The President: In the long run

Prins says the legal system must consider changing the way it creates new laws to accommodate the speed of change in the next millenniumIn simple terms, the law exists to provide certainty for people involved in commercial dealings and other arrangements, but it also goes beyond that to sanction "good behaviour" and proscribe "bad behaviour".

Australia's system of laws has been constructed and evolved over a significant period of time in response to identified needs, but this system might not serve so well in the future. In the fast approaching Knowledge Age, there will not be the time for laws to be developed by evolution as has previously been the case.

We need our governments and the community to understand how our society and environment will look and operate in the 21st century. It's vital that we begin now to discuss how various activities will be carried out within this future environment.

Only once we have a clear picture of the future can we create the new laws that are necessary to bring certainty to dealings between people and other entities, or modify existing laws for this emerging environment.

We've recently seen instances of laws being generated without sufficient public discussion -- laws which have the potential to impact on Australia's ability to operate in the Knowledge Age.

The result of this process is that people become disenfranchised, confused or refuse to support legislation created in this manner.

The very certainty which the law seeks to deliver is undermined because of the high likelihood that the law will have to change in the future.

The significance of this is that if we don't have a level of certainty, people will be discouraged from becoming involved in the IT&T industry or from investing in it.

Those investing in the IT&T industry need to have confidence that their investment is protected by a consistent approach to legislation, rather than facing the prospect of constant change, which could impact their ability to make money.

If we have a situation where the law changes every three to four years, it creates an environment where people are trying to make only short-term investments and profit take quickly, which creates instability and additional uncertainty.

In the long run, society will be the loser because we will face a scenario where governments are preoccupied with generating laws, which the commercial and industrial sectors will want amended.

The uncertainty created in the Internet industry with the premature passing of the Government's Internet Regulation legislation is just one example of negative impact this "legislate or bust" approach can have.

Our governments must recognise the danger of regulating without allowing sufficient time to discuss the issues and without a clear understanding of the environment involved.

Prins Ralston is president of the ACS

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