The CoCA Submission addresses “increasing the professionalism” of marriage celebrancy from a holistic perspective and makes recommendations to lay the foundation for the systematic improvement of the Marriage Celebrant Program over the next decade and beyond.
The TCN Inc supports all the recommendations of the CoCA submission.
In this section, the TCN Inc builds upon the Coalition of Celebrant Associations (CoCA) Submission, to makes the following additional recommendations.
(Re: COCA Recommendation)
That, in addition to the CoCA principles, the Attorney General applies the following principles in addressing Cost Recovery for the purpose of “increasing professionalism”.
- All marriage celebrants are providing a government service to the community on behalf of the Federal Government under the Marriage Act 1961. As such the aims and delivery of the program need to have the best interests of the community as its highest priority.
- All marriage celebrants and marrying couples need to treated with the same respect and upon the same underlying principles, whether the ceremony is conducted within a religious context or not. Note: Marriage was originally in Western culture, and is in Australia, a civil (not religious) function governed by one Commonwealth Marriage Act.
- The Commonwealth Attorney General Office and its Department has a leadership role in the areas of justice for all citizens and the removal of all forms of discrimination.
- The Commonwealth Attorney General Department has a responsibility to ensure that all aspects of the Marriage Celebrant Program operate in a fair and equitable manner and that cost recovery does not use ‘loop holes’ in government policy to continue unfair practices.
- The primary profession through which marriage services need to be delivered is that of a family and community focused celebrant, whether religious or not, and where marriage ceremonies are part of a range of ceremonies delivered by the profession. That is, marriage celebrancy is a sub-set of the broader professional role of ‘Family and Community Celebrant’, i.e. Civil Celebrancy as a profession fits within the context of the three (3) original professions of Ministry, Law and Medicine.
The potential for Civil Celebrancy to assist other government goals in the areas of human rights, social inclusion, physical and mental heath, and the prevention of domestic violence and child abuse not be adversely affected by the way in which the Marriage Celebrant program is perceived and administered.
Compliance measures should be fair and not be used to discriminate against independent civil marriage celebrants by applying more rigorous standards than to those that apply to recognized religious celebrants.
Compliance measures need to be based upon a well designed and non-discriminatory program that is designed to improve professionalism of the delivery of ALL marriage services, rather than build a bigger bureaucracy.
Section A outlines the background and support for applying these principles
Limiting Appointments to Community Need
(Re: COCA Recommendation 2)
All people being considered for appointed need to have a current pass from the Pre-Appointment Knowledge and Skills Assessment. Currently defined as being within the two years prior to consideration for appointment by a Regional Advisory Committee.
Of all the recommendations included in both the CoCA submission and this submission, this recommendation to limit the overall level of appointment is the most crucial.
The TCN Inc recognises that governments increasing do ?? not want to accept responsibility for placing limits on what appears to be “business” and yet the bottom line is the role of governments is to protect the public interest.
The motivation to take up this role is not simple. It is driven by many factors but predominantly the need for particularly women to find flexible employment that they can timetable where in they can meet the family responsibilities, use their talents and skills, provide a worthwhile and meaningful service and earn income.
The rewards associated with the role likewise are complex. The primary one is being so close and focused on one of the most important, if not the most of symbolic aspects of life which is ‘love’ in all is various forms and expressions, at ‘unique peak life stages’ times, whether that is the birth of a child, the marriage of two lovers, the celebration of that birth or union in anniversaries, or the mourning of the loss of a valued person through death or divorce.
So the normal mix of deterrents and difficulties that limit people getting into a profession (work) and the factors that control the numbers once in the profession do not apply in this sector as yet.
It is also true that the characteristics that make the people in a profession the best in their practice are not necessarily academic ones. This is especially true for nursing, teaching and the other “caring” professions, and less so for those that require intellectual rigour.
Both submissions aim to advance the professionalism by raising standards in an attempt to ensure those appointed have the necessary knowledge, skills and potential to survive long-term and deliver the best to their couples and communities.
However, it will take considerable time for those measures to work and particularly overcome the prevailing view that celebrancy is a ‘nice’ part-time retirement interest or hobby or side earner that anyone can do and anyone can be appointed to do by the government for the privilege.
