Charging Policy Statement 1
Where specific demand for a government activity is created by identifiable individuals or groups, they should be charged for it unless the government has decided to fund that activity. Where it is appropriate for the Australian Government to participate in an activity, it should fully utilise and maintain public resources, through appropriate charging. The application of charging should not, however, adversely impact disadvantaged Australians.
Transparency, efficiency, performance, equity, simplicity, policy consistency.
The Charging Framework and the Cost Recovery Guidelines are administered by the Department of Finance. As a cost recovery agency the Attorney General’s department reports on its cost recovery activities, one of which is the Marriage Celebrants Programme, in its Cost Recovery Implementation Statement (CRIS). This is continuously updated and the most recent one was due on 27 October 2017 - I have asked for it as it does not seem to be on the website.
Basically the relevant legislation enables the department to charge to achieve its outputs related to the Marriage Celebrants Programme which is:
“Divided into two outputs: (1) registration of marriage celebrants; and (2) ongoing regulation of marriage celebrants. These outputs are essential to achieving the policy outcomes of the Programme that:
- marriage celebrants comply with their obligations under the Marriage Act and Marriage Regulations
- marriage celebrants conduct themselves professionally and legally when solemnising marriages, and
- marriage celebrant services are available across Australia, including in remote areas.
Registration of celebrantsTo deliver this output, AGD performs the following processes:
- assessing application information including identifying documents, qualifications, possible conflicts of interest and an understanding of relationship support services
- undertaking a criminal record check through the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (formerly CrimTrac)
- testing applicants’ legal knowledge through multiple choice questions, completing a mock Notice of Intended Marriage based on a scenario, and a sample ceremony
- conducting an interview, where appropriate
- discussion with referees, where appropriate
- registering successful applicants
- notifying unsuccessful applicants with reasons for the decision
- assessing applications for exemption from the registration application fee
- requesting more information from the applicant to assess their application for exemption from the registration application fee, where appropriate, and
- notifying applicants of the outcome of their application for exemption from the registration application fee.
Ongoing regulation of celebrantsThis output involves managing registered marriage celebrants.
As part of delivering this output, AGD performs the following processes:
- monitoring celebrants’ performance, including through targeted performance reviews and compliance with professional development obligations
- producing and maintaining relevant educational material for celebrants
- providing access to an online celebrant portal to allow celebrants to securely manage their information, pay the annual registration charge, view their professional development history and engage with AGD
- handling enquiries by telephone and email
- participating in OPD development, approval and management
- investigating complaints about celebrants
- responding to Administrative Appeals Tribunal applications
- ongoing review of the Programme and related legislative framework (ie Part IV, Division 1, Subdivision C of the Marriage Act)
- engaging with stakeholders, including celebrant representatives, celebrants, and state and territory registries of births, deaths and marriages, and other government agencies
- administering the fees and charges, including deregistration of celebrants who do not pay the annual celebrant registration charge
- assessing applications for exemption from paying the celebrant registration charge and applications for exemption from meeting OPD obligations
- requesting additional information from the celebrant to assess their application for an exemption from the celebrant registration charge or OPD obligations, where appropriate, and
- notifying applicants of the outcome of their application for an exemption from the celebrant registration charge or meeting OPD obligations.”2
So what can we do?
Cost recovery by government agencies has been in place for a long time and is a generally accepted principle. CASA started charging for aviation regulation in 1956. Most agencies have cost recovery arrangements in place. The relevant legislation would have to be repealed to remove cost recovery for the celebrant programme and to convince Government to do that would mean clearly demonstrating that cost recovery of marriage celebrants is not in accordance with the charging policy and principles.
Given the relatively small charge – probably around half the cost of a marriage each year for most celebrants – I do not think we are likely to have success.
I suggest that our best option is to continue to focus on working with the department to find out more about the significant cost drivers and to suggest ways to decrease the demands and effort involved in achieving the stated outputs and thereby maintaining or decreasing the fees.
This could include consideration of discontinuing or outsourcing some functions – for example could the assessment of applications for registration be undertaken more efficiently by improved technology or processes or use of an external agency in the same way that applications for recruitment to jobs is often outsourced to specialist agencies ? Could the assessment of complaints be more effectively managed by an external provider? How can the service from the enquiry line be improved?
