ICCA Recommendation 4: Independent review of the Commonwealth Marriage Celebrant

Recommendation 4: 

That there be an independent review of the Commonwealth Marriage Celebrant Program to assess performance against the intentions of the Marriage Amendment Act 2002.

4.1 Civil celebrancy as a profession

The 2002 changes were based upon a model of civil celebrancy as a profession. There are three main ways that the intent of the 2002 changes have failed to materialise with respect to

a) the maintenance of the similar professional standards for all authorised marriage celebrants with
     regard to
       i.   being “fit and proper” persons 15
       ii. conflict of interest and benefit to business provisions 16

b) high standards of professional training and continuing professional development.

c) the ratio of marriage celebrants to civil marriages being contained to enable celebrants to
      i. maintain and develop their skills  for personalised ceremonies and diverse client groups 17
          and
      ii. Receive fair recompense for the marriage services they provide18.

d) the self regulation of independent civil marriage celebrants.

4.2 Maintenance of similar Professional Standards : Fit and Proper Persons/ Conflict of interest and benefit to business provisions

The 2002 Explanatory Memorandum made it clear that the government intended that independent civil marriage and religious celebrants should be held to the same account as Ministers of Recognised Religions.

Very late in 2016 the AGD conducted a survey of all Subdivision C marriage celebrants on both Professional Development and COI/ B2B. CoCA made a comprehensive submission to this review. 19

Without any further discussion or consultation, the AGD issued revised COI and B2B Policy Guidelines. 20 that the following products and activities are “generally acceptable" for a Commonwealth Marriage Celebrant to offer marrying couples:

• accessories for the ceremony (sand, jars, ribbons, chairs, runners, arches etc) fees for
   same-day lodgement of paperwork
• venue hire
• MC or DJ services
• wedding planning
• photography
• hair and make-up
• catering
• flowers
• dress hire
• car hire
• pre-marriage counseling
• working in partnership with your spouse or others to provide marriage-related  services.

Many of these services or products are not those expected by the public to be supplied by Recognised religious celebrants nor by State officers in BDM Registries or court houses, nor by the government in 2002. Extracts from the 2002 Explanatory Memorandum. 21   

“Wedding organisers/planners or wedding related businesses were specifically identified as people with Conflict of Interest and/or Benefit to Business:

  • Without the introduction of a conflict of interest criterion, there is no restriction on separating the interests of wedding organisers and celebrants.”

  • “Celebrants will be unable to have an interest in other wedding related business as proposed by the conflict of interest reform.” 

    This option has the potential to offer the wedding organiser an assurance that any complaint submitted by a marrying couple, will not reflect on the wedding organiser business, as the  celebrant function remains separate from other wedding details. 
  • It is therefore not appropriate that civil celebrants should be able to offer these services if they are working to the same professional standards as other marriage celebrants.

CoCA, as the national peak body of celebrants, has publicly stated that it does not support this policy change because it considered:

•   the consultation process was poorly implemented and the survey tool flawed.

•   combining celebrancy with other wedding related work diminishes the unique and
     professional standing of the Commonwealth authorised marriage celebrant.

• all marriage celebrants should adhere to the same principles as regards Conflict of Interest and
     Benefit to Business.


In its submission to the AGD, CoCA outlined its recommended approach based on the importance the professional role of independent celebrants as a “public trust” and parity with the other divisions and subdivision under the Act.

CoCA also gave a list of possible work opportunities 22 applying the latter principle, which would have expanded civil celebrants work without weakening the Department’s COI Provisions and B2B Policy.

4.3 High standards of professional training and continuing professional development.

In 2003, the government contrary to the advice of associations at the time, made only one unit of an Certificate IV course as the training entry criteria for marriage celebrants. This low criteria contributed to the massive increase in the number of marriage celebrants. In 2010, the entry criteria was raised to a Certificate IV in Celebrancy.

ICCA supported the CoCA recommendations that the qualification for a professional independent civil celebrant be at least a VET Diploma level course.

However the Attorney-General’s Department did not support the peak body CoCA’s recommendations for 7 units of the VET Diploma as the entry qualification as a Commonwealth registered marriage celebrant, despite two thirds of both industry consultations supporting a Diploma and the fact that this would not have increased the Regulatory burden on the profession.

Given the large numbers of contacts for Commonwealth marriage celebrants for what appears to be basic knowledge, increased depth of knowledge should reduce the regulatory burden on the profession.

The reported numbers of enquires to the Department’s Hot Line 23 (see Enquiries table below) increased dramatically with the introduction of the fee and have averaged at 20,000 pa which is approx.. 400 per week or 80 contacts per day!

A proportion of these are assumed to be in relation to the Annual Fee itself but we are yet to have a breakdown in terms of the nature of these contacts. Either way 80 contacts per day is a serious concern. Preventative strategies need to be implemented to reduce this regulatory burden and some professional associations would like to play a larger part in this area.

Unlike self-regulating professions, there is no requirement for civil celebrants to be a member of a professional association. Therefore the ICCA are concerned that marriage celebrants are not receiving the depth of training required for the role of an independent marriage celebrant, and that in turn this increases the regulatory burden across the profession.

Table of Complaints

4.4 The ratio of marriage celebrants to civil marriages to enable celebrants to maintain and develop their skills for personalised ceremonies and diverse client groups.