It was a change in government policy of the 1980’s to only appoint people over the age of 35 that contributed to this. Many of the early celebrants, like people entering the ministry (one of the oldest professions) were in their twenties. This resulted in the fact that 70% of celebrants in 2000 were over the age of 50, and that if nothing were done, by 2010 would be over the age of 60!
There must be a way, with creative and practical thinking, of establishing a process that
- the national level of government can administer efficiently
- is responsive to local need
- delegates the decision making for advice about appointments to the local level
- chooses the best people for the role based not just on academic performance
- appoints the people who will best serve their community’s interests
- is decided by people who have a better understanding of their community’s needs
Rural and Disadvantaged communities:
It may appear that the recommendations relating to Cost Recovery from those seeking appointment would have the effect of excluding from training, many appropriate people who do not have sufficient private wealth to secure that training and assessment etc to be appointed.
The TCN Inc considers
- there are other ways to address this issue such as scholarships for rural and remote and Aborigines seeking this work or needed for this work by their communities, perhaps even by cost recovery setting aside some funding for such a scheme
- the current system is considerably more unfair because it encourages people to spend considerable resources and money from families as well as their investment of time, often for around a 5 year period, only to find that themselves in a system that either they are unsuitable for, or that takes advantage of their hopes and needs.
Better that the system reduces the likelihood of the waste of such family resources and that once marriage celebrants are appointed, does not exploit those people by ensuring it does support a fair economic return for the marriage celebrant’s efforts.
The Attorney General establishes
- its own appointment panel and criteria to elect the most appropriate people for the vacancies in that region and/or
- utilise a random draw from the pool of all the suitable applicants for that Region
after all other processes have been completed, if the Department considers that the face-to-face interview process recommended by CoCA not practical (TCN Inc considers it can be)Rationale
The CoCA recommendation as it stands being tied to the ratio of the average number of weddings per celebrant per year in a particular region means
- The ratio can be increased or decreased as the circumstances warranted in that region.
- The responsibility for the decision-making is a shared one between the AGD and the local community.
At a ratio of an average 24 weddings per celebrant, given the current ration would be around 7, this recommendation should also give the AGD a lead time of approximately five years for the attrition rate in each region to bring the ratio higher than the average 24.
The TCN Inc views as crucial the limiting of the numbers of appointment given that there are various factors outside the control of the AGD that influence the demand for appointment, such as
- High demand for appointment
- Relatively Stable low level of demand for the service.
- The Vocational Education & Training System
High demand for appointment
In the late 1990’s the AGD often referred to the fact that the department received an average of 6,000 inquiries every year from people aspiring to be marriage celebrants for number of reasons, but predominantly because the role was
- seen as casual or part-time work
- highly remunerated
- not particularly difficult or onerous
- high status
- a potential post-retirement activity
Relatively Stable low level of demand for the service
Marriage is not a product that marriage celebrants sell, and as such are unlikely to be able to “market the product” in such a way as to dramatically increase the demand to match the number of appointments. Besides such an approach undermines the importance of marriage to the stability of society and the raising of children who need the support of loving stable relationships in which to grow.
Even if the definition of Marriage was broadened to include adult couples of either or both gender, the proportion of the population who are same sex attracted is minor, and of those there would be an even smaller proportion that will wish to formalise their relationship with marriage. There may be an initial peak in demand, but over time this is likely to stablise also.
The Vocational Education & Training System
The TCN Inc is aware that a crucial missing element in the development of the VET Celebrant Training Courses by the Skills Council, both pre and post 2010, is the detailed criteria upon which the units of the course can be audited.
Whilst this can be addressed over time, there maybe other unforeseen factors that the affect the level of demand for marriage celebrant appointments.
Without a clear rationale nor mechanism to adjust numbers to community need in a fair and equitable manner, and where-ever possible on the basis of the best person for the role, rather than the one who has waited the longest, then the AGD will continue to observe the current difficulty of the lack of access to a sufficient number of weddings for celebrants to gain and maintain their knowledge and skills related to marriage in a positive manner.
The CoCA submission addresses the issue of the need for an interview process on the principle of the “best person” for the role (a common practice in many situations).
- This “best person” concept supports the idea that everyone should be able to aspire to a career or role without discrimination, but rejects the concept that this translates into a right for a matching position to be available or created to meet every such aspiration whether that is in the public interest (in or via government) or private business etc.
