MS TIERNEY (Minister for Training and Skills) (11:31:30) — It is pleasing that the opposition has indicated that they do not oppose this bill. The bill consolidates, modernises and streamlines legal processes to improve accessibility and equality before the law. These are much-needed reforms. Currently there is not one guiding act that clearly sets out how these important processes should be done. The bill provides a clear process for the administration of oaths, affirmations, affidavits and statutory declarations and the certification of copy documents. It sets out how an oath or affirmation may be made, the basic requirements of how an affidavit is made, how a stat dec is made, how a copied document may be certified as a true copy of an original document and offences for dishonest conduct regarding affidavits, statutory declarations and certified copies of documents. It also resolves gaps and inconsistencies in current processes and removes obsolete practices and terminology. This bill is about making the process simpler, clearer and fairer for Victorians.
There are also minor technical amendments, and I ask for them to be circulated. I understand the parties are aware of this, and I am happy to take people through in the committee stage.
Government amendments circulated by Ms TIERNEY (Minister for Training and Skills) pursuant to standing orders.
Ms TIERNEY — There are a number of matters that were raised. Particularly I think Mr Morris raised a number of questions that have arisen from local honorary justices in the Ballarat region. They are very similar to questions that were raised, probably by the same constituents, with the member for Buninyong, Mr Geoff Howard. He sent correspondence to the Attorney-General and received answers to all of those questions. I am happy to have the Attorney-General’s correspondence back to the member for Buninyong tabled, and that might provide some assistance to Mr Morris.
Mr Morris did raise the issue of who decides if the person presenting has a cognitive impairment, and it is asserted that this is not made clear in the bill. In response can I say that under clause 8 of the bill the person administering the oath or affirmation is to determine whether a person has a cognitive impairment. The person administering the oath is not required to undertake a forensic examination of the person’s cognitive capacity but should use their best efforts to determine if a person has a cognitive impairment. A person with a cognitive impairment can make a similar form of oath or affirmation and say, ‘I promise to tell the truth’.
Section 101 of the Evidence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1958 (EMPA) already provides that an oath may be taken or an affirmation may be made in accordance with the form specified in the EMPA or a similar form. The purpose of the amendment is to make clear what will be regarded as a similar form of the oath or affirmation in the schedule in particular circumstances of a child or cognitively impaired person. If a person administering the oath or affirmation decides the person has capacity to understand the nature of the oath or affirmation in accordance with paragraph 8 of the code of conduct for honorary justices but by virtue of being a child or having a cognitive impairment may have difficulty with the usual form of words, then the law will be clear on how the process can be tailored to their needs.
There was a question about where an officer refuses to administer an oath or affirmation and what protection is afforded to the officer who refuses to administer the oath or affirmation. With respect to that, the assertion is that this is not made clear, only that the officer must refuse to administer the oath or affirmation. There were similar questions asked in relation to who is a prescribed person and who is a member of a prescribed class or persons; clarification was wanted on that. There was also an issue of who will supply the prescribed words for the declarant to say to the newly expanded list of prescribed witnesses.
A question has been put in relation to a scheme of certification of copies. It is asserted that the proposed certification scheme does not give authorised officers the ability to refuse to certify any presented document where there is a doubt about the authenticity of the document and to do so without penalty, and that neither does the certification scheme specify that all identity documents which are accompanying applications for original documents from the Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages must be certified only by a police officer or an honorary justice located at a Victorian police station. Then there are also issues in relation to the words of clause 48, and that ‘or suspects’ should be added after ‘knows’, so as to read before paragraphs (a) and (b):
A person must not certify a copy of a document as a true copy of the original document if the person knows or suspects that …
I think these are matters that were raised with Mr Morris by his local constituents, and I am sure in committee he will let me know whether they are the same questions that he believes constituents raised with the member for Buninyong in the Assembly, Geoff Howard. As I said, I am happy to go through each and every one of those, but to enable a more efficient process in the operation of the Council’ s business I am more than happy to provide the Council with the Attorney-General’s letter to Geoff Howard that deals with issues of cognitive impairment, an officer refusing to administer an oath or affirmation, statutory declaration witnesses and prescribed words, certification offences, the birth, deaths and marriages issues in terms of identity documents, and the training information and education and applicable principles.
In closing, in terms of summing up this matter, I look forward to the committee stage. I take this opportunity to mention the minor technical amendment that I asked to be circulated at the beginning of my contribution. This is an amendment that is about extending the default commencement date of the bill to 1 March 2019, and as I understand it, it can be dealt with as a technical amendment. The Oaths and Affirmations Bill 2017 was introduced into the Assembly in June last year, with the second reading in September, and at that time it was anticipated the bill would be passed by October.
The bill was drafted with a default commencement date of 1 September 2018, with the intention of providing a 12-month commencement period. That 12-month commencement period was to ensure time to develop the necessary regulations and changes to court rules and forms; secondly, to ensure that the significant number of regulations that will require consequential amendment will be prepared in advance of the commencement date; and also to conduct a comprehensive communication strategy, which includes consultation, public awareness, outreach and training about the changes.
It is a longer than usual commencement period, but it is necessary due to the significant number of affected agencies and organisations far beyond the usual Department of Justice and Regulation stakeholder reach. The unamended default commencement will not allow organisations to adequately prepare their forms and their staff ahead of the changes, and the consequential regulations will not be completed. I can give in the committee stage examples of how that might affect agencies, but by and large it is a pretty straightforward and minor technical amendment to this bill. Having said that, I look forward to the committee stage and look forward to this bill being passed, as it does provide a simpler and more streamlined process for how we go about our business in this area.
Motion agreed to.
Read second time.