Because there is no longer a needs basis to the authorisation of Subdivision C & D marriage celebrants, unlike the situation with Subdivision A and B marriage celebrants.

Also the initial training and professional development requirements have not been high enough to balance community need with marriage celebrant numbers, as was assured in 2002, there was a huge escalation in the numbers of marriage celebrants 24 .

CoCA estimated 25 that each marriage celebrant needs to have access to approximately one ceremony per fortnight (e.g. 26 pa) to maintain and expand their knowledge and skills in providing personalised unique ceremonies.

The number of marriages in Australia has averaged 108,890 over the last 20 years with the highest number in 2012 (with 123,243 ). Currently civil marriage celebrants conduct approx. 75% of marriage (76.4% in 2016).

TABLE 3 number of weddings not fees 2016 450Assuming the most generous figures (123,250 marriages by 75%), this means Commonwealth civil celebrants only have access to only 92, 438 marriages pa, or 11.3 marriage ceremonies pa - less than half CoCA recommends.

As marriage celebrants are not uniformly picked by couples to do their marriages, with an average of 26 marriage pa, there would still be a proportion of celebrants who would do 10 or less marriages pa. In 2016, more than half of all civil marriage celebrants are doing 9 or less weddings a year. (2016 CoCA National Survey 26).

Therefore the number of Commonwealth marriages celebrants would need to be reduced by one half to approximately 4,000 marriage celebrants to meet this goal. 

The most recent figures from the 2016 CoCA National Celebrant Survey 27 indicate that approximately 55% of civil celebrants are conducting less that 9 weddings pa. (TABLE 3 in this article) are doing less than half the number of marriages to maintain and improve their ceremonial skills. 

4.5 Receive fair recompense for the marriage services they provide.

This submission also addresses the Declaration of Human Rights Article 23 28 with respect to the right to “equal pay for equal work without discrimination” and “the right to just and favourable remuneration”  

The number of marriages per annum has remained between 110,000 and 120,000 pa for the last twenty years. Therefore, the Australian marriage market can only sustain a defined number of marriage celebrants, if they are to be fairly reimbursed for their services.

Improved Remuneration (for the celebrant's skills, creativity, time and related expenses), which in turn, raises the overall quality of marriage services, which in turn, raises the overall knowledge and skills development of the celebrant work force.

Full-time earnings in Australia averaged A$78,832 a year in the second quarter of 2016. (Seasonally adjusted wages – Bureau of Statistics.) If overtime and bonuses are included, average Australian earnings were A$81,947 per annum.

In comparison in the 2016 CoCA National Survey, over 65% of civil marriage celebrants report a gross income of less than $10,000 and over 75% a gross income of less than $20,000.

Table 6 Celebrant Gross income 450In a fixed market, the over-supply of any product or service drives prices down. So to double civil celebrants income, means halving the number of celebrants at the level above.

Halving marriage celebrants’ numbers, would mean over 70 % earning less than $20,000 pa, rather than less than $10,000. Whilst this is nowhere near a full-time wage, it would be much for more viable for civil marriage celebrants to focus on developing their celebrancy services as a part-time professional activity.

This table (TABLE 6 in the article 29  from which it was taken)

Shows that about 70% (67.39%) celebrants reported earning under $10,000 and about 80% earning less than $20,000.

Only about 1.5% reported earning a full-time wage equivalent for ALL ceremony work.
 
There is a human rights consideration here of “ fair pay for the same work30 ” when the government continues to authorise marriage celebrants without any consideration of the impact of the numbers on the quality of their work or the remuneration they are likely to receive as a result. 

The limited marriage market and lack of strategies to limit numbers as there is for Subdivision A and B marriage celebrants means.

  • the vast majority of civil celebrants who 75% of all marriages in Australia are being done by Civil Celebrants the majority of whom are unable to earn even a taxable income, and
  • the majority have no chance of earning anything like a full-time professional wage in comparison with State Officers who are on award wages with Ministers of Religion who have employment with awards to cover them which indicate salaries of 45,000 pa to 60,000 pa regardless of how many marriage they do.

    It has been estimated 31 that Australia needs 5810 fewer celebrants have the current number of Commonwealth Marriage Celebrants for them to male an average half-time wage equivalent of $35,000 (ie. doing approximately 50 marriages pa).

4.6 The self regulation of independent civil marriage celebrants

The 2002 Explanatory Memorandum for Amendments to the Marriage Act envisaged a peak regulatory body for Commonwealth marriage celebrants. The introductory of a government funded department to regulate Commonwealth marriage celebrants has hampered the development of a single self- regulatory.

However there are several professional celebrant associations, or umbrella bodies of celebrant associations, have develop to the size and organisation structure where they could be self-regulatory for the day-to-day regulatory requirements of the Marriage Act.

If Recognised religions are deemed large enough and responsible enough to do their own day-to-day regulation then the same arrangements, as is the case in other professions, should be available to professional celebrant associations who meet similar required standards.
Required standards for “Recognised Professional Celebrant Associations” could be:

  • non-profit incorporated bodies
  • with more than 50 members
  • that can demonstrate that they accounting and other systems to track membership, and

can effectively and professionally/ impartially provide the tasks required.