3. Birth registration

Current law

  1. 3.1 It is a legal requirement to register the birth of a child born in Victoria.1 There is no fee to register a birth. The definition of birth within the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 (Vic) (‘the Act’) includes a stillbirth.2
  2. 3.2 The Act grants the Registrar power to determine the form and manner of registration as well as the ability to set particulars.3 The particulars required for registration are set out in the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Regulations 2008 (Vic).4 This includes the requirement that the birth registration statement contain details of whether or not the parents are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin.5
  3. 3.3 The birth registration statement must state the name of the child.6
  4. 3.4 The Act requires that the parents (or other persons as prescribed in the Act)7 lodge a birth registration statement within 60 days of the birth of a child.8 The Act also provides that the Registrar must accept statements provided after the end of the 60-day limit.9
  5. 3.5 The penalty for non-registration of a birth within 60 days of the birth is 10 penalty units, which is currently $1408.10
  6. 3.6 The Act also provides for a court to order the registration of a birth or to include registrable information about a birth or a child’s parents in the Register, on application by an interested person.11 In addition, a court in another jurisdiction may direct the registration of a birth if it is found that a birth is not registered under the Act or a corresponding law.12 A court in another jurisdiction may also order that other registrable information be included if incomplete or incorrect.13
  7. 3.7 All other Australian states and territories have a two-step process for registration of a birth and application for a birth certificate. Only Queensland may charge for the registration of the birth itself, and only then, if the registration is late.14 Birth registration law and practice also vary internationally. Selected examples from other jurisdictions are included in Appendix F of this report.

Registration of an unidentified abandoned child

  1. 3.8 The Act requires that a person who has custody of a foundling15 and who is not the parent be responsible for the registration of the birth.16 The Victorian Department of Human Services, as a protective intervener,17 is responsible for ensuring that unidentified abandoned children18 are appropriately cared for through the child protection service.
  2. 3.9 When an infant has been abandoned and no parent or other family can be located, the child protection service, after consultation with legal services and the Registry, will register the birth of the child. The registration of the child will require the informant’s details to be entered on the birth registration statement, as well as a name to be given to the child.19

Registration of a child conceived via donor insemination or surrogacy arrangement

  1. 3.10 For a child conceived via donor insemination or through surrogacy arrangements, additional birth registration requirements apply.
  2. 3.11 The Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act 2008 (Vic) (ART Act) regulates assisted reproductive treatment and artificial insemination and makes provision for surrogacy arrangements.
  3. 3.12 The commencement of the ART Act on 1 January 2010 provided for the Registry to maintain the registers—the Central Register20 and Voluntary Register21—which record information about people involved in donor conception and surrogacy arrangements.22 The ART Act amended the Act so that the maintenance of these registers became an object of the Act.23
  4. 3.13 The Act requires that donor treatment details be recorded on the child’s birth registration statement.24 The registering parent/s25 must specify the name and address of the registered ART provider or doctor who carried out the donor treatment procedure.26 The Registrar is required to mark ‘donor conceived’ against the birth entry.27
  5. 3.14 It is the obligation of a mother who has self-inseminated in a private arrangement and her partner, if any, to register the birth of a child.28 The registering parent/s and the donor are required to provide a letter to the Registrar containing additional details including the name and contact details of the donor, along with one proof of identity document and the signature of the donor.29 The donor’s details will not appear on the child’s birth record or certificate.30
  6. 3.15 Upon application for a birth certificate by a donor-conceived person who has reached 18 years of age, an addendum to the certificate will be issued by the Registrar stating that more information is available about the entry.31 The donor treatment details do not appear on the certificate.32
  7. 3.16 If the child is born via a surrogacy arrangement, the Act prescribes that the surrogate mother and her partner, if any, register the birth.33 The surrogate mother is recorded as the mother and her partner, if any, is recorded as the father or parent.
  8. 3.17 Once a child born to a surrogate has been registered, the commissioning parent/s34 may apply to the County Court of Victoria or the Supreme Court of Victoria35 for a substitute parentage order.36 If the Court approves the application, it will issue a substitute parentage order to the Registry.37 The Registrar must register the surrogacy by entering the prescribed particulars in the Surrogate Birth Register and create a new birth record that shows the commissioning parent/s as the child’s parent/s, in accordance with the substitute parentage order.38

Registration of stillbirths

  1. 3.18 Stillbirths have not always been required to be registered in Victoria. Until 1952, stillbirths were required to be notified, but not registered, under the Births Notification Act 1930 (Vic).39 The Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages Act 1952 (Vic) established registers of stillbirths for the first time.40 The definition of the word ‘birth’ in the Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages Act 1928 (Vic) was amended to include ‘stillbirth’ and ‘child’ to include ‘still-born child’.41
  2. 3.19 Incorporating stillbirths into the principal Act placed a requirement on the father or mother of the stillborn child to give notice of the stillbirth to the registrar of the district within 60 days of the stillbirth.42

