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Okay here it is, my promised analysis on the survey that the Marriage Law and Celebrants Section (MLCS) sent to all celebrants today. Before I jump in, I just want to reiterate how incredibly important it is that as many celebrants as possible respond to this survey. We don’t get many opportunities to have a say on how the celebrant program is run, and we should take them when they are offered. Please, please, please think carefully about each question, but definitely respond!

I did write a full analysis of all the questions and my many feelings, but I was encouraged by some lovely people who are wiser than me (thank you Josh and Alison) to focus only on the questions I’ve really got issues with, and to streamline my comments to what’s actually important. I have plenty more to say about all of the questions if anyone wants to know!

Some of the questions are easily answered and self-explanatory. Some of the questions I’m not concerned about. Some of the questions I have MAJOR issues with.

So, with no further ado, my thoughts on some of the survey questions.

7. An applicant’s legal knowledge about solemnising marriages in Australia should be demonstrated through the completion of the Certificate IV in Celebrancy.

  • Agree
  • Somewhat agree
  • Neither agree nor disagree
  • Somewhat disagree
  • Disagree

No, no, no. I am definitely not okay with this one.

On the surface, this question looks absolutely acceptable. Yes, an applicant’s legal knowledge SHOULD be demonstrated through the completion of the Cert IV in Celebrancy. However, I believe what they’re actually asking here is should the legal knowledge ONLY be demonstrated through the completion of the Cert IV; in other words, should we be able to rely on the fact that they completed the Cert IV, and not ask them to complete a test on marriage legalities, a NOIM and a sample ceremony as part of the application process.

My answer to this is a resounding DISAGREE. I wish there was a Strongly Disagree option. We know that baby celebrants are coming into the world without the most basic of legal knowledge.

Examples of questions I’ve seen recently from celebrants:

  • Why is VIC BDM asking me to record the Form 15 number after the wedding? I’ve given it to the couple, how would I know what the number is?
  • What is the record of use form? I’ve never seen that before.
  • Where do I send the NOIM after I’ve received it from the couple, before the wedding?
  • My groom only has a passport. Can he produce a Medicare card as his second form of identification?
  • How do I calculate the one month’s notice period when there are 31 days in the month?
  • Can I email my forms to BDM in Victoria?

I’m not criticising the celebrants who asked these questions; they may not have been sufficiently trained, which is why we should not be relying on completion of the Cert IV to demonstrate legal knowledge. Applicants who don’t know this type of information should not be registered as celebrants, regardless of how good they are at writing and performing ceremonies. This is a potentially very unpopular opinion, but I know that’s why you all love me!

8. The 2017 Australian Attorney-General’s Department survey results on OPD found that 53% of respondents indicated marriage celebrants were required to complete too many hours of OPD. Reducing OPD from five hours to one hour per year would allow celebrants to maintain core competencies for solemnising marriage.

  • Agree
  • Somewhat agree
  • Neither agree nor disagree
  • Somewhat disagree
  • Disagree

This question is really misleading. I’ve looked up the raw results that were published at the time the survey was completed.

  • At the time the cited survey closed (13 January 2017) there were approximately 8600 Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrants. However, only 2086 people responded to the question about how many hours of OPD are necessary – that’s less than a quarter (24.25%).
  • The actual question in the survey asked “how many hours are necessary to ensure we provide professional and legally accurate services: 0 hours, 1-2 hours, 3-4 hours, 5 hours, or more than 5 hours” – not are celebrants required to do too many OPD hours.
  • Overwhelmingly the highest number of responses said 5 hours (834 responses, 39.98%).
  • The responses across the three options of 0 hours, 1-2 hours, 3-4 hours add up to 53.22% of respondents, or 1110 responses. That’s less than 13% of all registered celebrants who said we should have to do less than five hours of OPD.

So that’s my thoughts about the way the question is worded.

As for the actual question, another ‘strongly disagree’. I don’t for a minute believe that reducing the requirement to one hour a year would allow celebrants to maintain core competencies for solemnising marriage. If brand new celebrants, who have just been immersed in completing their Cert IV, can’t get the basics right, how can we be sure that a celebrant who has been registered for five (or more) years has stayed up to date?

9. Marriage celebrants need to maintain the competencies required for the legal requirements for solemnising marriage. A one hour OPD activity focused on key legal skills and knowledge would meet this objective.

  • Agree
  • Somewhat agree
  • Neither agree nor disagree
  • Somewhat disagree
  • Disagree

Again, no, no, no. See above. One hour a year is not enough.

OPD currently focuses on a wide range of topics, from marriage legalities to how to get the best out of your sound system. If the MLCS is mainly concerned with ensuring we maintain the competencies required for the legal aspects of our job, I believe they should continue to require five hours of OPD per year, but ensure it focuses only on legalities. Sure, that might be boring for celebrants, but the work we do is extremely important in changing marrying parties’ legal status, and it’s imperative that we know this information back to front.

11. The 2017 Australian Attorney-General’s Department survey results on OPD found that 52% of respondents indicated that the best way to ensure that marriage celebrants are advised of changes to legislation, is through a compulsory activity by approved training providers. Do you think this is an efficient and effective way of ensuring marriage celebrants are aware of important legal and policy developments?

  • Agree
  • Somewhat agree
  • Neither agree nor disagree
  • Somewhat disagree
  • Disagree

Again, this is really misleading. Sure, 52% of respondents indicated the compulsory activity was the best way to ensure celebrants are advised of changes, but you were allowed to choose as many options as you liked. The highest response was actually to fact sheets and newsletters (69%). Does this suggest they’re thinking about no longer providing fact sheets and newsletters?

I’ve also got concerns about the number of issues that are canvassed in this single question:

  • Best way to ensure celebrants are advised of changes to legislation
  • Compulsory activity delivered by approved training providers
  • Efficient way
  • Effective way
  • Important legal and policy developments

The only answer I can give to this question is Neither agree nor disagree, because I can’t give a single answer to all of those issues.