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Tuesday, 19 March 1985
Page: 409

Senator HAINES(4.53) —It is not often that I endorse the comments of Senator Harradine. However, in this case I do so. I endorse both his grave concerns and doubts about the amendment before us today and his belief in the relationship between celebrants of a marriage and the people who are undertaking it. The Opposition's first circulated amendment to the Marriage Amendment Bill 1985 proposed simply to leave out paragraph (b) of clause 15. That seemed harmless enough, as all it would have done would have been to take us back to the situation obtaining under section 120 of the Marriage Act 1961, namely, that the Governor-General may make regulations among which would be the prescribing of fees to be charged in respect of the solemnisation of marriage by authorised celebrants.

The new amendment goes well beyond that in actually encouraging the charging of higher fees. While I certainly agree with Senator Durack that there seems to be an inordinately large time lag between the setting of one lot of fees by regulation and the updating of them some time later, I do not think that that in itself justifies a free-for-all of the sort envisaged by some members of the Opposition. Certainly, the 1984 fees schedule is a distinct improvement on the previous fees schedule which operated from 1979. Certainly, that five-year lag bears out what Senator Durack was saying. But that does not alter the fact that the previous Government had three years in which it apparently did very little to upgrade the fees that were charged, roughly $40 or thereabouts, for celebrating a marriage in 1979 to the $60 level established in 1984. In addition, of course, travelling expenses are involved.

Senator Durack mentioned that there was some doubt about whether there was likely to be any penalty under section 120 of the Act, whether, if a celebrant charged more than the prescribed fee, his licence would be likely to be taken away from him or anything else. No penalty, of course, is attached to the clause that the Opposition is opposing in the Bill before us today. It merely regularises a situation which has been current for some time which is that a fee is set and that fee is to be seen as a maximum. Simply providing that celebrants are not entitled to demand a fee higher than that prescribed when no penalty is attached to it does not seem to be doing much more than tossing in a sort of double jeopardy whereby the fee set is mentioned in more than one place in the Act. Certainly, I would hate ever to see the situation go as far as the Opposition apparently is trying to promote in the amendment before us today which not only points out that the fee need not be a maximum but also actually encourages people to set fees above the fee prescribed by trying to have inserted in the Bill a sub-section which states that nothing in the Act shall prevent a person from charging a higher fee. I do not believe that is acceptable for all the reasons that Senator Harradine, as well as Senator Evans, put forward. The prospect of avid advertising and price wars mentioned by two speakers before me certainly is not very edifying. For that reason we will oppose the Opposition's amendment.