Where government has a role, clearly community need and the common good must take precedence.
- This “best person” concept however rejects the view that just because a person aspires to a particular role or accepts responsibility for a particular one, they should wear the consequences of that decision, even in the face of poor working conditions and remuneration.
Thus the government has a responsibility to ensure that the working environment for the people it appoints, such as marriage celebrants, are not subject to unfair conditions and dismissal etc.
The Regional Advisory Committees were designed upon electoral lines - to allow for face to face interviews to be conducted within the resources of the AGD.
i.e. 5 electorate = a Region; All the celebrants in the same Region be reviewed at the same time;
New appointments considered as part of the Review cycle and based upon community need.
The TCN Inc believes the logistics of this can be worked out at a practical level.
However, if this proves not to be the case, with all the other processes in place as recommended, then a random draw by he AGD from the available pool is the fairest method to determine appointments.
Previous experience in providing a range of ceremonies:
The prevailing mantra, that “the government is only interested in marriage”, seems to dominate the view that government “should” limit its vision of celebrancy to only weddings in terms of ‘who are fit & proper” people for this work.
The TCN Inc is of the view that people, who demonstrate a willingness to do a range of ceremonies needs to be one essential of the criteria for appointment. This does not necessarily need to be funerals per se, memorials, senior birthdays or weddings anniversaries would be equivalent.
The Certificate IV prepares people to do many ceremonies. Establishing oneself as a Family and /or Funeral Celebrant would give people the opportunity of establishing a celebrancy practice & getting some practical insights into the actual difficulties of taking on such a role. In this way, people unsuitable for the role will opt out and save government time in processing those people.
This applies the same principle that governments have used to authorise Recognised religious celebrants because of their involvement in families lives in a range of rites of passage (ceremonies).
Making some arbitrary standard of a minimum of 20 ceremonies would test the applicant’s motivation, and deter people from applying with the attitude that marriage work is a “nice retirement hobby”.
Certainly this would be a far more relevant factor that a high annual “professional” fee of $600 that will not deter people wanting to become marriage celebrants. Most naively think $600 pa is only one ceremony, not understanding that is gross and other costs are involved.
Nor will that deter those currently appointed celebrants, unless they are too poor and can not afford to continue to subsidise their marriage work. This factor has nothing to do with their competence, as even with an average of 35 weddings pa per celebrant in 1999, only 4% of were able to have a full-time basic wage equivalent from wedding work alone (See COCA Submission). So this is discriminatory in theory and in practice as women still earn less in comparable employment from which they would need to subsidise their annual fees to keep their registration current.
Will un-financial celebrants marriages be considered in valid?
This opens another can of discriminatory worms!
The ratio of 24 weddings per celebrant per year could be lowered if this principle were adopted.
This criteria was obviously not available when the program commenced in the 1970’s, because other civil ceremonies evolved from the marriage program. However it evolved from the communities needs for inclusive civil ceremonies, that respected all present whether they had religious views or not.
One of the difficulties of a “cap” on appointments is the difficulty of retaining knowledge and skills, if they are not being applied for a long period after appointment.
Thus recommendation 20 for recent assessment is to ensure that new appointees have a suitable current level of marriage knowledge and skill, coupled with demonstrated prior experience in delivering ceremonies could mean Regional Advisory Committees would never get to meet!
The ratio would allow the industry time to stabilise and requiring prior ceremonial experience could be sufficient to slow appointments to actually balance those leaving the marriage sector.
Celebrant pre-training processes
(COCA Recommendation 4)
The TCN Inc. supports the principles outlined in CoCA recommendation 4. However 4.2 Implement a Suitability Course does not need to be as complicated as implied by this title.
That a simple process could be implemented during a 2 hour information session, designed and conducted by the MLCS in conjunction with the BDMs and CoCA representatives held at the BDM offices or other suitable venues and available once or twice per year.
One of the difficulties with the VET system is ensuring that prospective students of the Certificate IV in Celebrancy who aspire to be marriage celebrants are able to make an informed choice on the basis of accurate and detailed information.
It is envisaged that, one of the requirements for an assessment under the Fit & Proper Persons Criteria, would be evidence of attendance at such a session.
