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“Information that is born digitally should be managed digitally” – QLD Government – myth-buster on signatures.

If you have engaged in the procurement process, it is likely you have encountered some sort of formal approval requirement. Whether it is via email, software or a physical (wet) signature.

Whilst the use of e-signatures has been contemplated by legislation as far back as 1999 via the Electronic Transactions Act 1999 (Cth), the recent epidemic has brought the use of e-signatures back into the forefront of legal, parliamentary, and general business discussion.

 With COVID’s impact on how we do business in Australia, this “new normal” as described by the Australian Government – Department of Health, has led to significant changes in how we work with one another. As we become more mobile, simply walking to an approver’s office, discussing the procurement requirement, and obtaining a signature may not be as easy as it once was for everyone.

With many people being swamped with emails, and certain software’s cost and training barriers for newer or smaller businesses, electronic signature platforms such as DocuSign are finding a market here in Australia as well as the international market.

The Queensland Government has shown support for the use of e-signatures. This can be seen through a plethora of notices, articles and even legislation. Examples of this are:

  • Office of the Chief Advisor – Procurement Advisory Notice 13/2020 For buyers – Use of electronic signatures and witnessing documents.
  • RTA’s Announcement that they will accept digital signatures on RTA forms (March 2021);
  • Queensland Government – Implement and use digital signatures (May 2021)
  • Queensland Government – Procuring During and Emergency (July 2021)
  • COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020 (Expired Dec 2020)

Benefits

Whilst the Queensland Government has made their opinion on the use of e-signatures clear, there are plenty of operational and commercial benefits that private entities, that do not deal with Government Procurement, can take advantage of by making the change, these include:

  • Reduced labour and materials costs from printing, faxing and physical filing;
  • Better utilisation of employee time;
  • Quicker turn around for procurement processes via a collaborative approach to document review and approval, which mitigates project delays due to procurement activities;
  • Improved storage practices enabling ease of access to key documents when required;
  • Easier and cheaper than implementing a purchasing software to manage approvals, with very little training required;
  • Increased security due to digital footprints and version control; and
  • Reduction in operator error and improperly executed documents, by clearly identifying where to sign, whilst also limiting where certain approvers from being able to sign where they shouldn’t.

Things to keep in mind

The jury is still out when it comes to the execution of deeds and certain agreements via electronic signature. Different states have taken different approaches to the legality of this process with some even implementing temporary legislation to further promote e-signatures during the pandemic. Unfortunately, the temporary legislation in Queensland has expired. 

The good news for advocates for innovation and efficiency is that the Federal Government has put together the Deregulation Taskforce with an aim to (amongst other items) expand the range of documents that can be validly signed electronically, with an aim to finalising the legislation for this phase by the end of 2021. A paperless future could be around the corner.

Please note all content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as legal advice. As the legality of electronic signatures for certain documents differ depending on the state or the expiry date of certain legislation, you should seek counsel for your own circumstances.

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