Govt flags ‘technology neutral’ law reforms

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The government plans to introduce legislative reforms this year to make Australia’s laws “technology neutral” and make permanent many of the digital communications allowances introduced during the pandemic.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg unveiled the plans on Wednesday as part of the government’s “deregulation agenda”, the changes would confirm the validity of electronic signatures and electronic documents in more situations, including those sent to shareholders.

The government will also seek to allow consumers to consent to electronic communication with credit providers when changing address, allow alternatives to requirements to publish notices in newspapers, and reform Treasury laws where only non-electronic payment options are in place.

Josh Frdenberg says technology neutral laws will reduce the cost of doing business. Image: Julian Meehan.

The government intends to “finalise” legislation for this first phase by the end of the year.

A second phase will consider reforms in other areas that could benefit from technology neutrality, with three areas flagged specifically by the government.

These include communication with regulators including hearings, reducing or removing Treasury portfolio legislation exemptions to the Electronic Transactions Act 1999, and product disclosure and recordkeeping requirements.

“These reforms will reduce the cost of doing business and form part of the Government’s economic recovery plan, making it easier for businesses to do business, invest and create jobs now and into the future,” Mr Frydenberg said.

The first phase, if legislated, would see many of the temporary changes allowed during the pandemic made permanent.

At the outbreak, Treasury introduced temporary relief through determinations that allowed companies to use alternative technologies like eSignatures and virtual meetings in situations that had previously required “wet ink” or face to face meetings to fully satisfy corporate laws.

But a failure to legislate the changes or formally extend the determination created confusion in March, with legal firms advising clients to revert to revert to “pre-COVID” practice like physical signatures to ensure the validity of document execution.

Mr Frydenberg’s agenda announcement means much of the temporary relief is likely to become permanent as the parliament has already indicated support for esignatures and virtual meetings provided traditional methods are also offered.

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