In a significant move toward modernization, the Australian government has introduced legislation to permanently adopt digital execution, electronic signatures, and video-link witnessing for statutory declarations, replacing the traditional ink and paper method.
A joint media release by The Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP, Minister for Finance; Senator the Hon Katy Gallagher, Minister for Government Services; and The Hon Bill Shorten MP, Attorney-General, Cabinet Secretary, outlined the benefits and implications of this legislative move.
Historically, statutory declarations in Australia have relied on paper-based processes, requiring in-person witnessing and signatures in ink. However, the new legislation aims to bring these declarations into the digital age.
The implementation of digital statutory declarations is expected to yield substantial benefits. The government estimates potential savings of over $156 million annually and hundreds of thousands of hours. Moreover, it is anticipated that this shift will boost productivity, particularly in the private sector.
Australians currently spend approximately 9 million hours every year executing and processing more than 3.8 million statutory declarations, according to the government officials. The new legislation, introduced by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, seeks to make permanent the temporary measures introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, which allowed the use of electronic signatures and video-link witnessing for statutory declarations.
One of the key features of the proposed legislation is the introduction of digital execution through the online platform myGov and the myGov ID Digital ID.
To ensure the security and integrity of this digital transition, the legislation includes several safeguards against fraud and misuse of personal information. Approved online platforms and identity services must demonstrate compliance with privacy laws and have robust fraud and security measures in place.
Additionally, the legislation prohibits approved online platforms from retaining copies of statutory declarations, given the sensitive nature of the information they contain. There will also be an annual reporting requirement to the Parliament on the operation of the online execution platform.
Importantly, this change doesn’t eliminate the traditional paper-based method. Australians will retain the option to continue executing statutory declarations using the ink and paper method if they prefer.
All three methods – digital execution, electronic signatures, and traditional paper-based execution – will be equally valid and legally effective for Commonwealth statutory declarations.
The introduction of digital statutory declarations aligns with the Australian government’s Data and Digital Government Strategy, which seeks to leverage digital technologies to enhance service delivery. The legislation’s announcement also notably arrives after the government’s publication of a “National Strategy for Identity Resilience” in June, which recommended the use of biometrics for online identity verification, in recognition of the vulnerabilities of traditional methods to identity theft and fraud.
September 7, 2023 – by the Mobile ID World Editorial Team