Registration required for person to receive Commonwealth newborn payments

  1. 3.20 The New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999 (Cth) requires that a parent/s must have registered (or applied to register) the birth of their newborn child before they can receive parental leave pay or the baby bonus. The ‘Newborn Child Claim for Paid Parental Leave, Family Assistance and Medicare’43 form requires parents to make a declaration stating that they have complied with this legislative requirement.44 The form also states that parents may be asked to provide proof of registration.45

Current practice

Hospital practice

  1. 3.21 Where a child is born in a hospital or birth centre, it is common practice for the attending midwife, ward clerk or nurse to provide the mother with the appropriate registration forms to fill in following the birth. Most forms are contained within a ‘parent pack’. The parent pack is in a large envelope provided by the Commonwealth Government46 and supplemented with materials from various sources including the Registry. Hospital staff collate these materials, assemble the pack, and provide it to new parents following the birth of their baby. The contents of the pack routinely include:
  • a letter congratulating the parents on the birth of their baby47
  • the child’s health and development record48
  • the birth registration statement form49
  • the baby bonus/paid parental leave application
  • other hospital/government forms and information.50
  1. 3.22 For multiple births, one pack is supplied per child. If lost or misplaced, copies of the birth registration statement form can be obtained from the Registry by phone request, in person at the Registry’s city office, or from one of the seven metropolitan or 13 regional justice service centres.51 The birth registration statement form is not currently available for download online, although the Commission understands this option may be available in the future.52 Some hospitals will reissue a birth registration statement on request and in such cases the reissued form may be marked ’Form 2’.53
  2. 3.23 The midwife or doctor present at the birth will also provide to the mother the completed and stamped birth statement. This statement must be attached to the birth registration statement form when a parent applies to register a birth. The Commission has heard in consultations that these forms are often misplaced and that they are difficult to have reissued.54
  3. 3.24 Prior to discharge, the midwife or nurse practitioner will prepare a hospital discharge summary sheet. The Victorian Maternity Record produced by the Department of Health contains reference to the main documents to be provided to new mothers prior to discharge from hospital.55 

Births that occur outside a hospital or birth centre

  1. 3.25 A midwife, medical practitioner or other responsible person who attends a birth that occurs outside a hospital will be responsible for the notification of that birth as discussed in the previous chapter.56
  2. 3.26 When a birth occurs outside a hospital, unexpectedly, the mother and baby may present at the hospital shortly after for a check-up. The Act prescribes that the hospital will be the party responsible for notification where a mother presents within 24 hours of giving birth.57
  3. 3.27 Women who give birth as part of a home-birth service provided by a local hospital, have an admission status for this purpose.58 Women who labour and deliver at home with no complications remain in their home and are not required to come to hospital. In this situation, the hospital midwives provide the requisite forms, including the birth registration statement and Centrelink forms, to the parent/s following the birth of their child, as would occur if the birth had occurred in the labour ward.
  4. 3.28 It is uncommon for women giving birth to have no engagement with a hospital provider.

Registry practices

  1. 3.29 The Registry’s birth registration statement is in two parts. Part 1 concerns the registration of the birth. Parents have 60 days to return the completed form and there is no fee payable.59
  2. 3.30 Part 2 is an application for the issue of a birth certificate and is discussed in detail in Chapters 4 and 5.60
  3. 3.31 When the Registry receives the birth registration statement, it matches the registration with the earlier birth notification. If the data in both records align, this is considered to be a complete record for the purposes of registering the birth.
  4. 3.32 Only parents requesting that a birth certificate be issued when they submit the birth registration statement receive confirmation of the registration of the birth. However, the Registry has informed the Commission that a letter confirming registration can be provided on request.61 The Act makes no provision for the issue of a birth extract.62
  5. 3.33 It is current practice for the Registry to send a reminder letter to the parent/s of the child (or other responsible parties) when the Registry has not received a birth registration statement within the prescribed 60 days.63
  6. 3.34 The Registrar advised the Commission that the penalties provided for in the Act for non-registration of births are seldom, if ever, imposed.64 
  7. 3.35 The Child Health and Development Record includes reminders for maternal and child health nurses to ask parents if they have registered their child’s birth at their two-, four- and eight-week visits.65
  8. 3.36 In the case of a stillbirth or neonatal death, the hospital provides the parents with a bereavement pack. The contents of the pack may vary between hospitals, but will always include a birth registration statement form, a Centrelink bereavement payment application and details of support services and information on bereavement and the loss of a child.66 Parents of a stillborn child who have not lodged a birth registration statement are not actively pursued but the Registry has advised the Commission that this practice is under consideration.67
  9. 3.37 Parents who have experienced a neonatal death will be contacted by the Registry via telephone in the first instance, and advised what they need to do to satisfy birth registration requirements. The Registry will then follow up with an appropriately worded letter.68

Community responses

  1. 3.38 The Commission received a wide range of responses on the issue of birth registration. In its consultation paper, the Commission asked whether there are existing barriers to registration and asked for suggestions on ways to make the system more accessible, efficient and effective.
  2. 3.39 Some submissions answered the questions posed in the consultation paper, while others raised issues not previously discussed. Views expressed in submissions and consultations, as they relate to the issue of birth registration, are discussed below. The first two sections examine the general points made in consultation about the importance of birth registration and the associated human rights considerations. The subsequent sections focus on barriers to registration.

