A strategic approach to the development of “professionalism" of marriage celebrants
In the Budget, delivered on 10 May 2011, the Government announced a measure to improve the Marriage Celebrants Program. The Attorney General's announcement stated the aim:
"to strengthen the professionalism of marriage celebrants and to benefit marrying couples, marriage celebrants, and the community".
The Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) states:
"The Government’s objective is to effectively regulate the Program, thereby improving the compliance and professionalism of marriage celebrants to the benefit of marrying couples and society more generally”. Reference: RIS page 8.
In considering the “strengthening/ improving the professionalism” of marriage celebrants, one needs to be clear about what is meant by these terms.
There has been a trend to apply this term in a more generic way to a whole array of activities would have once been considered trades or services jobs. eg. being a “professional plumber” or “professional” baby sitter where the term simply means competent and skilled at the task, or to denote the difference between a paid and unpaid occupation eg “professional” boxer, “professional” fund-raising.
So is the term “professionalism” here used to mean simply just “competent” or “skilled” and “receiving money” in delivering marriage services
If so, that would apply to all classes of marriage celebrants
Or does this expression assume a profession called “marriage celebrancy” or recognise that there is a profession associated with providing marriage services to the community and that strategies to improve the “professionalism” of the role needs to be taken in the context of the profession through which those services are provided.
The TCN Inc argues that to strengthen or improve the “professionalism” of marriage celebrants, the underlying model needs to be identified to develop the best strategies, not just for the government’s immediate concerns but also for the needs of the Australian community for the longer term.
On whose behalf do celebrants provide marriage services to the community? -
The TCN Inc considers anyone authorised to marriage in Australia as providing a government service under an Act of Parliament, whether the service is done in-house (BDMs) or outsourced (to religious institutions or religious celebrants or independent civil celebrants).
The celebrant’s motivation does not matter whether the celebrant’s motivation is to:
* make a living (employment)
* do community service (vocation)
* make a profit (business)
* serve God (religious expansion)
the delivery of marriage services is still a government service to the Australian community.
As such, there needs to be a level playing field:
One country, one law for marriage, one set of principles for all who deliver that service to the public.
So what is most appropriate model of marriage celebrancy upon which to develop the most effectives strategies to meet the aim of “improving professionalism”?
A. Civil Marriage celebrancy as a “just a business” is not an appropriate model, as
- Marriage are a once in a life-time events - thus unique services that can not be sold in exactly the same way on a regular basis to the same customers every time.
- "open market" alone can not regulate the numbers of celebrants.
NB usually there are other factors that limit the number of people entering a sector, such as community demand, length of education, set up costs, other legislation affecting those sectors.
- the motivation for doing marriage work for most celebrants is not primarily “to make a profit”. However, being able to make an hourly rate for one’s work should not be viewed as a “conflict of interest’, especially as this does not apply to registry staff nor religious celebrants.
- There are altruistic and other community service motives involved.
- marriage celebrant work alone does not require an extensive period of education compared with other professionals
- the expectation is that someone would train early or earlier in life, to be able to apply that complex body of knowledge and skill in a long period of service to the community in a variety of situations and to be capable of absorbing an applying new developments as the profession evolves.
ie A profession is not an activity associated with a post-retirement plan to have something to occupy some time (ie something nice to do when I retire), bring in a little extra cash or give one a little post retirement status. This is not the same as someone who has trained and worked as a professional deciding a various times in the life cycle to work part-time
- the role does not involve the equivalent of a full-time occupation of the complexity normally associated with a profession
- the demand for marriage services by the Australian marrying public can not support a full-time professional net salary income while ever the government continues appoint unlimited numbers of marriage celebrants
- does not have high status and rewards
Marriage celebrancy could be seen as a part of an evolving profession of Civil Celebrancy in that wedding ceremonies are only one of a range of ceremony options celebrants may offer their community.
This is not necessarily the aim of all people who are currently marriage celebrants, nor is it a reality as yet. However, the government needs to allow for this possibility, given that marriage is affected by the birth of children and the death of family members.
- whilst legal aspects are an important component, the ceremony is a major part of the service to being offered by Recognised Religious and Indepenedent marriage celebrants in contrast to registry office services.
- the long term public commitment a couple makes in marriage is a personal, psychological, family and social activity, requiring knowledge and skills unrelated to law, in addition to the law component.
- The Code of Practice requires ceremonial aspects to be offered as part of the legal role for Section 39C celebrants.
However, should the government remove all ceremonial aspects and withdraw the rights of religious celebrants to perform marriages on behalf of the government, then a para-legal work model would be possible. This is the model adopted in France.
Such a re-definition is unlikely to be acceptable to the Australian community, that has embraced an alternate to a religious ceremony model, whilst upholding a basic principle of a 'fair go'. ie freedom of choice.
TCN Inc does not recommend this option for consideration.
There are more differences than similarities. Migration agents have
- much higher educational standards
- stricter appointment criteria
- opportunities for full time employment
- high annual remuneration
- fee structures as much as 10 x higher than the fees for marriage services
- the bulk of their work related to legal matters
E. Civil Marriage celebrancy as part of the profession of Civil Celebrancy as community (development) work is appropriate model, as it
- has public service and altruism components
- has appropriate levels of training for the task
- has expectations of "professionalism", even if not a fully profession.
- training is already set within the "Community Service and Health" sector of the national Vocational Education & Training system
- putting religious belief to one side, a community work model is also the best fit model that underpins the majority of marriage celebrants - recognised religious and independent civil and minority religious celebrants.
There are many professionals in medicine, law, social work, psychology, nursing and education employed by government bodies, private non-profit and for profit agencies.
Some of these services are now being offered by individual professionals setting up “private practice”.
Whilst there may be certain legislation that covers parts of their activities, their full roles are not dictated by law.
For example, teachers may be required by Mandatory Reporting legislation to perform certain tasks related to that law. However the law does not try to redefine teachers as 'child protection' workers, just because the law is only concerned with that part of their work.
Therefore the TCN Inc recommends that the most appropriate model upon which to improve the “professionalism of marriage services” is as Model E.