Legality and enforceability of electronic signatures in Australia*

What are the relevant laws governing electronic signatures in Australia?

The primary federal legislation governing electronic signatures in Australia is the Electronic Transactions Act of 1999 (Cth) (“ETA”) and its implementing regulations, the Electronic Transactions Regulations 2000 (Cth) (“ETR”).

The ETA sets out requirements for valid electronic signatures, consent, and retention of documents for Australian Commonwealth law. Commonwealth legislation includes many regulatory matters and so may affect matters such as privacy consents, consumer law, corporate dealings, security over personal property, some employment matters, and anti-money laundering legislation.

Because of the federal nature of Australia, the States and Territories also have their own electronic signature laws (“Local ETA”), which largely follow the ETA, but include different exemptions and limitations. State and Territory laws cover general contract law including contract formation (i.e. execution of agreements not specifically covered by other laws), execution of deeds, witnessing requirements, and dealings with real property. The relevant Local ETA will also govern any documents being submitted to the State/Territory government and their instrumentalities.

The ETA and ETR (or Local ETA) are not exclusive or definitive. That is, they are one way an electronic signature can be valid, they are not the only way.

Further, documents signed electronically are generally valid and enforceable under Australian law, however, specific types of transactions or documents may be prohibited by law from being executed electronically or an electronic signature may not be expressly recognized as valid.

What constitutes an electronic signature in Australia?

The ETA does not define an electronic signature, but states that an electronic signature is legal and enforceable if it meets the following three requirements (which also apply under each Local ETA):
  • A method (e.g., the type of electronic signature) is used to identify the signer and to indicate the signer’s intention to sign the document;
  • The method used is as reliable as appropriate for the purposes of the communication or is proven to identify the person and indicate their intention; and
  • The signer consents to the method used (with such consent allowed to be expressed or inferred from the circumstances).

Does Australia recognize a SignNow electronic signature as a valid type of electronic signature?

Yes, provided the above requirements are met.

Specifically, customers can use the SignNow’s default Electronic Record and Signature Disclosure template to meet the requirement for obtaining consent from a signatory. However, it is the sole customer’s responsibility to make sure that the text of the disclosure is valid for the customer’s transaction and, if necessary, customize the consent or create their own.
If you have any questions about using the SignNow’s Electronic Record and Signature Disclosure template, contact our support team.

What are examples of electronic signature use cases?

Electronic signatures may generally be used in the following categories of transactions or documents:
  • Human resources
  • Procurement
  • Non-disclosure agreements (provided the agreement is not a deed)
  • Software licensing
  • Healthcare

Using electronic signatures for the below categories or documents is not necessarily prohibited but additional considerations may be relevant or specified requirements will need to be met to allow for successful execution or usage:

  • Corporate resolutions
  • Banking
  • Lending
  • Chattel paper
  • Consumer transactions
  • Government filings
  • Documents to be notarized

Are electronic signatures prohibited or not allowed for any transactions?

The following documents or types of transactions typically do not allow an electronic signature, and instead, require an ink signature (though the exemptions may vary per each State or Territory):
  • Documents that are required to be witnessed
  • Deeds (other than in Victoria, NSW, and Queensland where electronic deeds are now contemplated by the legislation)
  • Powers of attorney
  • Wills
  • Court documents (courts have a separate system for electronic filing where applicable)
  • Documents to be personally served.

Do parties need to consent to use electronic signatures in Australia?

As noted above, the person must consent to the method being used, which, unless otherwise required by law, can be inferred by conduct, or included as an express consent. Further, some transactions require formal consent procedures to be met. For example, formal consent is required for consumer loans regulated by the National Credit Code (“NCC”).

What are the key factors pertaining to the enforcement of electronic signatures in Australia?

Generally, under the ETA and ETR (or Local ETA), provided an electronic signature meets certain conditions prescribed by that legislation and specified above, electronic signatures are deemed as enforceable and admissible as handwritten signatures. However, if the authenticity or integrity of the electronic signature is challenged, the party seeking to enforce the electronic signature may need to produce further evidence to establish its validity.
* Disclaimer: This page is for informational purposes only. This page provides a background on the legal framework for electronic signatures in the respective country. This page is not legal advice and should not be used or relied upon as legal advice. You should seek legal counsel regarding any legal questions you have regarding the use of electronic signatures in this jurisdiction. To the maximum extent permitted by law, airSlate provides this page and the material on this page on an “as-is” basis. airSlate disclaims and makes no representation or warranty of any kind with respect to this page or the material on this page, express, implied, or statutory, including representations, guarantees, or warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, or accuracy.

Last updated: February 2023.