The importance of birth registration

  1. 3.40 Most submissions commented on the importance of birth registration and the need to minimise barriers to ensure that births are registered and that this is done in a timely manner.69
  2. 3.41 Commenting on the evidence presented that there are Victorians whose births have not been registered, the International Commission of Jurists—Victoria (ICJ) called for:

urgent action to be taken to address what appear[s] to be a preventable and unintended consequence of our system of birth registration, bearing in mind that it is a legal system that is clearly intended to benefit rather than disadvantage members of our community.70 

  1. 3.42 Some submissions also suggested that the obligation to register a birth should rest on both the individual and the state and not the individual alone.71 Birth registration was characterised as primarily beneficial to the state and therefore largely the responsibility of the state. The Castan Centre noted:

It is in the state’s interest to maximise birth registration and certification. Non-registration can lead to incorrect assumptions about the demographic make-up of the Victorian community, and deny the Government demographic data which is essential for good planning and may be of value in determining state/federal funding arrangements. Non-registration at birth and certification problems can also increase the workload and time spent by public servants in unravelling problems in subsequent years. In some cases it may even lead to issues of public safety and an increase in criminal behaviour, if, for example, those whose births are not registered find that they are unable to obtain fundamental essentials of contemporary life, such as a drivers’ licence because of difficulty in obtaining certification of their birth or identity.72

  1. 3.43 These comments highlight the positive outcomes of birth registration for both the individual and the state, and the negative impacts of non-registration. Further, they raise the issue of how much responsibility should rest with the state to facilitate birth registration.
  2. 3.44 A related aspect of state responsibility—human rights considerations relevant to birth registration—was also raised in a number of submissions.

Human rights considerations

  1. 3.45 The Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) (the Charter) contains a number of provisions that may be relevant to birth registration, for example, the right to recognition before the law, which is contained in section 8(1).
  2. 3.46 While the Charter contains no express right to birth registration, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) does contain this right in article 24(2), which states that ‘every child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have a name’.73
  3. 3.47 The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) raised concerns regarding birth registration practices in its recent report on Australia’s implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Committee stated that it was:

concerned about the difficulties faced by Aboriginal persons in relation to birth registration. In particular…that obstacles to birth registration arising from poor literacy levels, the lack of understanding of the requirements and advantages of a birth registration as well as inadequacies in the support provided by authorities have not been resolved. The Committee further notes with concern that a birth certificate is subject to administrative costs, posing an additional hindrance for persons in economically disadvantaged situations.74 

  1. 3.48 The CRC urged a government review of birth registration processes to ensure all children born in Australia are registered at birth, and that procedural barriers do not disadvantage any child. The Committee noted that raising awareness among the Indigenous community about the importance of registration and providing extra support for people who may have literacy issues were paramount. It also urged government to issue a birth certificate, upon the birth of a child, free of charge.75 The United Nations Human Rights Council has recently adopted a resolution dedicated to birth registration and the right of everyone to recognition as a person before the law.76
  2. 3.49 A number of submissions cited the Victorian Charter and other international instruments, which they felt obliged the state to ensure birth registration systems are as accessible and inclusive as possible.77
  3. 3.50 The Law Institute of Victoria stated in its submission:

Birth registration is a fundamental human right, recognised at international law, and supports the right of everyone to recognition as a person before the law, protected in Victoria under s8(1) of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities 2006. Under their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights, Australian governments (including the Victorian government), have a responsibility to ensure that birth registration systems are accessible and that procedural barriers do not disadvantage any child.78

  1. 3.51 The Castan Centre noted that:

International human rights law requires not only that the birth of every child be registered, but also that a birth certificate is issued to the person registering the child’s birth.79

  1. 3.52 The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) discussed reform to birth registration law as a way of better realising human rights, stating:

Reform to the birth registration and certification system will provide an opportunity to promote and protect human rights. This is highly desirable, to meaningfully and respectfully include people who otherwise risk legal invisibility.80

  1. 3.53 The Castan Centre and VEOHRC both argued that the right to birth registration should be included as an express right within the Charter, giving effect to article 24(2) of the ICCPR.81 The Victorian Government’s response to the 2011 review of the Charter indicated that it would seek ‘further specific legal advice to inform its decision as to whether to include any of these additional civil and political rights’.82 

