As part of its commitment to having a majority of government services in electronic format by 2001, the Government introduced the Electronic Transactions Act (1999) and Electronic Transactions Regulations (2000) last week.
The Act and Regulations are considered to be key components of the Government's legal framework for the online environment as set out in its Strategic Framework for the Information Economy.
The Act provides a "light-handed" legal framework to support and encourage business and consumer confidence in the use of electronic commerce, the Federal Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, said.
The regulations will identify a wide range of Commonwealth legislation to which the Act would apply, he said.
The Act will allow Australians to use the internet to submit "legally sound" electronic documents to a range of government departments and agencies. The new rules will also allow users to communicate with the Government electronically, Williams said.
Among other changes, citizens will be able to lodge legal assistance applications for family law matters electronically, and apply for access to the Freedom of Information Act online, Williams said.
After July 1, 2001 the Act will apply to all Commonwealth laws except those that are specifically excluded from its application.
The legislation that came into force over the weekend forms the basis of a uniform national legislative scheme for the future.