This would ensure all applicants would have access to standardized and unbiased information about the role of the Marriage Celebrant and thus be in a better position about making an informed decision to apply for training. It is expected that the outcome of this approach would be a drop in the number of people applying to commence the process of applying for appointment, and also reduce the numbers entering training.
This should reduce MLCS work and the waste of applicants’ resources in training for a role for which they are unsuitable.
Review approaches to Marriage Celebrant Training
(COCA Recommendation 5)
That, in addition to the CoCA recommendations on the Certificate IV in Celebrancy, the Attorney General refer this recommendation to the appropriate Branch of the AGD or other government departments to advocate for the development of the following new VET units to be available for students for a range of Certificate IV courses in the Community Services and Health Sector, including students of the Certificate IV in Celebrancy.
- UNIT 1 Human rights, Discrimination and Citizenship – Evolution of separation of church and state; Human Rights’ history and examples of the ways belief systems about the meaning of life and causes of human behaviour have and still do impact - on the treatment of women, people with disabilities, people with mental illness, people vulnerable to life style pressures etc. Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens in a secular multicultural society
- UNIT 2 Spirituality, Religion and Community -
Relationship between belief, faith, knowledge and behaviour; Secular (Civil) Spirituality, New Age and other Forms of Spirituality, Comparative Religion, Cults, Advantages and Disadvantages, Stages of Religious/ Spiritual/Psychological Growth, Examination of spiritual and religious beliefs and their impacts on human rights and society.
- · UNIT 3 Rites of Passage and Stages of Human Growth to Maturity (physical, mental, spiritual and social, cultural). Symbolism, Dependence, Independence, Interdependence issues. Their relation to alcohol and other drug use, mental health, violence, etc. Examination of the SA program used in some schools, called The Rite Journey (a unique educational programme designed to support the development of self-aware, vital, responsible and resilient adults) http://theritejourney.com.au/
- · UNIT 4 Role of Community Citizenship Celebrant
Role of a Community Citizenship Celebrant; Australian Constitution; Basic structure of Australia’s legal system; History and Law as relates to Citizenship; Rights & Responsibilities of Citizenship; Citizenship Ceremonies and Programs; Knowledge of factors affecting the social and cultural development of all citizens; local community structures and their relationships with federal, state and local government; research, liaison and referral skills
- UNIT 5 Role of Civil Chaplain for schools, hospitals etc.
The role of civil chaplain; its benefits and limitations; support structures for the role; principles of ‘empowerment of people to take responsibility for the well-being of self & others; problem identification and referral; knowledge and understanding of well-being structures; advantages and limits of providing emotional/spiritual support & leadership, crisis management principles; values clarification & analysis; leadership skills, motivational skills.
Civil Celebrancy is a career path for many Community Services and Health professionals, especially women, who need a more flexible employment situation after approximately 15 to 20 years working in direct services. This may be due to:
- Desire to make a difference of a more preventative nature
- Need for new challenges
- Physical and emotional stamina for demanding high stress work lessening with age
- Carer or family responsibilities for ageing parents or grandchildren impact under people in their late 30’s to late 40’s. Being able to work in “private practice” with the ability to control one’s work timetable and coordinate this with other family members.
Celebrancy attracts a high number of people from the health, welfare, education and other community service type sectors, and can provide an opportunity for these professionals to continue to utilise their knowledge and skills with a different emphasis.
Discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, disability and other factors affect the health and well being of people and their relationships. Yet the VET system does not have any units within its Community Services and Health Section to provide a structured framework through which people working in a range of roles can be educated about these issues and address how they may affect their working relationships as professionals in a community role.
The Civil Celebrant Program is one upon which the AGD could continue to provide leadership and affirmative action for more family friendly roles in the community development sector.
The CoCA recommendation 12 builds upon the skills of celebrants, using the Marriage Celebrant program for community education eg Seminars on Marriage and community development purposes.
There are already a number of units within the Community Services and Health Sector of the VET system that over time could build towards a Graduate Diploma in Celebrancy.
Whilst specifically the Marriage Celebrant program may not need this, such units could enhance the professionalism of celebrants by giving them access to work in other government programs that are a natural fit with Celebrancy. For example the Chaplaincy in Schools Program has recently expanded to ensure government services do not discriminate against people suitable for that role, based upon religious belief or the lack thereof.