Prescribed time to register birth

  1. 3.54 A number of submissions highlighted issues with the current requirement for parents to register the birth of a child within 60 days. The Act, however, also requires the Registrar to accept registrations after this time.83
  2. 3.55 Some participants felt that 60 days to register the birth was insufficient following the birth of a child,84 particularly if there had been problems with the birth, or medical issues for the child.
  3. 3.56 The Mercy Hospital advised that in cases where a child is premature or in the neonatal intensive care unit, or the mother is unwell, the hospital will attempt to notify the Registry of the situation, either at the time of the birth notification, or shortly thereafter. The Registry, however, has informed the Commission that it is not routinely made aware of late registrations.85 The Mercy Hospital expressed concern that parents may be penalised for the late registration of a child due to reasons beyond their control.86
  4. 3.57 During consultation, the Commission was also told that some religions and/or cultures may require certain obligations to be met in order to name a child.87 Those from an Indian background, for example, may need to consult astrological calendars and/or a religious leader to determine the name of the child.88 This process can take up to 40 days, leaving little time to submit the birth registration statement.89
  5. 3.58 Another argument for more flexibility with the time limit was to allow time to correct mistakes on the form. One new parent noted that she had her form sent back and that she found it difficult to fill in within the prescribed time without help.90
  6. 3.59 Although the Registrar is required to accept late registrations, some participants expressed the view that if a parent missed the 60-day limit, they could be fearful of being penalised and so might further delay the registration.91
  7. 3.60 In contrast, a justice service centre employee noted that in their experience very few people registering a birth after the 60-day limit appeared concerned that they might be fined. Another employee suggested that an incentive, such as a free birth certificate if the registration is done within the time limit, may provide a better motivation for timely registration.92
  8. 3.61 While some concerns were raised in consultations about the 60-day limit, the Commission understands that the Registry seldom, if ever, penalises parents for late registration.93 Moreover, the Registrar is obliged to accept registrations after the 60-day limit has expired. It is also noted on the birth registration statement that if parents are unable to register the birth of their child within 60 days, they should contact the Registry.
  9. 3.62 The Commission believes that the current provisions for the time limit and late registration under the Act are adequate. The Commission has been informed by the Registry that the Registry takes a non-punitive approach to enforcement and therefore, in practice, there is little chance a person will be penalised for late registration.94

Requirement to provide the father’s or other parent’s details on the birth registration statement

