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Government moves in on digital business communication

Electronic signatures, digital record keeping and flexible payment methods could now be enshrined in law as the government looks to modernise business communications.

Technology Reporter 11 January 2021
— 1 minute read

The Treasury is currently consulting on how to improve the technology neutrality of laws that fall within its portfolio, as it looks to ensure they do not restrict the use of current and future technologies.

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The government will focus on five categories of business communication, including current laws that require a signee to physically sign documents as a statement of both their identity and agreement to the terms outlined in the document.

It proposes to allow online methods of verifying identities and electronic signatures, building on the temporary relief measure introduced in response to COVID-19 that allowed companies to execute documents without a seal on physical signature.

The government is also proposing to change record-keeping obligations by ensuring that current requirements for written records to be maintained can be satisfied by making or holding information in a physical, electronic or other form.

While many provisions across Treasury portfolio laws do not specify how information is to be held, the government notes that some provisions specifically require information to be recorded or retained in writing.

Another area of business communication that has been identified for change includes payment methods, with the government proposing to ensure legislation does not mandate any particular method.

The consultation paper notes that certain provisions continue to require payments by cheque, bank order or cash, and do not reflect the wide variety of payment methods available today and are therefore not technology neutral.

Other areas of focus include tweaking laws to allow for digital communication to customers, shareholders and other stakeholders in place of written information.

The government is also proposing to improve communication with regulators such as ASIC, APRA and the ACCC by streamlining communication channels.

The Institute of Public Accountants CEO Andrew Conway said modernising business communication would be a key driver of Australia’s future economic growth.

“The call for public consultation on improving the technology neutrality of Treasury portfolio legislation is timely,” Mr Conway said.

“If anything good has come from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the push to continue Australia’s deregulation agenda and ensure legislation is drafted so that it may stand the test of time and eliminate unnecessary business processes.

“It is vital that businesses benefit from consistency in the way law treats similar types of business communication now and into the future.  That is why the Deregulation Taskforce is seeking to ensure a principles-based approach to legislative reform for business communications is applied.”

The Treasury’s consultation period closes on 28 February.

Government moves in on digital business communication
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