Consultation on federal plans to digitise the way that statutory declarations and deeds are executed will be open until Friday 8 October, 2021.
Attorney-General Michaelia Cash announced the consultation in a joint statement with assistant minister to the minister to the prime minister and cabinet Ben Morton on Tuesday.
“This provides us an opportunity to go back to first principles with stakeholders, to future‑proof legislation and, for the first time in the history of federation, provide a common approach to document execution,” Cash said.
“The government is committed to its plan for economic recovery, and modernising document execution will complement our Digital Economic Strategy and other reforms underway to modernise business communications.”
Cash said that feedback from the consultation process would help the government understand how statutory declarations and deeds are used by everyday Australians. This information would then be shared with the treasurers and attorney generals from each jurisdiction on how best to develop a common approach to their execution.
The consultation stems from an agreement last June, struck by the Council on Federal Financial Relations, for all states and territories to work towards a common approach to document execution.
The A-G added that the proposed changes also built on temporary amendments some states had implemented for document execution in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Morton described the initiative was a government effort to modernise document execution — and achieve a deregulation agenda aimed to reduce barriers and make it easier for businesses to grow.
“Giving businesses and individuals access to technologies that make document execution easier, while maintaining safeguards, is the way Australians want to engage digitally,” Morton said.
Dan Bongnar, the general manager of DocuSign Asia Pacific and Japan, welcomed news of the consultation and said he hoped it would deliver ‘much needed’ clarity over the use of electronic signatures.
“These reforms will drive immediate cost and productivity savings for Australian businesses of all types,” Bongnar said.
The Law Council of Australia also welcomed the consultation process, noting that it had already established a national working group to offer expert views on the issue to work with government.
LCA president Dr Jacoba Brasch said that during the constraints of the pandemic, where opportunities to meet and collaborate in person have been stymied, saw technology deliver many benefits.
“It has enabled many sectors, including our courts, to continue operating when they may otherwise have been unable to,” Brasch said.
Over the course of the last 18 months, Brasch added that there was a pressing need for document execution laws to be ‘modernised and harmonised more broadly’.
“When it comes to corporate meetings and document distribution and execution, technology can potentially increase access for all Australians and reduce delays. But there are also risks and we must make sure legislation protects against any possible misconduct or disadvantage due to unequal access to new technologies,” she said.