Whilst this alternative role is currently called a “pastoral care” worker, the TCN Inc can envisage a time when the concept and terminology of a “Civil Chaplain” will not be so radical.
Review approaches to Ongoing Professional Development (OPD)
(COCA Recommendation 7)
The Attorney General make provision for independent basic feedback related to OPD for planning and review, in addition to the recording of OPD activities completed by the marriage celebrant. For example: via the Celebrant Only Section of the Website.
The management of the OPD by the MLCS has been inappropriate from the beginning. For a number of reasons, but basically the ML&CS primary responsibility relates to the development and review of Marriage Law and Marriage Policy as Marriage affects all citizens, and the administration of those celebrants appointed under Commonwealth Legislation. As such the Department has quite rightly staff with legal and administrative expertise, but lacks
- Marriage Celebrant expertise that comes with the delivery of marriage service to the public such as that acquired by Registry Office staff and independent Civil Marriage Celebrants who deal with such services directly with the public
- The educational and training expertise that is acquired by trainers, who not only have theoretical knowledge of the areas they address, but also have practical expertise in applying knowledge and skill to the specific area being addressed.
However a system of OPD that was designed around all the difficulties with the training of the post 2003 appointees and the major change to the faulty model upon which marriage celebrancy was based, does not make use of the best resources that are available for OPD. Australia has many opportunities for knowledge and skills development through TAFE, private colleges, community colleges, CAEs, universities, continuing education etc.
A well-designed ongoing professional development program for a profession should not require micro management at the AGD level. Rather the AGD needs to set the objectives and delegate to the professional bodies and approved OPD bodies the responsibility to meet those objectives adequately.
The new MLCS portal will give the MLCS an independent mechanism to receive feedback about the OPD activities that are approved and the quality of their delivery. With much higher standards of appointment the need for this style of management should be removed.
Upgrade to MLCS Web and IT systems
(COCA Recommendation 8)
The Attorney General require all marriage celebrants to complete an annual return as regards
- their delivery of marriage services, and
- their evidence of their Duty of Care in the provision of their Marriage Services
- their compliance with any other responsibilities they may have under the Marriage Act and Regulations and associated laws.
The TCN Inc considers that the MLCS website Celebrants Only Section should
- allow the collection of statistics to assist the MLCS plan and review the delivery of marriage services in Australia via an Annual Statistics Survey
- encourage increased professionalism via an Annual Duty of Care Survey
in addition to assisting the AGD in meeting responsibilities as regards Compliance for Commonwealth Appointed marriage celebranr program
A number of suggestions are made in Appendix 9 as regard possible data for collection and annual surveys.
Support for Celebrant Associations and other Stakeholders
(COCA Recommendation 11)
Cost Recovery measures include the provision for some funding to support the State Registries of Births, Deaths and Marriages in their involvement with the “Expert Resource Team” and the provision of Ongoing Professional Development, as required and as appropriate, for State registered marriage celebrants.
Support for Public Information on Marriage
(COCA Recommendation 12)
“The right words delivered at the right time can change your life. This, poets of Australia, is what the public needs, poems that can change lives”. Kerry Cue is an author and journalist
The TCN Inc. considers that there are various simple strategies that the government could initiate that would be tools around which marriage celebrants could expand their community development and informal community education role, and thus support marriages and families.
Recommendations 24, 25, 26 and 27 are some examples of such tools that could enhance marriage and related relationships and the professional role of marriage celebrants.
The Attorney General facilitate the availability of “blank” decorative Wedding Anniversaries Certificates with the Commonwealth Australia (similar in style but not security to Form 15) to be available for purchase by all marriage celebrants via either Canprint or the State Registry Offices.
Modern media does little to promote and reinforce concepts of strong committed loving relationships and positive messages about marriage. The emphasis is the ‘negative’ - upon conflict, war, accidents, crime, harms in a variety of forms, ie: drugs, alcohol and sexual behaviour and outside the context of loving relationships, ie: domestic violence, divorce etc. This appears to have a greater proportion of media time that the reverse.
Recent media reports highlight the difficulty for married couples to raise children in today’s society.
There is little being done to highlight and reinforce the positive aspects of marriage and to give credit to those 50% of married couples who do stay married – with a variety of life’s challenges to address.
