At first sight this bill does not look to be particularly important, and I am sure in passing that would be an easy assumption to make. But in fact it is one of the more important pieces of legislation that we will pass, because it really is in many ways at the absolute basis of how we function in a modern society. It is the basis of why we have confidence in documents and in transactions and of why people can feel the integrity in the way our system operates. Our economy in fact would fall into disarray in some respects if these processes were not available. Several speakers have mentioned the fact that there has not been any established way of certifying copies of documents. I think people generally just made do with probably the same processes we have for statutory declarations but were never quite sure of whether that was exactly the way to go, and it was very difficult to find out whether in fact it was the way to go. In that respect, this is a good change and an overdue change, and the legislation is worthwhile.
The main clauses of the legislation allow a person to choose whether to make an oath or affirmation, and that is a clarification that is worthwhile as well. It provides that an affirmation has the same effect as an oath. It allows a child or somebody who has some sort of cognitive impairment to swear an oath in a simple form, to say, ‘I promise to tell the truth’. That again is a worthwhile change, because in the end what we are asking of people is, ‘Will you tell the truth?’, and it is at force of punishment. So asking people to swear an oath or take an affirmation in fact means that what they are saying is the truth and that there will be severe consequences if that is not the case. This piece of legislation makes that clear for people — for children and also for anyone that is cognitively impaired.
The bill provides that a person may take an oath even if they do not believe in God and without swearing on any sort of religious text. It allows a person who is deaf, illiterate, blind or, as I have already referred to, cognitively impaired to take an oath, have an affidavit certified or make a statutory declaration by giving assent to a statement that they have had read to them. Again that is a worthwhile change; that is something that has been needed for some time. I have had that situation myself in my own electorate office, where it has been unclear what process should be taken, and this bill does provide that clarity.
It synchronises the list of persons authorised to take an affidavit or witness a statutory declaration in Victoria with the commonwealth system. It makes it an offence to require payment of a fee to take an affidavit, punishable by a fine. It makes the offence of taking an affidavit or statutory declaration if not authorised punishable by a larger fine. It also allows for someone who has falsely purported to be an authorised affidavit taker or statutory declaration witness to be punishable by a fine. The legislation creates a new statutory offence of making a false statutory declaration, which is punishable by a fine of up to 600 penalty points, which in fact is over $93 000, five years imprisonment or both. It creates several new offences concerning false and unlawful copies of documents.
From my perspective and my community’s perspective, this is another good reason why we will not be opposing this legislation, because it really adds protections and continues to add to the integrity required to make sure that oaths and statutory declarations are made in good faith. It provides for a significant consequence for anybody that does not do what they are supposed to do when they have taken such an oath or sworn such a statement. With those few words, I commend the bill to the house.