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Marriage Celebrants Program reform launch, Hilton on the Park, East Melbourne.



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September 2001

Marriage Celebrants Program Reform Launch Hilton on the Park, Delacombe Room 192 Wellington Parade, East Melbourne 3:00pm, Tuesday 4 September 2001

Introduction

1. I am delighted to announce that the Government has agreed upon reforms to the marriage celebrants program.

2. The last few years have been eventful for the celebrant community, for both civil and religious celebrants. The proposed changes have generated considerable debate. And I realise that the changes will not satisfy everyone.

3. Having said this - I want to make it very clear that I believe changes are necessary. The simple fact is that the things the Government and the celebrant community have in common far outweigh our differences. We all agree that celebrants play an important role in the community. We all know that strong relationships are the very basis of our society. And we all acknowledge that celebrants must continue to do their work to the highest standard possible.

4. Implementation of the reforms will secure the future and role of civil celebrants for many years to come.

5. On reflection, I think the debate about the proposed reforms has been worthwhile. Change cannot happen without genuine consultation. And lasting and meaningful reforms cannot be achieved unless those most affected have put them to the test.

Importance of Celebrants 6. The Government places the highest importance on the role that celebrants, both civil and religious, fulfil. You make an enormous contribution to the relationships of the people you deal with and your work is held in the highest esteem throughout the entire community.

7. The latest statistics reveal that in the year 2000, civil marriage celebrants performed 45 per cent of all marriages. If you include weddings performed by State and Territory Registrars then 53 per cent of marriages were performed by civil celebrants.

8. Back in 1973 there were just 13 celebrants, four of whom I might add, are still performing ceremonies! Today there are almost 1700 civil celebrants and about the same number of religious celebrants appointed under the marriage celebrants program.

9. There can be no doubt that celebrants are becoming an increasingly important part of the Australian social and cultural landscape.

Expanding Role of Celebrants 10. The role of the modern celebrant extends far beyond simply officiating at ceremonies. Celebrants are in a unique position to foster quality family relationships. They can provide information about services that will help couples to develop stronger relationships. If necessary, celebrants can refer people to these services.

11. These simple actions can deliver great benefits. They can reduce the risk of relationship breakdown - and in the process they can help to reduce the divorce rate. In 2000, there were 49,900 divorces granted in Australia.

12. The Andrews Committee report, To Have and to Hold, clearly illustrated the emotional and financial costs of marriage and relationship breakdown. It also highlighted the value of preventative action and the role it plays in promoting strong and healthy marital relationships.

13. The reforms seek to harness and to use the power and position that celebrants have. If we can succeed in doing this we will help make relationships stronger. And we will reduce the financial cost and the human trauma associated with relationship breakdown.

Working Together 14. When the Howard Government came to office in 1996, we were determined to foster a different approach to social policy. This determination was founded on the belief that sound social policy can only be developed and delivered in partnership with business, communities and individuals.

15. The Stronger Families and Communities Strategy marks another step in the development of the Social Coalition, where together we work to build self-reliance and a stronger Australia.

16. I am pleased to say that the feedback from celebrants in relation to the proposals I released last November, was overwhelming. And most importantly it was overwhelmingly constructive.

17. The suggestions, criticisms and ideas put forward helped the Government to further revise

and fine tune the reform proposals.

Transition Period

18. There will be a transition period of 5 years for implementation of the reforms. During this period, the number of celebrants authorised will be limited to a 10 per cent increase each year based on the number of authorised celebrants in the previous year. This will be calculated on a State by State basis, with a metropolitan and a rural region in each State except Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory, all of which will form one region apiece.

19. This 10 per cent increase is not a target we are aiming to reach. It is a cap to be placed on authorisations. If authorisations do not reach the 10 per cent level, the Government will not actively seek new authorisations.

20. After the five-year transition period, the ceiling for authorisations will be removed. The conditions for appointment to marriage celebrancy are being tightened - not relaxed.

Fixed Periods of Authorisation 21. Existing celebrants will retain their current authorisation status and will not be required to demonstrate that they satisfy the new core competencies. Appointments will continue to be made on a lifetime basis.

22. All new appointments, both civil and religious will be based upon satisfying core competency standards. This will be achieved through the system of accreditation operating in the vocational education and training sector administered by the Australian National Training Authority. Training will be provided in the same vein as is provided for similar vocations.

23. While some training does exist for marriage celebrants, and some celebrant representative bodies provide ongoing training, there is no formal framework of training currently in place either for initial appointment or on an ongoing basis. For religious celebrants appointed under the program there is a wide divergence in levels of training.

24. Following endorsement of the training framework registered training organisations will develop the practical training course to be modelled on the accredited framework.

25. Once an aspiring celebrant completes the training course, there will be an additional requirement to demonstrate to the Registrar of Marriage Celebrants that the ‘fit and proper person’ criteria have been met. The criteria will include that celebrants must avoid a conflict of interest.

26. It is envisaged that less than 10 hours per year would be required for celebrants to be able to keep their skills up to date in the form of ongoing professional development.