  1. 3.63 In both consultations and submissions, the requirement to provide the details of the father on the birth registration statement was identified as one of the key barriers to timely birth registration.95
  2. 3.64 A number of possible reasons for a mother not wishing to, or being unable to, provide the father’s details were identified:
  • the father’s identity is unknown or uncertain96
  • the child was conceived through donor insemination97
  • there is a fear of family violence and/or reprisal as a result of providing the father’s details98
  • the conception was the result of an assault or incest99
  • a prior agreement was made with the father that his name would not appear on the Register, and
  • there is a misapprehension that the father’s details may be passed on to Centrelink or the Child Support Agency.100
  1. 3.65 Where the father’s identity is unknown, the mother can submit the birth registration statement without the father’s details if she is satisfied that it is not practicable to obtain the signature of the father of the child.101 In addition, the Act enables the Registrar to register the birth with incomplete particulars.102
  2. 3.66 However, the mother will be required to sign a statutory declaration.103 The birth registration statement notes that if applicants are unable to provide any details of the other parent, they are required to provide a statutory declaration stating why the parent’s details and/or signature are missing, and what attempts have been made to obtain them.104
  3. 3.67 Consultations and submissions indicated that women reluctant or unwilling to provide the father’s details were concerned with what action the Register may take if:
  • the Registrar did not accept her reasons for refusing to provide the father’s details
  • the Registrar did not consider her efforts to obtain the father’s details as sufficient. 
  1. 3.68 The Act states that both parents are jointly responsible for having the child’s birth registered and that both must sign the birth registration statement.105 As at [3.65], the Act permits the Registrar to accept a birth registration statement from one of the parents if satisfied that it is not practicable to obtain the signatures of both parents.106 Under the Act, the Registrar may request further information to support the birth registration statement at any time before the Registrar registers the birth.107 The Registrar is also empowered to make inquiries to ascertain the particulars of a registrable event and whether those particulars have been correctly recorded.108
  2. 3.69 Read together, sections 15(1) and 18(3) give the Registrar discretion to consider applications on a case-by-case basis. There is no publicly available information on what criteria are applied to decisions about making a request for further information, or a decision to register the birth with incomplete particulars.
  3. 3.70 The Registrar has advised the Commission that the current Registry practice is to seek details of the father’s address from the mother, advising her that her contact details will be masked when a copy of the birth registration statement is sent to the father for his signature.109 The Registry will also write to the father seeking confirmation that he is the father and request further information about him as well as asking him to sign the statement. The Registry will include the father on the Register if he signs the birth registration statement (see Appendix C).110
  4. 3.71 At present, the birth registration statement states that a father or parent’s details must be provided regardless of whether the father or parent is available to sign the form. The Registry requires applicants to provide a daytime phone number for the other parent even if no other information is available.
  5. 3.72 Concerns were raised during consultations that the requirement to provide reasons for the lack of a father’s details or signature in a statutory declaration can be intimidating and distressing. It was also suggested that it was unclear what reasons for not including details, and attempts to obtain them, were acceptable and sufficient.111 A number of consultation participants had had the Registry reject a client’s birth registration statement because the reasons provided in the statutory declaration were not acceptable.112
  6. 3.73 The issue was also of particular concern for Indigenous community members. The Aboriginal Liaison Officer at the Mercy Hospital identified the requirement to provide the father’s name on the birth registration statement as the main reason her clients do not submit the statement.113
  7. 3.74 Some participants felt that if the father was not willing to sign the form then he should not be on the birth certificate.114 Others felt that further information needed to be provided to applicants as to why and how the Registry would try to follow up with the nominated father.115 
  8. 3.75 Suggestions from participants to facilitate registration in these circumstances included:
  • providing a dedicated Registry phone number in Part 4 of the birth registration statement so that parents with concerns about naming the father can contact the Registry first to seek advice about their options116
  • including a check box in the birth registration statement for the mother to complete, with reasons for not including the father’s details, such as ‘unknown’ or ‘unwilling’.117
  1. 3.76 Both suggestions are considered in more detail in later sections of this chapter. Representatives of the Bairnsdale and Morwell justice service centres said they often fielded enquiries about the requirement to name the father on the birth registration statement.118
  2. 3.77 The Castan Centre suggested adopting a Queensland practice to make the process less intimidating.119 In Queensland, a parent is allowed to attach a statement, rather than a statutory declaration, explaining why the other parent has not signed the birth registration statement.120 The Centre felt this would be ‘less likely to be a disincentive to people registering the birth of their children’.121
  3. 3.78 While having to provide the father’s details was one of the barriers to birth registration most frequently cited during consultation, concerns were also raised that a failure to provide the father’s details could potentially disadvantage both the father and the child. The view was expressed that, wherever possible, it was clearly preferable that there be a full birth record for the child, including the father’s details.122
  4. 3.79 The competing interests identified were characterised as a question of a balance of rights, either perceived or actual, among three parties:
  • the right of the father to be included on, and sign, the birth registration statement, and by doing so, have his parentage formally acknowledged
  • the right of the child to know who his/her parents are
  • the right of the mother to be free from the fear of reprisal or violence, or not to be forced to acknowledge the father of a child conceived through an assault.123
  1. 3.80 The Registrar is primarily responsible for balancing these interests, due to his/her wide discretion to decide whether the information provided on the birth registration statement is sufficient, and what subsequent action will be taken to attempt to obtain further information.124
  2. 3.81 The birth registration statement is unclear as to whether the Registrar will accept a registration where a mother includes the father’s details but is unable to obtain his signature. The Commission understands that the Registry will pursue all available channels to obtain a signature but will ultimately register the birth if a signature cannot be obtained.125
  3. 3.82 Consultation participants suggested that the form should clearly explain the process the Registry will follow for attempting to obtain the father’s signature and what will be recorded on the Register (and birth certificate) if a signature cannot be obtained.126
  4. 3.83 Finally, consultation participants expressed some concern that there is no explanatory information on the birth registration statement about the options available to a mother who wishes to place a father’s details on the birth registration statement but is unable to obtain his cooperation. For example, a man may refuse to cooperate when he refuses to acknowledge paternity. During consultation, it was noted that determining biological parentage for the purpose of placing the father’s name on the birth certificate can be time-consuming and expensive.127
  5. 3.84 In contrast, some participants questioned the ease with which a father can assume parentage without being required to demonstrate that he is the child’s biological parent if he signs the birth registration statement. In these circumstances, respondents felt that signing a statutory declaration did not provide sufficient proof of parentage.128
  6. 3.85 The issue of legal parentage and how to record this accurately raised many vexed questions during consultations. A complete overview of what parental responsibility entails under Victorian law is contained within one of the Commission’s earlier reports.129 Legal parentage in the context of donor-conceived children and/or surrogacy arrangements is discussed in Chapter 4.
  7. 3.86 The suggestions for reforms made in this section with regard to the inclusion or exclusion of a father’s or other parent’s details on the birth registration statement are addressed under the following sections examining family violence and the particulars of the birth registration statement.

