Government introduces reforms to modernise statutory declarations

Reforms include permanent use of digital execution, electronic signatures and video-link witnessing

Government introduces reforms to modernise statutory declarations

The government has introduced new legislation to modernise commonwealth statutory declarations, bringing them into the digital age.

This joint initiative by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, Minister for Finance Katy Gallagher, and Minister for Government Services Bill Shorten marked a significant shift away from traditional ink and paper methods by permanently using digital execution, electronic signatures and video-link witnessing.

Digital statutory declarations could save an estimated $156m annually and hundreds of thousands of work hours while fostering productivity in the private sector. Australians have spent approximately 9 million hours executing and processing more than 3.8 million statutory declarations each year. Historically, these documents have been strictly paper-based, requiring they be witnessed in person and signed in ink.

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However, the new legislation that attorney-general Mark Dreyfus recently announced will permanently adopt the measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing electronic signatures and video-link witnessing.

Historically, these documents have been strictly paper-based, requiring they be witnessed in person and signed in ink. Nonetheless, traditional paper-based methods will remain valid for those who prefer them. The bill did not remove the ability for Australians to continue executing statutory declarations through the traditional, paper-based method should they wish to do so. All three methods will be an equally valid and legally effective form of Commonwealth statutory declaration.

The government recognised that any digital option must have strong safeguards that protect against fraud and misuse of personal information. Consequently, the bill includes a range of provisions to ensure transparency and accountability and a requirement for approved online platforms and identity services to demonstrate that they comply with privacy laws and have robust fraud and security arrangements.

Additionally, the bill prohibits approved online platforms from retaining copies of statutory declarations, noting that they can hold particularly sensitive personal information. There is also an annual reporting requirement to the parliament on the operation of the online execution platform.

The government expects these reforms to benefit all Australians, seeing a more convenient and efficient statutory declaration process - particularly those in rural, remote or regional parts of Australia.

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