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Tuesday, 19 March 1985
Page: 410


Senator DURACK(5.00) —Senator Gareth Evans has already indicated that the Government will oppose the amendment to the Marriage Amendment Bill. He did that before he had even heard the argument in favour of it, but that is not surprising. I am disappointed in Senator Haines, who had heard the argument but did not seem to follow it.


Senator Haines —It did not wash.


Senator DURACK —It is not a question of its not washing. When a civil marriage celebrant, who is a public officer, is appointed it is normal to provide for a fee scale. When all is said and done, most people who perform that function do not want to enter into a contract. They perform the service and there must be a scale which lays down what they are entitled to charge. They then have a legal right to recover that amount of money if they are not paid. That is simply to cover their right to fair remuneration. It is very similar to the determination of wage rates by an arbitration commission. That does not stop employers and employees entering into contracts under which employees are paid more. Within the legal profession, lawyers, as officers of the court, certainly perform public functions and have a fee laid down. But invariably they are allowed to charge a different fee if their client is disposed to pay more for that service by entering into a contract. If the client does not want that service at that fee from that lawyer he can go to another lawyer. The same would apply to civil marriage celebrants. That is really the basis of the amendment.

I am surprised that Senator Haines said that she was happy about the original amendment. The situation was unsatisfactory, so I decided to spell out more clearly what the situation should be. At the moment, some civil marriage celebrants offer particular forms of service. Senator Harradine made a joke of the matter by talking about performing marriage services jumping out of aeroplanes and so forth. There may be some way out ceremony performed by somebody at some time, but the ordinary experience is that some celebrants provide a more elaborate service and charge for it in indirect ways, as the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) indicated in his second reading speech. They charge for flowers, music or other things, and get around the fee scale in that way. That is what is wrong with all government attempts to fix prices for services and not let the market fix them. The market does fix them and it is fraudulent for governments to lay down a scale of fees for the performance of a public service. The Government is burying its head in the sand if it thinks that solves the problem and that everybody will meekly go along with it. That just does not happen and has not been happening. We merely state the reality and make the issue perfectly clear because at present it is not clear. The unsatisfactory features of the matter are recognised by the Minister. Presumably, he wants the thing to go along in that way--


Senator Walters —And the Democrats, too.


Senator DURACK —The Democrats also seem to want things to go along as they are. Unfortunately, Senator Haines did not seem to understand the object of the amendment. Perhaps now I have explained it she may be able to.


Senator Walters —They are not for free enterprise.


Senator DURACK —That is probably the reason Senator Harradine expressed concern about pre-marriage education. He has a very serious point to make about that, and we have supported the amendments to the legislation which would enable better provision for marriage education. It is to be hoped that more money could be made available for that. When the Family Law Amendment Bill was in the Senate some months ago, I supported Senator Harradine's views about the need for marriage counselling before people divorce. It is fair to say that if people could be encouraged to have counselling before marriage as well as before divorce it would be even better. I commend those churches that have been able to develop pre-marital education courses. If such education is possible, people should be prepared to pay some fee for that service if they could afford it. Unfortunately, counselling is a matter which requires particular expertise. I doubt whether marriage celebrants have that expertise. I do not know that it is fair to expect them to have it. Certainly people should be prepared to pay some fee for it. Perhaps those churches that provide it do not charge for it because it is part of their mission as religionists to provide such education. Nevertheless, I agree in principle with Senator Harradine that pre-marital education is a service and that it should be possible to charge for it. If a marriage celebrant was prepared and was qualified to provide such service he may well be unable to charge for it under the proposed amendment to the Bill because it could well be seen as part of his work in solemnising the marriage. Even from that point of view, it would be preferable from Senator Harradine's viewpoint to support the amendment that I have proposed. It would make it perfectly clear that any civil marriage celebrant who charged for pre-marital training, education or advice should be encouraged to do so. Certainly I favour the view that marriage celebrants should be prepared to do that. However, I acknowledge that the giving of such advice would require qualifications which would be found more in people who are expert in marriage counselling or pre-marital counselling.