top of page
  • J Huang and S Pettigrove

Australia introduces digitally secured Statutory Declarations


Following legislative changes in November 2023 allowing wider use of electronic signatures and a digital execution option for Commonwealth statutory declarations, the government has now formally enabled the use of myGov to create digital Commonwealth statutory declarations, using your digital identity in place of a witness.


What did the new law change?


The Statutory Declarations Amendment Act 2023 (Act) amends the Statutory Declarations Act 1959 to expand the ways in which statutory declarations can be executed under Commonwealth law. These now include:


  1. traditional paper-based execution, requiring wet-ink signatures and in person witnessing;

  2. electronic execution, through the application of an electronic signature and witnessing via an audio-visual communication link; and

  3. digital execution through the use of an approved online platform.


All three methods will be an equally valid and legally effective form of making a Commonwealth statutory declaration. Among them, the 3rd option means instead of having a witness verify your identity, you can now use an approved digital identity - the use of myGov falls under this option.


The government confirmed that myGov is at present the only approved online platform that can create a digital statutory declaration. However, this is unlikely to remain the case forever. If other private, for-profit, digital execution platforms (e.g Docusign) also satisfy the prescribed technical requirements in the Act and the Statutory Declarations Regulations 2023 (Regulations), then they may be approved for use as well.


What are some of the technical requirements?


The Act and the Regulations apply strict requirements for fraud and privacy protections to approved online platforms and digital service providers. For example:


  • Before they are approved, providers must demonstrate their compliance and accreditation under the Commonwealth digital identity accreditation framework – the Trusted Digital Identity Framework (TDIF) – which contains strict rules and standards for usability, accessibility, privacy protection, security, risk management, fraud control and more.

  • The Act does not allow an approved online platform to save any copies of Commonwealth statutory declarations made using the platform.


How to use myGov to sign statutory declarations?


To create a digital Commonwealth statutory declaration without a witness you must have a digital identity connected to your myGov account. Your digital identity also needs to be at least standard digital identity strength.


Once you have created a digital Commonwealth statutory declaration using myGov, it will have a QR code. The QR code is encrypted with the information provided in the declaration. To verify the authenticity of the declaration, anyone with a paper or digital copy of the declaration can scan the QR code with the myGov app. The text and details on the QR code page can then be compared with the declaration received.


The information displayed through the QR code is not stored on myGov. Instead, it is saved on the QR code itself. myGov retains only the additional information (the key) that is used to decode the information from its encrypted form into readable text.


The important role of Commonwealth statutory declarations


Commonwealth statutory declarations are an important and frequently-used tool by Australians - it is a legal document that contains a written statement about something that the declarant is asserting to be true.


These documents are used to create reliable statements and attest to a variety of events for administrative, commercial, civil and private purposes. It is a criminal offence to intentionally make a false statement in a Commonwealth statutory declaration, carrying a maximum penalty of 4 years imprisonment.


Historically, these documents have been strictly paper-based, requiring them to be witnessed in person and signed in ink. However, the old rules were time and cost consuming. According to modelling undertaken for a 2021 Government consultation process, more than 3.8 million statutory declarations are completed each year by small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and consumers in Australia. It was estimated that SMEs and consumers spent around 9 million hours a year printing and collecting declarations, travelling to authorised witnesses, discussing and filling out declarations with witnesses, making copies and submitting completed declarations.


The Attorney-General also provided important numbers around the time and costs that the Act will save:

Digital statutory declarations could save over $156 million each year, hundreds of thousands of hours and be a productivity winner for the private sector.

Conclusion


The Attorney-General expects the reforms to benefit all Australians seeking a more convenient, and efficient, statutory declaration process - particularly those in rural, remote or regional parts of Australia. He also emphasised that the Act is

in line with the Data and Digital Government Strategy we are committed to embracing digital technologies to improve service delivery.

Each State and Territory has their own rules on statutory declarations, so the new Commonwealth Act will not directly apply to statutory declarations made under these rules. However, it is possible that States and Territories will follow the lead of the federal government and reform their own rules in due course.


Written by Steven Pettigrove and Jake Huang

Comentários


bottom of page