Given that only subdivision C celebrants are subject to cost recovery – how does the department ensure it only provides chargeable services to this group – what happens if a member of the public or a subdivision A celebrant has an enquiry – does this come from departmental funds?
(Incidentally, when I phoned to obtain a copy of the CRIS on 30/10 because the link on the annual report was not working – Note 3: Funding - I was asked to email the MLCS which I did – is that two stats for one enquiry - and how long will it take to get an answer I wonder – nothing received by cob 2/11?)
1. Australian Government Cost Recovery Guidelines
2. Attorney General’s department CRIS
The Regulator Performance Framework
The Regulator Performance Framework came into effect on 1 July 2015. It is administered by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. The Framework applies to all government agencies with a regulatory function – including the AGD as the regulator of marriage celebrants. There is guidance material available to advise agencies on reporting https://www.cuttingredtape.gov.au/resources/rpf
”Overall, the Framework aims to encourage regulators to undertake their functions with the minimum impact necessary to achieve regulatory objectives and to effect positive ongoing and lasting cultural change within regulators.
The Framework will allow regulators to report objectively on the outcomes of their efforts to administer regulation fairly, effectively and efficiently. It will also be a useful tool for regulators to identify opportunities for improvement and better target their resources for greater impact. The Framework will assist in highlighting where improvement of regulatory frameworks could reduce compliance costs.”1
Each agency is required to assess its own performance against the Framework annually. Part of the assessment process involves validation by external stakeholders through consultation – this is why the AGD has circulated their draft assessment to us for comment. The self-assessment report is finalised each December and is sent to the agency’s minister (the Attorney General in our case) and published.
In addition, each year PM&C can schedule external reviews but the PM&C staffer I spoke to (David Poulter) said that it was very unlikely the marriage celebrants program would be targeted – focus is on the big regulators.
There are six outcomes based KPIs and these are fixed as part of the Framework (see column 1 of the draft document). The Performance Measures are chosen by the department – I think they probably presented these to us when first setting up the Framework
”You may be consulted by a regulator on the development of their performance metrics. This presents an opportunity for stakeholders to shape the way regulators intend to measure their performance. It will be important for regulators to identify performance metrics that are useful for stakeholders in their interactions, and provide the opportunity to highlight areas for continuous improvement”.2
Data and analysis are used for the assessment. I asked whether the performance measures could be changed if we did not think they were adequate and if so how often. PM&C have advised agencies not to change these measures as this only the second year of assessment – also any change has to be approved by the Minister so clearly there would have to be a very good case. The department should use a range of data in its self assessment.
“The data collected may be used as evidence for assessing multiple KPIs. However, a range of evidence from different sources should be used to ensure adequate assessment of the regulator’s performance against each KPI. Assessment against the Framework should be comprehensive, accounting for all regulatory functions of the regulator and their interactions with stakeholders while undertaking these functions. The evidence base should include opportunities for a full range of stakeholders to contribute to the assessment through, for example, business surveys, interviews, focus groups or feedback mechanisms.”3
What can we do?
Provide comprehensive and fair comments on the draft statement. If we do not comment it implies that we are fully satisfied. Make sure we review the final statement when it is published to see how our comments were reflected.
“External validation is not intended to be an audit of the regulator’s self-assessment results. Rather, this process provides additional assurance that the regulator has validly assessed their own performance”4
Work with the department and use the performance report to identify areas for development by which the regulatory burden can be reduced and encourage the department to adopt appropriate regulatory risk-based approaches to their role. (Plus of course use the framework and assessment as evidence to go outside the department for support if we can show we are getting nowhere)
“Over time, the Framework will help to focus regulators on changes that will reduce the regulatory burden they impose on regulated entities and you should see a reduction in the time, cost and effort it takes you to comply with these obligations. You may also be asked to provide information to support regulators to assess their performance, if this is not already occurring”.5
1. The Regulator Performance Framework
2. RPF Guidance material on Stakeholder Feedback https://www.cuttingredtape.gov.au/resources/rpf/stakeholder-feedback
3. RPF Guidance material https://www.cuttingredtape.gov.au/resources/rpf
4. RPF Guidance on Stakeholder Feedback.
5. RPF Guidance What does the RPF mean for you https://www.cuttingredtape.gov.au/resources/rpf/what-does-it-mean-for-you