I attended the meeting between the Marriage Law & Celebrant Section of the Attorney-General’s Department and celebrant associations and networks last Tuesday. It’s taken me much longer to write a report for you all than I would usually like, mostly because, well, it was pretty boring. Usually these meetings are face to face and last for about five hours. This one was via teleconference and lasted for one hour and a handful of minutes. So there was much less scope for discussion! Here’s a rundown of what was discussed and what it means for us as celebrants…
COVID-19 impacts on celebrants
MLCS is absolutely aware of how much of an impact COVID-19 is having on celebrants, and they appreciate that many celebrants have lost business during this time. It is also having a huge impact on them as a department. As is quite common in governments at times of crisis, a number of MLCS staff have been seconded to other departments to assist with the response, making MLCS remarkably short-staffed. This, plus most of them working from home, is why the MLCS phone line has been shut down (you can call it but the message says don’t leave us a message, we won’t get it, email us instead), and why it’s taking them a bit longer to respond to queries than normal. They have requested that celebrants only put URGENT in the subject line of emails if the issue really is urgent, as in if it relates to a wedding coming up in the next few days. Please don’t put urgent on an email that is about a request for your annual fee to be waived or similar.
The combination of these two impacts (less work for celebrants and less staff working in MLCS) means MLCS has provided advice to the Attorney-General that the annual registration fee for celebrants should be decreased this year. It will not be waived altogether, as the fee is paid on a cost recovery basis, meaning that our fee pays for the wages of the MLCS staff. Given there are still staff working, we still need to cover their wages. Celebrants will be advised of the decision the AG makes on how much our fee should be this year before 1 July (and hopefully sooner).
One association asked that MLCS communicate with all celebrants when individual states and territories change their rules around public gatherings and therefore weddings. MLCS noted they would not be doing that, as they are responsible for the Marriage Act only, and the Marriage Act has not changed. As per Josh’s great article yesterday, these restrictions are legislated by the state and territory governments, and MLCS will not provide advice on these individual rules. So all we can do is go directly to the source and check our local state or territory government information.
MLCS appreciates that it’s difficult for celebrants to complete their OPD under the current circumstances but confirmed that OPD is a requirement for all celebrants in 2020.
After the Urbis Review, the public consultation survey in October last year and advice from the associations, MLCS recognises that they need to do further consultation to build an OPD system that works for everyone going forward. They were about to start that consultation when COVID-19 hit. So now that they won’t have time to get that done in time for 2021, they’ve decided to simply extend the current rules (and provider contracts) for another year. In 2021 celebrants will be required to complete five hours of OPD with one of the current OPD providers (which is good news for me with my new acquisition!).
Witnessing the NOIM remotely
Given the current distancing restrictions it can be quite difficult to get a NOIM witnessed. MLCS has put forward a legislative instrument to enable celebrants to witness signatures on a NOIM via video conferencing. So the couple and the celebrant would be on a video conference call, the couple would sign the NOIM with the celebrant watching, then they would email the NOIM to the celebrant, and the celebrant would sign as witness. Mind you, with the restrictions starting to lift around the country, by the time this is in place it probably won’t be needed anymore, and it’s definitely not going to be something that’s in place forever, only for the time of the COVID-19 restrictions.
This is still not complete. *sigh* It’s only been five and a half years but hey, no rush.
New celebrant applications
Despite the advice from celebrant associations/networks and many individuals, the legal test has been removed from the application process for new celebrants. *sigh* MLCS will rely on completion of the Cert IV in Celebrancy as evidence of knowledge and understanding of the legalities of our role.
However, they have published tips for completing the Notice of Intended Marriage, as well as four scenarios and related completed NOIMs, on the MLCS website both as a resource for celebrants and a resource for couples. You can find these on the AGD website; scroll down on this page.
And that was it! Nothing particularly exciting. Nothing that was news to me personally. But hopefully some of it will be new to some of you!