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DISTURBING items in the news indicate the Federal Goverment could do more with respect to appropriate policies in the IT&T field.

Given that this is an election year, both the government and opposition have mapped out their respective IT&T policies – the Coalition’s Backing Australia’s Ability and Labor’s Knowledge Nation – that provide a starting point for making IT&T a fundamental platform on which to boost Australia globally.

But if that is going to happen, then the government must think things through in a strategic longer-term business sense.

Specifically, I’m talking about the amendments to the Digital Copyright Act and the South Australian legislation that could hold adults criminally responsible for failing to predict whether online material could be harmful to children.

The amendments led to reports that forwarding someone else’s email could be a technical breach of Australia’s Copyright Amendment Act, and could attract substantial penalties. The Attorney General tried to calm the furore that resulted, by stating that sharing email is not banned by law and that the amendments do not outlaw the practice of forwarding personal emails to other people.

This is undoubtedly fair enough, but as with many other issues, it’s the public perception of the need for this law that will rankle.

The copyright legislation came in a week that saw the South Australian government introduce an Internet censorship bill, as the second component of last year’s Commonwealth Internet censorship law. In a bid to protect minors and enforce the content classification system, the SA government has come across as heavy-handed, overly bureaucratic and moralistic - criticisms that have been labelled against the Commonwealth Government itself.

Combined with the outcry over the original legislation, the results of which went into force in January 2000 and the continual flip-flop of government policy on Internet gambling, this has meant that despite Backing Australia’s Ability, the Federal Government is sending clearly mixed messages to international investors and Australian IT entrepreneurs.

It is no surprise that the latest figures from a Morgan and Banks study show that 64 per cent of employers feel that the Federal Government has not got a grip on the importance of IT for Australia as a global player. According to the study’s conclusions, “there is a feeling that the government is actually penalising people with initiative to start a business…a lot of whom are in IT&T.”

Like many governments, particularly those facing an election year, the Federal Government often has a short-term strategic framework, little in the way of real customer focus and judging by its attitude to IT&T issues, seems to be paying only lip service to business needs.

The Federal Government needs to make IT&T a national priority, with a clear objective of making Australia a leader in its production and use. Australia should be one of the best locations for IT&T investment.

Morality aside, enacting confusing and restrictive legislation in one of Australia’s high-growth sectors does not seem the best policy.

Richard Keeves is managing director of Internet Business Corporation Ltd.

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