As a leading professional services firm, KPMG Australia (KPMG) strives to contribute to the debate that is shaping the Australian economy. We are committed to meeting the requirements of all our stakeholders – not only the organisations we audit and advise, but also employees, governments, regulators and the wider community. KPMG welcomes the opportunity to provide a response to the consultation paper on a common pathway forward for digital execution of statutory declarations and deeds (the consultation paper) released by the Deregulation Taskforce of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C).
KPMG supports the Australian Government's commitment to implement smart, modern systems, settings and regulation through its Digital Economy Strategy. Electronic execution of documents offers increased flexibility and a reduction in time and costs for businesses. It is critical that we do not lose the gains that have been made in this area through the introduction of temporary measures that have enabled greater use of electronic signatures and audio‑visual witnessing of documents in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. KPMG strongly supports the Australian Government’s intention to make permanent changes to the Corporations Act in this regard.
KPMG regularly uses statutory declarations and deeds when working with clients. These documents are required by legislation and regulators across various Australian jurisdictions. The cost of execution can increase dramatically where physical witnesses and wet signatures are required. Recent advances in technology can ease the requirement of physical execution in favour of electronic execution, resulting in significant time and cost savings. The disruption from COVID-19 has demonstrated that technologies to create secure, accessible and consistent pathways for executing these important documents can be embraced, whilst maintaining the paper‑based option.
Providing effective means of digitally executing documents across international borders is essential in assisting Australian businesses to thrive in the global economy. KPMG notes that reform must be achieved in a system where measures that enhance convenience and accessibility sit alongside measures that maintain the integrity of current document execution processes. KPMG supports the principles for reform set out in the consultation paper, and recommends that several additional principles could be considered, specifically reliability, security, consistency, accessibility and certainty.
Furthermore, KPMG welcomes the proposal in the consultation paper to improve national consistency, since all jurisdictions in Australia have their own laws and regulations governing statutory declarations and deeds, and there are inconsistent document requirements across jurisdictions. This can add unnecessary complexity when executing documents and undermine confidence in the electronic system.
KPMG’s submission directly addresses the consultation questions at section two and makes 16 findings in section one.
In summary, we need to modernise document execution and move away from required clauses as “signed, sealed and delivered". To achieve this, clarity will be needed around how a deed can be electronically signed, virtually witnessed and delivered over the internet while still being enforceable.
KPMG looks forward to continued engagement with PM&C and the Deregulation Taskforce as they develop their final policy approach to digital execution of statutory declarations and deeds in the coming months.