In a bid to harmonise State and Territory legislation, and to update Australian contract law with digital technology, the Australian Contract Law Discussion Paper has been released by the Commonwealth Government.

The paper calls for submissions in response to the issues relating to enforceability of contracts in Australia and the ease of maintaining contractual relations with our top four trade partners: Japan, China, the Republic of Korea and the United States of America. This is due to the fact that our system is not unified across Australia and Australian contractual law differs significantly with our major trading partners.  

Attorney General Nicola Roxon feels that if the reforms can achieve a reduction in complexity in the law, accessibility will be improved, which could lead to better legal advice from a greater number of legal professionals for everyday Australians and small businesses. In turn, the number of disputes arising from contractual issues in need of resolution through the courts will decline. This is thought to be likely to significantly reduce costs for businesses and government, and relieve pressure on the workload of the courts.

Key propositions outlined by the Australian Contract Law Reform Report include:  

  • simplification and removal of superfluous technicalities;
  • development of basic standards of conduct;
  • harmonisation between the Australian States and Territories; and
  • internationalisation of law to facilitate cross-border trade and investment.  

The paper sets out several options falling along the continuum which at one end has no action taken at all, and at the other will significantly overhaul the contract laws in Australia.

Those options include:  

  • a concise restatement of existing law in a single text;
  • simplification to eliminate unnecessary complexity; and
  • full scale reform, significantly changing the substance of contract law.  

This will be a discussion to watch.