House of Representatives Speech- Marriage Amendment (Celebrant Administration and Fees) Bill 2013

The Marriage Amendment (Celebrant Administration and Fees) Bill 2013 will help to improve the services celebrants provide to couples and their families on their wedding day.

It implements a 2011 budget decision to introduce cost recovery for Commonwealth registered marriage celebrants in Australia, and makes minor amendments related to the administration of the Marriage Celebrants Program.

The Marriage Amendment (Celebrant Administration and Fees) Bill 2013 will help to improve the services celebrants provide to couples and their families on their wedding day.

It implements a 2011 budget decision to introduce cost recovery for Commonwealth registered marriage celebrants in Australia, and makes minor amendments related to the administration of the Marriage Celebrants Program.

We all know that a couple’s wedding day is one of the most important moments in their lives. Celebrants are an essential feature of many modern weddings, and their numbers have significantly increased as many people move away from traditional religious marriage ceremonies.

Recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that 71 per cent of marriages in 2011 were conducted by a civil celebrant.

The Commonwealth has constitutional responsibility for marriage matters, including the Marriage Celebrants Program. The program, established in 1973 under the Marriage Act 1961, seeks to provide marrying couples who do not want to have a religious ceremony with a meaningful alternative to a registry wedding.

The great majority of celebrants perform this role to a very high standard. However, the quality of services provided by celebrants does vary. Their important role carries significant legal responsibilities and the community is entitled to expect that Commonwealth registered marriage celebrants are suitably equipped to discharge their functions.

The implementation of cost recovery will enable the program to improve education and training services provided to Commonwealth registered marriage celebrants, while also effectively regulating and ensuring quality control for those celebrants. It will also provide the program with resources to better scrutinise aspiring celebrants prior to registration.

These measures will in turn ensure professional and legally correct services are delivered to marrying couples in Australia.

The administration of the program includes assessing and authorising new marriage celebrants for registration, reviewing celebrant performance, resolving complaints about celebrants, handling a large volume of inquiries from celebrants, producing information and guidance materials, managing ongoing professional development arrangements and engaging with celebrants and their peak group.

Many of these functions are carried out by the Registrar of Marriage Celebrants, a departmental officer with specific authority under the Marriage Act.

From 1 July 2013, Commonwealth registered marriage celebrants and celebrant applicants will meet cost recovery requirements.

Exemptions will be made available from the fee in certain circumstances, including for celebrants in remote areas to ensure continued access to celebrancy services for those communities.

During the extensive consultation process, celebrants have been advised of the structure and quantum of the fee. Subject to the passage of this, from 1 July 2013, there will be:

a $600 registration application fee for prospective celebrants seeking registration;

a $240 annual celebrant registration charge imposed on all Commonwealth registered celebrants; and

a $30 application processing fee for seeking an exemption from the annual celebrant registration charge, the registration application fee or annual ongoing professional development obligations.

The Marriage Amendment (Celebrant Administration and Fees) Bill provides legislative authority for some of the cost recovery arrangements, as well as outlining the operation of the system.

This bill also makes some minor administrative amendments to enhance the operation of the program. This includes the introduction of an Australian passport as an additional identity document that a celebrant may use to establish a marrying party’s place and date of birth.

These amendments will allow the Attorney-General’s Department to provide a stronger regulatory and information service to existing and aspiring Commonwealth registered marriage celebrants.

This will in turn ensure that marrying couples are legally and validly married through a professional service, as they should rightfully expect on their wedding day.