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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 6201

Ms GAMBARO (Brisbane) (16:05): I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Celebrant Administration and Fees) Bill 2013 and the Marriage (Celebrant Registration Charge) Bill 2013. These bills seek to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to implement a range of new fees in relation to registered and prospective Commonwealth registered marriage 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 make minor amendments relating to the administration of the program and seek to implement an annual celebrant registration fee to the existing Commonwealth registered celebrants and a registration fee for prospective celebrants 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. The 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 and an additional 500 are registered each year. Civil ceremonies now account for 71 per cent of all marriage ceremonies conducted in Australia, a substantial increase from the two per cent when the program was first established, in 1970.

It is worth noting industry concerns about these bills that are being proposed by the government. The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee received 113 submissions, largely from marriage celebrants, on their inquiry into the bills. In their submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Marriage Celebrants Australia Inc. said:

In our common commitment to professional and high quality marriage celebrants, both civil and independent religious celebrants, we urge consideration be given to the following points.

1. As 70% of the Australian public are now choosing a civil marriage ceremony, they are being made to pay extra to cover the cost of the planned registration fee. The other 30%, using religious celebrants, will not have this fee imposed upon them. This Government has supported anti-discrimination in law, and yet is supporting this blatant discrimination.

That is, discrimination against marriage celebrants. They continue:

2. MCA (Inc) supports a substantial fee to new applicants for registration as marriage celebrants. The Attorney General's Department (Marriage Law and Celebrant Section) has told us repeatedly that the processing of applicants is extremely time consuming.

Why should established celebrants have to pay for this? It is of no advantage to have more appointments made when the current average of seven weddings per year per celebrant, providing an average gross income of $3,500 per year, is already stretching our budgets. Indeed, in some regional areas marriage celebrants probably perform fewer than that. They probably perform an average of about two marriages a year. Quite often when I attend ceremonies many of these marriage celebrants also sometimes take the role of religious celebrants in conducting religious services. So it is absolutely crazy that the government now contends that it is necessary to implement the new fees to cover the cost of administering the large number of celebrants under the program. The other amendments relating to the administration of the program are considered noncontroversial.

On 21 March 2013 the Senate jointly referred the Marriage Amendment (Celebrant Administration and Fees) Bill 2013 and the Marriage (Celebrant Registration Charge) Bill 2013 for inquiry and remote. I believe the Senate committee is due to report very soon—I believe it is today. The coalition is very keen to see the recommendations made by this committee and reserves the right to potentially move amendments in the Senate pending the committee's report. On that basis, the coalition does not oppose the passage of these bills through the House.