Strategy sets pace - but tax must wait

The government's new e-commerce strategy puts firm dates and deadlines on a swathe of practical initiatives, but its commitment to 'ensure an appropriate tax environment' for e-commerce remains less clear.

The government's new e-commerce strategy puts firm dates and deadlines on a swathe of initiatives, but its commitment to "ensure an appropriate tax environment" for e-commerce remains less clear.

The desire for changes to the tax environment among the mostly business suit-clad crowd that heard IT minister Paul Swain's address at the e-commerce summit yesterday was betrayed by the murmuring and scattered applause at the suggestion by keynote speaker Don Tapscott (who preceded Swain in a teleconferenced speech) that economies needed a tax system that encouraged talent to stay.

But any major initiatives remain buried in the government's broder inquiry into the tax system, which will not report back until 2002.

"The reason for that is that we said at the last election that we would not make any major structural change to the tax system in New Zealand within an election cycle," said Swain afterwards.

"Any proposed changes that come from that inquiry will be taken to the electorate in 2002. I think that is the right way to do it. The coalition government should be putting firmly forward what its view and letting people decide, rather than hi-jacking it halfway through the process."

Swain noted the response to Tapscott's suggestion – but added that Tapscott had also said a well-funded education system - a goal that required a strong revenue base - was essential too.

Elsewhere in the strategy released yesterday, the government signed up to a range of practical inititiatives, including the development of a public key infrastructure that will be available to the private sector, in its new e-commerce strategy.

June 30 next year is the key date for many initiatives. By that time it aims to:

• Have a public key infrastructure (PKI) encryption policy published.

• Have 40% of all public services forms available online via its primary Internet portal New Zealand Government Online.

• Have information and online payments systems established on NZGO.

• Have passed the Electronic Transactions Bill, which provides an equal environment for paper and electronic transactions.

• Have passed the Crimes Amendment Bill, which addresses computer crime.

• Have the Ministry of Economic Development report to ministers on the implications for New Zealand of acceding to WIPO treaties on Internet copyright.

The PKI initiative will be hatched within a secure inter-agency e-mail pilot involving Treasury, the State Services Commission and the Department of the Prime Minister and cabinet, which is due to launch by the end of this month.

Where IT minister Paul Swain's Labour Online draft policy last year positioned the government as "leader and key enabler" of e-business and e-commerce, the new strategy emphasises that "leadership is a shared responsibility between government, business, and the broader community."

The "vision" section of the paper declares that "choices about new technology and the exploitation of opportunities must be led by the private sector," while government ensures an appropriate regulatory environment, promotes New Zealand's interests overseas, uses existing agencies such as TradeNZ and Technology New Zealand to support business and takes its own process and service delivery online.

In keeping with this emphasis, an E-Commerce Action Team will be established to support the implementation of the strategy. The team will be drawn from central and local government, business, the education sector and Maori and community organizations. It will have a private sector chair and a secretariat based in the Ministry of Economic Development.

The team will be responsible for shepherding the broad range of initiatives outlined in the strategy, including co-ordinating the public and private sector drive to facilitate the uptake of e-commerce, setting up a research programme and advising government.

The action team will operate from March next year, subsequent to a report to government from an establishment group due by December.

One government commitment that does not, however, have a date or any detail attached is that to "ensure an appropriate tax environment that takes into account the growth of e-commerce."

The strategy also highlights human capital as the key and commits government to "work with the telecommunications industry to ensure that every school has sufficient internet access to enable its use as an everyday learning tool."

Jobs and skills in information and communications technology will be the emphasis of a number of programmes, including some targeted at "those disadvantaged in the labour market". Distance and workplace learning will also be promoted and tertiary institutions will be encouraged to "meet the technology and managerial needs of New Zealanders in a rapidly changing environment".

The strategy is available online at:

http://www.med.govt.nz/consumer/elcom/strategy/index.html

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