Thou shalt telecommute, says Senator Coonan

The federal government has set up a committee to pave the way for more Australians to live the telecommuter lifestyle.

The federal government has set up a committee to pave the way for more Australians to live the telecommuter lifestyle. However the move won't go as far as recent legislation in the United States which requires government departments to support teleworkers.

The Federal Minister for Communications, Information Technology and Arts Senator Helen Coonan today announced the formation of the Australian Telework Advisory Committee (ATAC), which will "advise on options and impediments to the development of telework for employees and businesses by February 2006".

"Our geography imposes particular demands on our working lives," said Senator Coonan in a statement, "and the Australian Government recognises a public interest in the accelerated development of telework. It provides the means for businesses to overcome 'the tyranny of distance' and allow their staff to operate effectively from diverse or remote locations."

The release claimed that ATAC would include representatives from "a wide range of peak industry bodies, large and small business and government agencies." Some of the organisations listed in the release included IBM, the Internet Industry Association, Toshiba, the Australian Telecommunications Users Group, the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, and the Department of Family and Community Services, although many other government departments are also listed.

ATAC will provide specific advice on the current status of telework in Australia and overseas, emerging telework trends and outcomes that would flow from an accelerated uptake of telework arrangements in the domestic workforce. In addition ATAC will examine the range of issues affecting telework takeup and well as recommendations designed to promote the effective adoption of telework arrangements.

The news may be the local example of a more global trend of governments promoting telework. The United States government recently passed legislation requiring several major federal agencies (such as the Commerce, Justice and State departments) to permit their employees to telework. If they don't, the agencies could lose a US$5 million slice of their budgets.

Congressman Frank Wolf, who authored the particular telework provision in the legislation, said at the time: "With all the advances in technology today, there is just no reason to strap yourself in a metal box every morning only to drive to an office where you sit in front of a computer all day."

The provision also withholds US$5 million from the budgets of the Small Business Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission until each expands its telecommuting policy to include all eligible workers.

In addition, departments are also required to report the number of workers who telecommute to the Appropriations Committee on a quarterly basis and designate a "telework coordinator."