27. Currently, major representative bodies of celebrants provide workshops and seminars. I am hopeful that, at least in the short term, such bodies may provide this ongoing training at

relatively small cost. In the longer term it is expected that such training will be available from a range of training providers. By creative use of information technology and distance education techniques, this training can be provided to all celebrants no matter where they live.

28. Such requirements will also apply to religious marriage celebrants appointed under the program. My Department will work closely with religious celebrants to develop appropriate training material for these celebrants

Registrar of Marriage Celebrants 29. The reforms will see the appointment of a Registrar of Marriage Celebrants employed within my Department.

Reviews 30. All celebrants will undergo a performance review every 5 years. Reviews will occur on the basis of a consideration of any complaints. These complaints may cover things such as, satisfaction of the code of conduct and satisfaction of requirements for ongoing professional celebrant development.

31. Many celebrants already undertake the sorts of ongoing training that will now be required for all. Review of celebrants will essentially be limited to ensuring that celebrants are undertaking ongoing training and are making their services readily available to the community in accordance with the code of practice.

32. For a celebrant about whom there are documented concerns that do not warrant revocation, reviews will occur more frequently.

Revocation of Authorisation 33. Revocation of authorisation will only take place after a celebrant has failed to perform in accordance with requirements. Any such decision will be subject to review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Complaints 34. The new Registrar of Marriage Celebrants will develop a mechanism for complaint handling.

35. Celebrants will have a right to be advised of the complaint against them. They will have the right to put whatever material they think appropriate to the Registrar before a final decision on any sanctions is made.

36. Sanctions will include a requirement that further professional development be undertaken, the suspension of a celebrant and, only as a last resort, the revocation of authorisation.

Self Regulation

37. I am very keen to see the marriage celebrant profession evolve into a profession that regulates its own members.

38. However, at this stage, doubts have been expressed about the capacity of 13 separate associations to come together and self-regulate with any degree of consistency and confidence. There are currently no representative bodies for religious marriage celebrants.

39. As such, my Department will retain overall control of the regulation of the marriage celebrants program. Let me assure you, however, that self-regulation remains a goal for the longer term.

Code of Practice 40. The Code of Practice will be modified to remove the requirement that there must be at least 3 hours between weddings performed by individual celebrants.

Fees 41. On the issue of fees I can inform you that, after much consideration, the Government has decided that there will be no fees payable for initial or ongoing authorisation as a celebrant.

Responsive Government

42. The reforms to the Marriage Celebrants Program demonstrate that the Government has listened - and reacted - to celebrants’ concerns.

43. We have drawn on celebrants’ experience and we have benefited from your advice.

44. There have been suggestions that the consultation process has been futile and that little has changed since the process began. This is a position that I reject completely - and it is not supported by the facts. Let me just summarise the changes we have made since the Proposals Paper in November last year.

Lifetime appointments have been retained. ● Existing celebrants will not have to show that they satisfy the core competencies that will be required of new celebrants. ●

There will be a transitional period of 5 years for the phasing in of the changes to the basis of appointment. ●

There will be no fees for being authorised as a celebrant. ● A conflict of interest provision will be added to the ‘fit and proper person’ criteria in the amendments. ●

And there will be changes to the draft Code of Practice in line with suggestions by celebrants ●

45. All of these changes are quite significant and they have all been prompted by the consultation process.

46. I recognise that changes to a program that has largely remained unchanged for more than 20 years has caused some discomfort to a number of marriage celebrants.

47. Cabinet has made its decision to reform the program. It is time to look ahead and embrace this Government initiative and the benefits that will follow as a consequence of a revised program modelled on best practice.

Keeping Perspective 48. A final point I would like to make is that during times of change, it is essential that we keep our perspective. The Marriage Celebrants Program was created to provide marrying couples an alternative to a religious wedding ceremony.

49. The underpinning foundation of the program is the marrying couple. This will always be the case.

50. The over-arching catalyst for reforming the program is to ensure that couples intending to marry have wide access to thoroughly professional marriage celebrants. Like all major life decisions, availability of choice for the consumer is important. Marriage will be one of, if not the, most significant commitment couples will make during their lifetime. They deserve to be able to choose the right celebrant according to their own personal preferences and needs.

51. Couples have a right to expect that the celebrant they choose will provide services of the highest quality. They deserve to feel confident that the celebrant of their choice both respects and promotes the ideals of marriage in Australia.

52. This is the philosophy and intent behind the review process. It is a philosophy we all share. And ultimately it is this common philosophy and shared values which bring us together to serve the Australian public.

Conclusion 53. We know - and agree on - the importance of celebrants, both civil and religious. The challenge for the review was to identify those issues that have greatest influence on your performance, and to put in place measures to enhance that performance.

54. As you can see from the modified reforms, I have listened to your concerns - and I have responded accordingly. I have drawn on your experience and profited from your advice.

55. I thank you for your positive contribution to this reform process. I now look forward to working with you to implement the reforms.

 

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