Google Inc. may be laying the groundwork for the launch of an electronic payment system in Australia.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission recently issued Google an authority to provide deposit and payment services, the Herald Sun of Melbourne reported in its Friday edition.

The license authorizes Google to handle digital transactions, but not cash purchases, the report said.

Google, of Mountain View, Calif., said in the report that it was still mulling the concept and that it had not yet decided whether to push into payments in Australia.

Google said it applied for the license because it would need one if it decided to move forward with the payments system.

Google offers a service in the United States called Google Checkout that stores consumer payment card data, and that merchants use to accept credit and debit card payments.

Unlike the online payment service offered by eBay Inc.'s PayPal Inc., Checkout does not allow purchasers to store a balance.

PayPal's service is offered in Australia, which has expressed an interest in offering more online payment options.

Last year eBay announced plans to require Australian consumers to use PayPal to pay for most online auctions, a move that eBay said would improve security.

Consumer groups complained that the plan would unfairly restrict consumers' payment options.

Australia's central bank also opposed the idea, and eBay eventually withdrew the proposal.