New Legislation Has Major Benefits

  • Maurice Williamson

Legislation encouraging organisations to share their knowledge of Y2K issues and reducing the fear of legal liability was introduced into the house today by Minister responsible for Y2K the Hon Maurice Williamson.

"Entitled the Year 2000 Information Disclosure Bill, it closely follows similar legislation recently passed in Australia which has become commonly known as Good Samaritan Legislation."

The United States has also passed such legislation, while other countries including the United Kingdom have still not decided.

"Some organisations have gained valuable knowledge of Y2K problems through reviewing and testing their business operations, but won't share their information for fear of being sued," Mr Williamson said.

"We must do all we can to encourage the free flow of information and alleviate any potential problems."

The legislation comes after the Government last year established the Y2K Readiness Commission and the Y2K Project Office within the State Services Commission and aims to further reduce risks associated with the year 2000 problem.

"Some businesses currently fear that if they disclose information such as test results on systems, others acting on the information may sue them for negligence in the event of failure. This is limiting the ability of larger organisations to assist smaller ones."

"The best way to avoid civil proceedings at the moment is to avoid making such statements, which means valuable information is not made available to benefit others. This legislation will encourage businesses to share valuable knowledge.

"While the jury is still out on how effective the legislation can be - being voluntary - we have received assurances from leading organisations in the business community that they see it as an important step."

The legislation draws a balance between reducing the liability for making incorrect but honestly intended statements, while not reducing the liability for making reckless or dishonest statements. It also protects the existing rights of consumers as such statements cannot be made for the sole purpose of inducing customers.

To be protected by the Bill statements must relate to the Year 2000 date problem, apart from a number of exceptions. Civil proceedings cannot be brought against a person in relation to a statement protected by the Bill and such a statement is not admissible as evidence in a civil action.

The Bill will be passed to a Select Committee for a short period of consideration.

"While the intention of the Bill is simple and logical, any amendment to the legislative framework carries some risk and we must be sure the legislation cannot be used for something other than its intended purpose. The Select Committee process will give us that assurance."