Government undergoes conversion on Y2K law

The government is rushing through Y2K 'good samaritan' legislation it rejected last year as unnecessary. The Year 2000 Information Disclosure Bill was introduced to Parliament yesterday by the Minister responsible for Y2K, Maurice Williamson. The bill, which will be briefly considered by a select committee, comes in a week of bad news on public sector Y2K readiness.

The government is rushing through Y2K "good samaritan" legislation it rejected last year as unnecessary.

The Year 2000 Information Disclosure Bill was introduced to Parliament yesterday by the Minister responsible for Y2K, Maurice Williamson. Like similar legislation in the US and Australia, it is aimed at encouraging organisations to share information about Y2K issues.

The bill, which will be passed to a select committee for a short period of consideration, comes in a week where both the auditor general and the government's own Y2K Readiness Commission raised serious concerns about compliance in government and local government - with services such as hospitals, water and sewerage at risk without urgent action.

The government announced the formation of a review team dedicated to public sector sites - of which nearly 500 were indentified - on recept of a readiness report from its own Y2K Task Force last September. Local bodies and government entities have been required to pay for the services of the review team, but Williamson indicated at the time of September's announcement that such spending would have to come from existing budgets.

The US government's Year 2000 Information and Readiness Disclosure Act was passed into law last October, little more than a month after such a measure had been rejected in the Y2K task force report - in part because the task force did not believe the US measure would proceed to law.

Basil Logan, chair of the Y2K task force and now head of the readiness commission, admitted last year that given the American move "we will monitor and review the situation," regarding good samaritan laws.

By yesterday, Williamson was citing the very arguments put by proponents last year.

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

"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."

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 nill and such a statement is not admissible as evidence in a civil action.

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