More of the temporary changes introduced during the pandemic to allow businesses and regulators to use electronic signatures and hold virtual meetings will be made permanent under legislation introduced to Parliament on Wednesday.
The Treasury Laws Amendment (Modernising Business Communications and Other Measures) Bill 2022 was introduced to the House of Representatives, bundling the changes with minor updates to improve the clarity of corporate and consumer law.
The bill’s first schedule modernises several Treasury portfolio laws to improve their technology neutrality and to address necessary barriers to the use of digital communications, expanding the scope of changes introduced earlier this year.
The latest change would mean all documents required or permitted to be signed under the Corporations Act of 2001 can be signed in a “technology neutral” way. Notices currently required to be published in newspapers would instead need to be published in a way that is “publicly available and reasonably prominent”.
The amendments would also clarify regulators are able to hold hearings and examinations virtually.
“Together these reforms will facilitate the use of digital technologies and provide greater choice to individuals and businesses in how they communicate and operate,” Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones said while introducing the bill on Wednesday, before debate was adjourned.
If the bill passes, it would lessen remaining confusion about the legality of electronic signatures and virtual meetings. The channels were endorsed with temporary relief through determinations during the pandemic last year.
The former government missed a deadline to extend the determinations, meaning it had to work with the corporate regulator before again extending the determinations.
Permanent changes then followed under a “technology neutral” deregulation push, passing Parliament earlier this year to allow certain documents to be executed electronically and to hold virtual meetings.
The new bill introduced by Mr Jones seeks to expand the changes to so that all documents under the Corporations Act can be signed electronically and certain additional categories of documents can be sent electronically and in hard copy.
Electronic signatures and virtual meetings deemed necessary during the pandemic have gained widespread adoption and support, and are seen as a way of improving efficiency and removing regulatory burdens.
Technology vendors also see permanent reforms as potential greenfields for their software applications.
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