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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 6198

Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (13:28): These bills seek to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to implement a range of new fees in relation to registered and prospective Commonwealth registered celebrants under the Marriage Celebrants Program. Previously, Commonwealth registered marriage celebrants were not required to pay a fee to be authorised under the Marriage Celebrants Program.

The bills also makes some minor amendments that relate to the administration of that program. The bills seek to implement an annual celebrant registration fee to existing Commonwealth registered celebrants and also registration fees for prospective celebrants who are seeking registration. The bills will also allow for the imposition of an application processing fee for those seeking an exemption from any of the abovementioned fees.

Amendments in relation to the administration of the program seek to allow an Australian passport to be used as evidence to determine the date and place of birth of marrying parties. The requirement for the Registrar of Marriage Celebrants to conduct performance reviews on all marriage celebrants every five years will be removed.

According to the Attorney-General's Department there are currently 10,500 Commonwealth registered marriage celebrants administered by the program in Australia, with an additional 500 being registered each year. Civil ceremonies now account for 71 per cent of all marriage ceremonies conducted in Australia—a substantial increase from two per cent when the program was first established in the early 1970s.

I believe it is worth noting that the industry has considerable concerns about these bills as they are proposed by the government. The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which is inquiring into these bills, received 113 submissions—largely from marriage celebrants themselves—and it is fair to say that marriage celebrants are not in favour of most of the recommendations within this bill, particularly the additional impost of fees.

The government contends that it is necessary to implement the new fees to recover the costs of administering the large number of celebrants under the program. The other amendments relating to the administration of the program are considered to be noncontroversial.

On 21 March 2013, the Senate jointly referred both of these bills for inquiry and report. However, the Senate report is not due until 5.00 pm today. The coalition is very keen to see what recommendations the Senate committee might make in relation to these bills. Of course, depending on what the committee recommends, we reserve our right to have a look at amending this bill in the Senate, although we do not oppose its passage through the House today.

Sitting suspended from 13:31 to 13 : 35