Registration of a birth without the mother’s consent

  1. 3.87 During consultations, the issue of registering the birth of a child without the mother’s consent was raised.130 In two cases, the father (and/or his family) was aware of the birth of a child he/they believed to be his and there was concern that the child was not registered.131 In another example, the mother had died without registering her child.132
  2. 3.88 The Act places an obligation on both parents to register the birth of their child,133 but the birth registration statement refers to the mother and father differently. Step 3 on the statement appears to assume that the mother will be completing the form. Step 4 notes that the father’s details must be included regardless of whether he will sign the form. There is no reference on the form to a situation where the mother will not, or cannot, sign the form.
  3. 3.89 The Registry has informed the Commission that in instances where no details of the mother are provided, the birth notification data will be used by the Registry to identify the mother.134
  4. 3.90 The Registrar can accept a birth registration statement from one parent if satisfied that it is not practicable to obtain the signatures of both parents.135 The provision draws no distinction between the mother and father.
  5. 3.91 The Registrar can also include in the Register information about the identity of a child’s parents provided by one parent where the information relates only to the identity of that parent.136 
  6. 3.92 A person other than a parent can also provide information to the Registrar. The Act allows the Registrar to accept information from a person with knowledge of relevant facts if the Registrar is satisfied that the parents of the child are unlikely, or unable, to lodge a birth registration statement.137
  7. 3.93 Further, the Registrar can include in the Register information about the identity of a child’s parents obtained from a person with relevant facts, if both parents are unable to provide the information or are unavailable.138
  8. 3.94 The way the birth registration statement is currently set out is appropriate for the vast majority of applications that will be completed by the mother. On its face, however, it does not appear to allow for a father to register a birth if the mother cannot or will not.

Commission’s view

  1. 3.95 The Registrar has informed the Commission that if he/she receives a birth registration statement signed only by the father, the Registry will request further contact details for the mother to confirm with her that the man is the father and advise her of her obligation to complete the birth registration statement. In situations where the mother and father are completely estranged, the Registry will work through individual circumstances to enable the registration of the birth.139
  2. 3.96 As provided by the Act, and as a matter of principle, the Commission strongly supports the requirement that both parents be jointly responsible for the registration of the birth of their child. In practice, the Commission is aware that the identity of the father may be in dispute and the Registry needs to confirm details with the mother of the child before the birth can be recognised.
  3. 3.97 The Commission is also aware that there may be other reasons a birth registration statement may be signed only by the father. This may occur where the mother is ill or has died.
  4. 3.98 The Commission notes that in practical terms, because it is unusual for the Registry to receive an application signed only by the father, it is unlikely to be necessary to change the form significantly to reflect the current practice of the Registry as outlined above. The Commission suggests, therefore, that the Registry consider including a note on the birth registration statement that a father in this situation should contact the Registry for advice prior to submitting the form.

Recommendation

  1. 2The birth registration statement should include a statement that if a person other than the mother wishes to register a birth in a situation where they believe the mother will not, or cannot register the birth, they should contact the Registrar to find out how this can be done, and what information they will need to provide. 

     

     

Family violence and birth registration

  1. 3.99 Family violence and/or intimate partner violence can be a contributing factor to the non-registration of a birth. Studies have shown that family violence can start or increase during pregnancy.140 As noted above, the issue of family violence was raised in consultations and submissions in relation to the requirement to place the father’s name on the birth registration statement.141
  2. 3.100 The North Melbourne Legal Service (NMLS), which provides an outreach clinic at the Royal Women’s Hospital, raised a number of issues in its submission relating to family violence and birth registration. It stated:

For many women who access our services, there can be confusion and anxiety regarding whether they are required to provide details of their child’s father in situations where they may have fears for their safety or that of their children due to family violence. Although registration can proceed on the basis of incomplete particulars, NMLS is of the view that many vulnerable individuals would benefit from more certainty regarding what constitutes an ‘other reason’ which may be sufficient for the Registrar to proceed with a birth registration in this circumstance.142

  1. 3.101 Health care providers felt that more clarity could be provided when supporting clients in a family violence situation. For example, the Mercy Hospital suggested that the Registry provide a clear policy and outline of procedure for the notification of births by the hospital where there are also family violence concerns.143 The hospital noted that it routinely screens for indicators of family violence on admission, and is often privy to a disclosure made by a relative or the client.
  2. 3.102 The Royal Women’s Hospital, in conjunction with the NMLS, has established ‘Acting on Warning Signs’. The project works with health care professionals to build capacity and expertise in identifying indicators of family violence. Drawing from its experience of working with the hospital, the NMLS suggested that:

when investigating an incomplete form, the Registrar should be required to consider indicators of family violence, including the existence of intervention orders, evidence of criminal convictions, police reports and statutory declarations by witnesses (including social workers and other support workers).144

  1. 3.103 Some consultation participants felt that mothers in family violence situations should be able to submit the birth registration statement without having to note all the father’s details. The NMLC noted that it:

supports the right of a child to know both of their parents. However, in our work, we are aware of situations in which to simply list the father on the birth certificate without further support and information provided to the mother would place women and/or their children at serious risk. Accordingly, we submit that the birth registration process should provide women with more information about their rights and entitlements and provide women with further clarity about the process.145

 

  1. 3.104 In addition to the concerns relating to provision of a father’s details, non-registration of a birth may occur in family violence situations due to concern that an estranged father may attempt to locate the mother following registration, by applying to the Registry for a copy of the birth certificate. Current practice is to include the address details of both parents on the child’s birth certificate. An estranged father could potentially locate a mother and child through the address provided on the child’s birth certificate if the address is still current.

