A celebrant asks:

After a chat with some other celebrants recently, it occurred to me that I had no idea what our annual registration fee actually goes towards other than a vague concept of it supporting the Marriage Celebrants Programme. What benefits do we receive in return for our compulsory registration fee?

First up, a reminder about the difference and separation between the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department and the State Registries of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

As Commonwealth-Registered Marriage Celebrants, we are appointed under the Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961. I know this next bit will be very obvious for some of you, but I’m going to say it anyway. Commonwealth means the whole of Australia. That means that we are appointed by the Australian Government, and it doesn’t matter where we live when we’re appointed, we are able to perform marriages anywhere in Australia. You don’t need to register in another state to perform marriages there, you’re just allowed to marry people anywhere in Australia. Yay! CRMCs are managed by the Marriage Law and Celebrant Section of the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department, the section that is responsible for the administration of the Marriage Act and Marriage Regulations, and that’s who we pay our registration fee to. More on what it pays for later. They’re essentially responsible for anything that happens up to and including during the marriage ceremony.

State Registries of Births, Deaths and Marriages are responsible for registering marriages that take place in their state, regardless of the home address of the celebrant or the couple. They are essentially responsible for things that happen after the marriage ceremony has taken place. Each of the state registries does basically the same job, but some of them have different processes, some of them have different ways of receiving marriage documentation (online or by mail), and some of them have different ideas on what information should be included in marriage documentation.

So what do we pay for?

We pay our annual registration fee to the Commonwealth (Australian) Government, and it is a cost recovery scheme; it’s designed so that regular taxpayers don’t pay for the costs associated with a program that they don’t benefit from. It’s a user-pays system. So we, Commonwealth-Registered Marriage Celebrants, as end users of the program administered by the Marriage Law and Celebrant Section, pay for the costs of running that program, which is mainly salaries (approximately 90%) and maintenance of the IT system underpinning administration of the program (approximately 10%). Every year the Government publishes a statement (the Cost Recovery Implementation Statement) outlining what the registration fees have been used for; you can find the latest one here.

What do we not pay for?

We pay nothing to the Registries of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Nothing. Not a cent. The money we pay does not go to staffing or IT systems or anything else related to registering marriages. Many of you will be aware of the disastrous rollout of the Registry Information Online (RIO) system in Victoria, and many Victorian celebrants have been calling for a discount or waiver of our registration fee this year due to the difficulties we’ve faced. This is simply not going to happen, because we don’t pay our fee to BDM, and BDM doesn’t benefit in any way from our fees. The Commonwealth Government and State Registries of Births, Deaths and Marriages are completely separate entities that often don’t even talk to each other, let alone share funding.

Hopefully that’s cleared a few things up for people!