Whilst the “Letter from our Head of State – The Queen” acknowledges the value of long-term marriages – 60 years is a big reach for most couples these days. With couples marrying later, achieving a 60-year marriage is increasing unlikely.
Formally acknowledging a Wedding Anniversary with “Congratulations” from an Authorised Marriage Celebrant, civil or religious, for achieving a marriage occasion (however long, such as a Diamond Anniversary or short, such as a Paper) and recorded on a Commonwealth crested decorative Marriage Certificate would be a tool around which to design a meaningful and personalised family event.
It is envisaged that such certificates would only be used for couples that provide a Registered Copy of their Marriage.
The TCN Inc suggests that, just as the Civil Marriage Celebrant Program started from small beginnings, a simple strategy such as this could also have broader effects in the long term.
Code of Practice: 3 Recognition of significance of marriage
A marriage celebrant must recognise the social, cultural and legal significance of marriage and the marriage ceremony in the Australian community, and the importance of strong and respectful family relationships
It is envisaged that this objective could be achieved via the MLCS website with information provided both in the Celebrants Only Section and on the Public area.
Marriage celebrants are not strategically connected to other sources of information and research on marriage and family life. As community celebrants work with families at various stages of their life cycles, the better informed marriage celebrants are, the more likely they will be able to pass on useful information to their couples, families and communities.
This role is not to be confused with a counselling or formal educational role.
Perhaps for celebrants the poet Kerry Cue’s words could be slightly adapted to:
“The right words at the RITE times can change lives”.
Increasing the chances of having the “right” words on hand and being in people’s lives for once in a life-time occasion, even as simple as a Baby Naming or a Marriage interview, is an objective of this recommendation.
The Attorney General facilitate the development of an Coming of Citizenship Age Pack to be utilised by suitably trained marriage celebrants to be available via Canprint and to include
- an appropriately worded and designed Coming of Citizenship Age Certificate
- a copy of the Australian Constitution (and /or a Summary therefore)
- an Electoral Voting Pack including a Summary of Australia Voting system
- a Citizenship (Human) Rights and Responsibility Booklet
- any other material as deemed appropriate by government for young adults.
The success of a marriage depends on a large number of factors – many of which relate to the ability of the parties to the marriage to function as adults – to be able to respond to the needs of another, whilst looking after their own needs and being responsible for their own behaviour, to be able to mature and be flexible to the changes that life imposes on everyone.
Being able to marry without parental consent is only one of the markers of the status of “adult” in our society. There are a number of other rights available to adults, though they also carry corresponding responsibilities.
Australia lacks a positive rite of passage through which to express its vision and expectations of its young people as they join the adult community. It is envisaged that suitably trained marriage celebrants would be able to participate in the development and delivery of
- family based 18th and or 21st Birthday ceremonies using the “kit” as proposed here
and well as
- Community based annual “Citizenship Affirmation” ceremonies on / or near Citizenship Day – the 17th of September each year.
The TCN Inc has approached government departments and personnel in relation to this proposal – the Attorney General’s via a submission to the Human Rights Consultation, the Commonwealth Health Department, and more recently the Policy Advisor to the Commonwealth Minister for Social Inclusion.
The details of such a proposal are beyond the scope of this submission, but are included to demonstrate that there are opportunities that are associated with a Professional model of Celebrancy, rather than a narrow focus of just the marriage celebrancy and its registration.
Human Rights - person’s ability to respect the rights and freedoms of another person and to be responsible to protect those rights - is a fundamental aspect of all relationships and the sum total of those the quality of a community, and in turn a country.
A project such as this and coupled with appropriate units in the Community Services and Health Sector of the VET, would be a small but significant catalyst for other projects and initiatives around these areas that one way or another affect marriages and their wider families.
The following links are included to show the TCN Inc’s ongoing interest and support for the community development concept of celebrancy, especially civil celebrancy, as a profession.
The practical application of this concept is subject to change and needs to be viewed as a general guide only. It also needs to be acknowledged that other stakeholders would need to be involved in the process of planning such approaches.
ATCN (Note: TCN Inc) submissions to the Human Rights Consultation - Raising community awareness of human rights issues at a domestic level.
National Preventive Health Taskforce
TCN Inc Response to the School Chaplaincy Report
Social Inclusion submission