Commission’s view

  1. 3.105 The Registry has informed the Commission that the inclusion of addresses on the birth certificate is, historically, to reflect information captured on the birth record. The Registry has also informed the Commission that if a parent requested that this detail not be included on the certificate, the Registry could remove it. However, the information would remain on the birth record.146
  2. 3.106 The Commission is concerned that the difficulty with the current approach is that few victims of family violence may be aware of the option to request that their address be withheld.
  3. 3.107 The Commission supports the development of a family violence strategy or plan in conjunction with relevant agencies. A strategy (and the process to develop the strategy) would enable the Registry to direct its services in the most appropriate manner and ensure that it is available to all vulnerable groups, including people who may not register the birth of their child because of family violence.

Recommendations

  1. 3 The Registrar should develop a policy for processing birth registration statements where the applicant is at risk of family violence.

    This policy should require the Registry to contact the applicant before contacting the alleged perpetrator if there is any indication on a birth registration statement of a risk of family violence.

  1. 4 Step 4 of the birth registration statement should be amended to:

     

 

Particulars of birth registration statement

  1. 3.108 For most people, filling in the birth registration statement following the birth of a child is a relatively straightforward task.147 A number of participants noted it was far easier than Centrelink forms.148 However, for those parent/s who may have more complex situations to document, for whom English is not a first language or who have low literacy skills, the form can pose significant problems.149 Vulnerable groups and awareness and accessibility will be discussed further in Chapters 6 and 7.
  2. 3.109 Considerable support was provided in submissions and consultations for changes to the particulars required on the birth registration statement and the layout and accessibility of the form itself. The Castan Centre noted that:

The guiding principle for good registration policy and practice should be to maximise the likelihood of registration occurring. Complexity in forms and processes, the provision of supplementary documentation, which may not be available and onerous requirements for the provision and witnessing of documents, are all likely to decrease compliance with registration processes. Making processes as straightforward as possible and non-intimidating as possible provide an obvious benefit…150

  1. 3.110 A number of consultation participants felt that there was insufficient explanatory material at the front of the birth registration statement, especially relating to the importance of registering a birth and how to do so correctly. For example, they felt the instruction for both parents to initial any changes was not prominent enough.151
  2. 3.111 Others noted that there was little point having information about interpreting services at the back of the form.152 The Castan Centre submitted that the complexity of the form is likely to decrease compliance with registration processes by disadvantaged groups generally.153 
  3. 3.112 The Act permits the Registrar to request additional particulars in the birth registration statement that do not appear on the birth certificate.154 The Registry notes on the birth registration statement that these items are for ‘statistical purposes, medical research or office use only and will not appear on the birth certificate’.155 These items are marked on the birth registration statement with an asterisk, but the form does not state whether the asterisk indicates a mandatory field.156 Some participants felt that the items with an asterisk were optional and so had not completed them.157
  4. 3.113 It is unclear from the instructions provided on the birth registration statement whether the Registrar would accept a form that was submitted with incomplete asterisked particulars: for example, the requirement that both parents’ signatures be provided is a field with an asterisk.
  5. 3.114 The requirement that both parents register the birth is a mandatory component of the form, unless a statutory declaration is provided to the Registry to explain the absence of a signature. With regard to the fields with asterisks, the Castan Centre noted that:

While there may be value in recording such information, consideration needs to be given to whether such information could be obtained independently of the registration process itself.158

  1. 3.115 The Castan Centre cited examples from other jurisdictions, such as the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland, where the birth registration statement is simpler and clearer on what information must be provided for statistical purposes and who needs to provide the information.159
  2. 3.116 Concerns were also raised during consultations about particular sections of the birth registration statement. For step 5, participants noted that applicants were often confused about what constituted a ‘registered domestic relationship’.160 The latest version of the birth registration statement now includes explanatory notes to guide applicants in filling in this section.161
  3. 3.117 Consultation participants also expressed the view that the information provided to same-sex parents could be improved, both under step 4162 and particularly step 6, donor treatment details.163 This mainly concerned what information was to be provided to the Registrar in cases of self-insemination.164
  4. 3.118 The requirement on the birth registration statement to provide an address for the doctor or midwife was also raised during consultations. This point mainly related to the lack of delineation between births that occurred inside a hospital (in which case the hospital details would suffice), to births that occurred outside the hospital (in which case the attendant midwife or medical practitioner’s details would need to be provided). 
  5. 3.119 A number of consultation participants noted that as most births occurred in a hospital, this requirement caused confusion, as new parents (and midwives) did not necessarily know that the hospital address would be sufficient, and so may delay submitting the birth registration statement.165 Health professionals based in hospitals stated that they generally marked this section with the hospital stamp, instead of requiring the midwife present at birth to place his /her personal address details on the form.166
  6. 3.120 Finally, a number of participants asked why the details of head circumference, eye colour and length for the newborn child were requested on the statement.167 The Commission notes that the birth registration statement indicates that the collection of asterisked particulars is for statistical and medical research purposes.

