Statutory Declarations Amendment Bill 2023
Federation Chamber, 13th September 2023
Dr LEIGH (Fenner—Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury, Assistant Minister for Employment) (17:54): In my early 20s, as a law student, I decided that I wanted to become a justice of the peace. The process then was that you wrote to your local member of parliament, who, in my case, was the Liberal member for Northcott, Bruce Baird. He was quite happy to support me as a justice of the peace. I did so because I wanted to help out in the community, and I was struck by the number of times I'd encountered people who need a statutory declaration witnessed but were unable to find somebody to do so. Every 10 seconds in Australia a statutory declaration is filled in, amounting to some 3.8 million statutory declarations a year and costing some 900,000 hours. Those statutory declarations might involve evidence in a court proceeding; they might involve issues around child custody.
This significant modernisation ensures that, rather than requiring statutory declarations to be carried out in the traditional paper based form with an in-person witnesses, they can also be carried out in two alternative ways: electronically, by allowing electronic signatures and witnessing by an audiovisual communication link; or digitally verified through the use of an approved online platform that verifies the additional identity of the declarant through an approved identity service.
This will be an important efficiency gain for businesses, but it also has a crucial equity dimension. I know that is why the Attorney-General has championed it so strongly. We frequently find that people who want to get a statutory declaration witnessed have to pay for that service. Or, if they can find a free service, it's limited in the length of the statutory declaration or limited in the approach that it takes to attachments. So it is the most vulnerable who often find themselves unable to complete the in-person statutory declarations. Thanks to these reforms, those who are unable to pay for in-person witnessing service will have an alternative approach. I commend the Attorney-General for this important efficiency and equity measure to modernise statutory declarations in Australia.