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Wednesday, 9 February 2011
Page: 134


Mr McCLELLAND (Attorney-General) (9:55 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Electronic Transactions Amendment Bill 2011 will update the Electronic Transactions Act 1999 to reflect internationally recognised standards on electronic commerce and bring Australia’s electronic transactions legislation into the 21st century.

The bill contains minor amendments addressing the challenges of existing, new and emerging technologies in respect of e-commerce. These amendments are an important step in ensuring Australia’s legal regime is up to date to support and promote firms and businesses operating in the digital economy.

The bill will provide increased legal certainty in trade by electronic means, and encourage further growth of electronic contracting both domestically and internationally.

The amendments align Australia’s legislation with the United Nations Convention on the Use of Electronic Communications in International Contracts adopted by the General Assembly in 2005. The Convention was developed by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law and is the first United Nations convention addressing legal issues arising from the digital economy.

Accession to the convention requires amendments to the domestic electronic transactions regime. Each Australian jurisdiction has implemented legislation based on the Model Law on Electronic Commerce 1996, also developed by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law. The convention updates the model law based on a better understanding of the use of electronic communications since the model law was finalised.

Following support during public consultation for Australia’s accession to the convention, the bill was drafted by the Parliamentary Counsel’s Committee and was approved by the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General in May 2010. In fact, New South Wales and Tasmania have already passed the amendments and I understand that the remaining jurisdictions intend to introduce the provisions within the first half of this year.

Implementation of the convention will facilitate international trade by offering practical solutions for issues arising from the use of electronic communications in the formation or performance of contracts between parties that are located in different countries. It aims at commercial predictability when using electronic communications in international contracts, but does not otherwise purport to vary or create contract law.

Accession to the convention will also improve the efficiency of commercial activities and promote economic development both domestically and internationally.

Eighteen countries have now signed the convention, including significant trading partners such as the Republic of Korea and Singapore.

In summary, key amendments of the bill include:

  • clarifying uncertainties in using electronic communications in the formation and performance of contracts
  • clarifying that a contract can still be legally effective despite being formed by an automated message system
  • refining default rules for determining whether the method used for an electronic signature is reliable
  • providing default rules to ascertain the place of business of the parties to a transaction, taking into account modern business practices such as the use of automated message systems. Importantly, this will assist parties to determine the jurisdiction in which the contract was formed.

Conclusion

The bill modernises the law to reflect developments in technology and align the Commonwealth legislation with internationally recognised standards on electronic commerce.

While the amendments do not significantly change Commonwealth law, they provide a more certain legal environment to meet the needs of present day business practices in the digital environment.

I would like to thank the Parliamentary Counsel’s Committee for the significant time and effort that went into preparing the bill, and I would also like to thank the individuals and organisations who participated in the public consultation process. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Andrews) adjourned.