​Australia gets a 'Parliamentary Friends of Blockchain' group

Senators Sam Dastyari and Jane Hume have crossed the political divide to form the Parliamentary Friends of Blockchain group.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Australian blockchain sector received a boost on Tuesday with the formation of the Australian Parliamentary Friends of Blockchain group, to be led by Liberal Senator Jane Hume and Labor Senator Sam Dastyari.

The Parliamentary Friends of Blockchain group is expected to provide a forum for members and senators to meet and interact on all things cryptocurrency.

"The opportunities for government, academia, and the private sector are enormous," Hume said, speaking at an event at Parliament House on Tuesday.

According to The Age, on the topic of bitcoin, Dastyari told Parliament the digital currency had now become a serious financial player, and said Australia risks being left behind if it does not pursue developing its own official currency and blockchain to use on the market.

The remarks followed the Labor and Coalition senators calling upon the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to embrace bitcoins as an official form of currency or risk the future competitiveness of Australia's AU$145 billion-a-year financial services industry.

When delivering its 2017-18 Budget, the federal government announced it would be aligning the GST treatment of digital currency, including bitcoin, with regular money as of July 1 2017, in a bid to promote the growth of Australia's fintech industry.

"This measure will ensure purchases of digital currency are no longer subject to the GST. Removing double taxation on digital currencies will remove an obstacle for the financial technology (fintech) sector to grow in Australia," the government's Budget papers explained.

This followed the Australian Senate Economics References Committee in August saying the GST treatment of digital currencies is one of the most pressing concerns for Australian businesses that are using currencies such as bitcoin, and called for changes to the GST Act to amend the definition of money.

Nicholas Giurietto, CEO and managing director of the Australian Digital Commerce Association (ADCA), also addressed the meeting on Tuesday, saying that smart countries will "take advantage of blockchain technology to renew and strengthen their economies and cement their place among a small group of global economic leaders".

ADCA, the industry body for Australian businesses investing in blockchain, called for ongoing close co-operation between government, regulators, and industry in advancing the adoption of blockchain technology in Australia.

"Commercialisation of blockchain solutions almost always requires a rethinking not just of existing processes but of the architecture of existing systems. This requires deliberate collaboration between policy-makers and industry," Giurietto said.

He also welcomed the formation of the Parliamentary Friends of Blockchain group, calling it a "significant opportunity to enhance dialogue between policymakers and industry".

"I hope that the formation of the Parliamentary Friends of Blockchain comes to be seen as a key moment when Australian business and government came together to press the accelerator pedal on blockchain adoption," he added.

Blockchain development has found itself tangled up in a regulatory delegation-fest between government organisations in Australia, with eight different government bodies overseeing blockchain development to some degree in the country.

Data61 recently said blockchain holds promise as a new foundation for transactions in society, in particular for voting, notarisation, supply chain, registration, and process coordination, in addition to payment-related services; while a handful of universities, corporates, and financial services players are already toying with the immutable record.

Telstra is experimenting with a combination of blockchain and biometric security for its IoT smart home offerings; the Australian Securities Exchange is prepping its blockchain-based equity settlement, asset registration, and clearing platform for rollout later this year; and the Sydney Stock Exchange recently announced a project to instantly settle trades using blockchain technology with the help of Sydney-based Bit Trade Labs.

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