Senate debates

Thursday, 27 March 2014


Marriage (Celebrant Registration Charge) Bill 2014, Marriage Amendment (Celebrant Administration and Fees) Bill 2014; Second Reading

12:18 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

Marriage (Celebrant Registration Charge) Bill 2014

The Marriage (Celebrant Registration Charge) Bill 2014 provides legislative authority for the Government to charge Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrants an annual celebrant registration charge. The administrative arrangements for implementing the celebrant registration charge are provided for in the Marriage Amendment (Celebrant Administration and Fees) Bill 2014, which I will also introduce today.

Separate legislation for the celebrant registration charge is required under section 55 of the Constitution as the charge is a cost recovery levy.

The annual costs of administering the Commonwealth Marriage Celebrants Program will be fully cost recovered through the imposition of this charge. This will enable Government to improve services delivered to Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrants, while also better regulating those celebrants. These measures will in turn facilitate Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrants delivering professional, knowledgeable and legally correct services to marrying couples in Australia.

The Bill provides that the amount of the charge is to be determined by the Minister by legislative instrument and is not to exceed the statutory limit. The statutory limit for the financial year commencing 1 July 2014 is $600 and is to be indexed annually in line with the Consumer Price Index.

However, in line with the expected costs of administering the Program, the charge for the 2014/2015 financial year will be considerably lower than the statutory limit, at $240. This charge will not generate revenue.

Costs are incurred by the Program in administering newly appointed celebrants from the time they are registered until the next annual charge becomes due and payable on 1 July. Where a new celebrant is registered after 1 July in any financial year, a Ministerial determination may provide that different amounts of the celebrant registration charge are payable in respect of that year. This is only fair as the celebrant will not be accessing the resources provided by the Marriage Celebrants Program until registration. It will also ensure that people registered close to 1 July in any given year are not disadvantaged by having to pay a full celebrant registration charge twice in a short period of time.


The imposition of a celebrant registration charge under the Marriage Amendment (Celebrant Registration Charge) Bill is consistent with the Australian Government Cost Recovery Guidelines and will result in enhanced services and support for marriage celebrants. This will assist marriage celebrants to continue to provide couples seeking to marry with professional and legally correct services on what is one of the most important days in the lives of marrying couples.


The Marriage Amendment (Celebrant Administration and Fees) Bill 2014 amends the Marriage Act to introduce cost recovery for the regulation of the Marriage Celebrants Program, and makes minor amendments related to the administration of the Program. This Bill provides the administrative arrangements for the celebrant registration charge which will be implemented by the Marriage (Celebrant Registration Charge) Bill 2014, which I introduced earlier today.

Marriage celebrants are an essential feature of many modern weddings. In 1973, less than 2 per cent of couples were married in a civil ceremony. In 2012, ABS figures show that 71.9 per cent of marriages were performed by civil celebrants. The number of marriage celebrants has increased significantly in recent years from 3334 in September 2003 to over 10,400 Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrants administered by the Program in 2014.

A couple's wedding day is one of the most special and enduring moments in their lives. It is, therefore, important that the person solemnising the marriage does so in accordance with relevant standards and legal obligations.

While the great majority of marriage celebrants perform this role to a very high standard, 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. Failure to do so properly can have devastating consequences for the couple being married.

The existing legislative regime governing marriage celebrants is robust, with statutory provisions to ensure their integrity and professionalism. However, the Program has had limited resources to effectively utilise the legislative provisions available to properly regulate the industry. For example, to respond in a timely way to concerns raised about the

non-compliance of celebrants with their legislative obligations or Code of Practice. Nor has the department been in a position to provide to marriage celebrants the services it would like to support them to meet their obligations.

The implementation of cost recovery will improve the education and training services delivered to Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrants, while better regulating those celebrants. It will also enable improved scrutiny of aspiring marriage celebrants before they are registered. These measures will in turn facilitate Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrants delivering professional, knowledgeable and legally correct services to marrying couples in Australia.

It is proposed that the following fees and charges will apply to the Program:

        Subject to passage of the Bill, these will commence from

        1 July 2014.

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

        An extensive consultation process was undertaken by the Attorney-General's Department. The consultation process elicited significant feedback from marriage celebrants about the charging structure and inclusions, which was considered in the development of these reforms.

        In addition to cost recovery, the Bill also includes administrative improvements to increase the efficiency and operation of the Program.

        Marrying couples must provide their celebrant with evidence of date and place of birth as part of the process of completing their notice of intended marriage. An Australian passport will be included in the range of documentation that an authorised marriage celebrant may receive as evidence. This amendment reflects the reality that many Australian citizens hold an Australian passport, which may be more readily accessible than their birth certificate, in the lead up to an intended marriage.

        The Bill will also remove the requirement to review a marriage celebrant's performance every five years. Instead of all celebrants having their performance reviewed, the focus of attention will be on celebrants about whom there are grounds for concern about their conduct or professional standards as a marriage celebrant. For the majority of celebrants, this will remove the burden of going through a mandatory review process.

        The requirement for the majority of forms in the Marriage Act to be prescribed by the Regulations, or in a prescribed format, will also be removed. Instead, most of these forms, which are administrative in nature, will become forms approved by the Minister. This will remove the need to amend the Marriage Regulations every time a form needs to be updated or modernised. This will facilitate relevant and timely updates to these forms, while maintaining appropriate checks and balances for the available marriage forms.

        The marriage certificate received by marrying couples will remain as a form prescribed in the Marriage Regulations.

        In return for the fee, marriage celebrants can expect improved service and accessibility to the department through an online celebrant portal, a dedicated phone service, enhanced education and guidance materials and a quarterly newsletter. There will also be strengthened application, performance review and complaints handling mechanisms.


        Through the introduction of cost recovery, the Marriage Celebrants Program will be placed on a more secure foundation into the future, ensuring that the high standards Australians rightly expect of Commonwealth-registered celebrants are properly monitored and enforced.

        Ordered that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour.