney-General) (5.54): I thank Mr Stanhope for his comments. I think Mr Myall is in the Assembly. I thank Mr Hird also for bringing Mr Myall's concerns to our attention. I think the government can reassure Mr Myall and anyone else who might have some concerns about having to use this bill. Mr Myall, and I think a number of other people, might have been concerned about a provision in the bill that may lead to the belief that people would be required to use computers or the Internet in dealings with government. I assure Mr Myall and anyone else who is concerned about that that there is nothing in this bill that mandates the use of technology.

The effect of clause 8 (3) in the bill merely makes it clear that the bill does not affect the operation of any other ACT law that specifies the way in which electronic communications must be made. For example, it would not affect any existing ACT information technology software requirements. Clause 8 is an expression of the fundamental principle of media neutrality whereby the law should not discriminate between different forms of software technology, and I think it is important that that is drawn to people's attention.

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