by: Anthony Walsh – Brisbane Celebrant
For some time now the Australian Government has been looking at making changes to the Marriage Act and as a result, on 20 March 2013, the Attorney-General recently introduced two Bills into Parliament. These Bills have had the effect of:
- Implementing a cost recovery program under the title of Celebrant Administration and Fees to establish the infrastructure for the fees and charges and operating costs of the Marriage Celebrant Section. This essentially means that Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrants will be charged an annual cost recovery levy, the celebrant registration charge. In 2013 the annual registration charge has been set at $240 and the Application Fee to become a celebrant will now be $600.
- The proposal to use of an Australian passport to establish marrying couples’ date and place of birth to be accepted in place of an original Certificate of Birth.
- The obligation for the Registrar of Marriage Celebrants to review the performance of celebrants, which has been set at every five years, will be replaced with an annual online performance questionnaire which is “aimed at enabling a more regular and targeted approach to monitoring the performance of celebrants”.
The Bills have both been referred to the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs to report back to the Parliament by 18 June 2013. This is a common practice for Bills to be referred to relevant Senate Committees for consideration.
The amendments and new provisions will not come into effect until both Bills are passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate and the Governor-General has given Royal Assent. The government will also make amendments to the Marriage Regulations 1963 to support the changes.
Serious concerns arise out of this action by the government. The Marriage Celebrants Section of the Attorney Generals Department already has the power to monitor celebrants and discipline them for doing the wrong thing. The disciplinary measures include the issue of formal warnings, invoking fines, suspension, deregistration and even a prison term if the matter breaches the law.
My appointment as a celebrant was for life and the Government is now reneging on this with the introduction of an annual appointment based on being given the choice to pay a renewal fee – or not – and my compliance with the conditions set out by the Marriage Celebrant Section. While I agree that there registered celebrants who do not comply with the conditions and the celebrant’s ‘Code of Practice’, to put all celebrants into that basket is offensive and morally and ethically wrong.
The Marriage Celebrant Section should just do its job and use its already given power to weed out the offenders and continue to support those who are professional in their work as a civil celebrant. If the resources of the section are such that they cannot cope with the demand and responsibility now, then how is it going to cope with the new way of operating? Perhaps consideration should be being given to returning to putting a cap on the number of celebrants operating in the country.
It is frightening to even consider what other conditions the Marriage Celebrant Section has up its sleeve for the future? With the new powers proposed under the Act, will they set a minimum number of wedding ceremonies to be solemnised in a year in order to qualify, forced upgrading of qualifications, compulsory retirement?
It is also interesting to note that religious celebrants and Births Deaths and Marriages office staff are not scrutinised as heavily as civil celebrants. They too are celebrants, so why not? It is shameful that politicians and officials are being conned into believing that if celebrants were to work better, advertise more, and looked more professional then everything will be okay. It is not the individual celebrant’s fault, it is the fault of the system and I lay the blame directly at the door of the Marriage Celebrant Section for not doing what they are already empowered to do. It seems that they just fell apart and just could not cope when the restriction on the number of celebrants was lifted and the number of Authorised Celebrants rose sharply and continues to do so.
Marriage ceremonies are a public expression of one of the most precious and beautiful of all gifts, the love that two people have in their hearts for one another. Celebrants do everything they can to ensure wedding ceremonies are remembered for all the right reasons and for some of us it is our primary business.
Let’s be fair in all of this, not only is retrospective legislation unreasonable and unacceptable in Australia, a number of the proposed changes to the Marriage Act have not been well thought out or due consideration been given to the long term implications and tends. It is the responsibility of the government to get it right. In this respect then, the time must be taken, not to just rush things though to meet the 1 July 2013 self imposed deadline, but to ‘just get it right’.
Anthony Walsh CMC, is a qualified, registered Civil Marriage Celebrant, Brisbane celebrant, public speaker and workplace trainer. Anthony’s personality, relaxed style, and commitment to the betterment of people around him, stand him in good stead as a marriage celebrant. His web site is www.marriagecelebrantservices.com.au