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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 6202

Mr NEUMANN (BlairParliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing and Parliamentary Secretary to the Attorney-General) (16:10): I thank members for their contribution to the debate. I want all those listening to the deliberations or reading the Hansard transcript o note that the coalition is supporting this legislation—despite the words of the member for Brisbane, she will be voting for this legislation. I would like to thank the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs for its ongoing work to consider these bills, on which it is scheduled to report later today. The government will, of course, consider any recommendation arising from the committee report.

The bills implement a 2011 budget decision to introduce cost recovery for Commonwealth registered marriage celebrants in Australia. The introduction of cost recovery will allow the Attorney-General's Department to improve the level and range of services to Commonwealth registered marriage celebrants. These changes will provide celebrants with access to support and guidance in carrying out their duties, which will in turn improve services to marrying couples. The amendments will allow the Attorney-General's Department to provide stronger regulatory and information services to existing and aspiring Commonwealth registered marriage celebrants.

Subject to the passage of this legislation, from 1 July 2013 there will be a $600 registration application fee for a prospective celebrant 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 celebrant administration and fees bill 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. This has received significant report from the celebrant community. I acknowledge there are a range of views on these reforms within the celebrant profession, a point I noted in my own electorate of Blair when I met with local celebrants. A dramatic expansion in the number of celebrants has taken place since 2003. This is the result of the former Howard coalition government relaxing the cap on celebrant numbers and, thereby, putting financial pressure on many excellent celebrants practising today.

The member for Ryan raised the issue of ensuring transparency in the development of cost recovery. The Attorney-General's Department has provided a cost recovery impact statement as part of its submission to the Senate inquiry into the bills. This sets out in detail the costs that are to be recovered and the department's activities in administering the program. In accordance with the longstanding cost recovery principles, the government will review regularly the operation of these fees to demonstrate they are recovering only the cost of administering the Marriage Celebrants Program. I note that the amount set for the fees and charges will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and disallowance.

The member for Ryan noted the extensive consultation the government undertook in the lead-up to the introduction of these bills. These consultations have provided useful input into what services and support celebrants wanted from the department. In response to this consultation, the government will strengthen the application process for prospective celebrants as well as developing new ways of engaging with celebrants online and by telephone and undertaking more targeted monitoring of performance. While no-one wants to pay a new fee, celebrants can take heart in the knowledge that this change will bring immediate and longer term benefits to the profession. It is relevant that this is not something that has come about without warning; there has been extensive consultation around the country since the measure was announced in 2011. Ultimately this package of reforms will ensure that marrying couples are legally and validly married through a professional and caring service, as they should rightly expect on their wedding day.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.