Commission’s view

  1. 3.121 The Commission appreciates the rationale for requesting additional details on the birth registration statement, but is concerned that this may provide, on occasion, a barrier to the registration of the birth.
  2. 3.122 The Commission is also concerned that there is some confusion as to what particulars will and will not appear on the birth certificate.
  3. 3.123 For the purpose of clarity, the Commission considers that more information should be provided to applicants about why certain particulars are collected, and how they are used. Moreover, the birth registration statement should clearly state what particulars will appear on the birth certificate and what will not.

Recommendation

  1. 5 The birth registration statement should clearly outline:

 

Requirement to provide supporting documents

  1. 3.124 During the writing of this report, the Registry removed the requirement of the mother and father to provide a copy of a proof of identity document with the birth registration statement (Appendix C). The requirement to provide supporting documents, and the person/s who may certify identity documents, is determined by the Registrar as part of his/her general functions, and is not contained within regulations.
  2. 3.125 One participant group noted that while removing the requirement to provide identity documents may make it easier to register a birth, it seemed to be at odds with the strict criteria relating to the identity documents required to apply for a birth certificate.168 Further discussion of birth certificates and people who are authorised to certify copies of identity documents is contained in Chapter 4. 
  3. 3.126 Due to the recent changes removing the requirement to supply proof of identity documents, the Commission considers that no further changes are necessary.

Witnessing of birth registration statement

  1. 3.127 Concerns were also raised about the witnessing of the birth registration statement. The NMLS suggested that the form should clearly state who must witness the form.169 It was noted that it is common for both midwives and MCH nurses to be asked to witness birth registration statement forms, as new parents often complete the form prior to leaving hospital or bring the form to one of their initial appointments with the MCH service.170
  2. 3.128 The concerns raised about witnessing documents do not appear to pose a significant barrier to registration. The Commission did not hear any examples of a birth registration statement being returned on the basis that the witness particulars or signature were incomplete.

Stillbirths and neonatal deaths

  1. 3.129 The Act places a legal obligation on parents of a stillborn child to complete a birth registration statement within the same prescribed time as a child born alive.171 The obligation also applies to a parent whose child is born alive but who dies within 28 days of birth, called a neonatal death.
  2. 3.130 The termination of a pregnancy after 20 weeks gestation or delivery of a baby with a body mass of at least 400 grams, who exhibits no sign of respiration or heartbeat, or other sign of life, would be considered to be a stillbirth for the purpose of registering the birth under the Act.172 The requirement to register a late-term abortion as a birth was raised during consultation.173 The Women’s Hospital noted that while some women wish to register the birth of a child as part of dealing with the decision to terminate the pregnancy, others may not.174
  3. 3.131 Both the Women’s and Mercy Hospitals informed the Commission that there are clear guidelines for dealing with ‘registrable’ (post-20 weeks gestation) and ‘un-registrable’ births (pre-20 weeks or less than 400 grams).175
  4. 3.132 When a stillbirth occurs, the hospital or midwife (if it occurs outside a hospital) will provide the parents with a birth registration statement as well as other documentation, often called a bereavement pack, as referred to earlier in this chapter. The Women’s noted that providing a bereavement pack to grieving parents requires sensitive timing and that the hospital will do all it can to assist the parents adjust to their loss, including the option of domiciliary care following discharge.176
  5. 3.133 The Mercy Hospital explained that generally in the case of a stillbirth or neonatal death, a social worker will explain the obligation to register the birth to the parents and suggest they take some time to complete the birth registration statement. Follow-up assistance is offered to parents who leave hospital without completing either the statement or Centrelink forms.177
  6. 3.134 The birth registration statement supplied to parents of a stillborn child is the same as that given to the parents of a live-born child. 
  7. 3.135 The form used until November 2012 had a cover with photographs of smiling babies. During consultation, the Commission heard of the distress caused to some parents by the requirement to complete a form that is designed to reflect the joy and celebration of a live baby.178 It was suggested that a more appropriately designed form should be provided to parents of a stillborn child.179 The Registry has responded to the concern expressed during recent awareness-raising activities and has redesigned its birth registration statement form. The new form has a plain front cover and is appropriate for all births (Appendix C).
  8. 3.136 While not posed as a question in the consultation paper, there was also support during consultation for the removal of the mandatory requirement within the Act to register a stillborn child. Some health professionals felt that while registering the birth (and applying for a birth certificate) could provide comfort to some parents who had lost a child, this feeling was not shared by all parents. The suggestion made was that the mandatory requirement to register the birth should be removed and replaced with an ability to register at the parents’ discretion.180
  9. 3.137 In one consultation, it was suggested that the ‘Medical Certificate for Cause of Perinatal Death’ notification could be amended or adapted to double as a registration of birth, thereby removing the requirement to fill in the birth registration statement.181
  10. 3.138 The Commission notes these expressions of community views but as these issues are beyond the scope of its current inquiry it makes no recommendations in relation to them.

Involvement of health professionals in assisting a parent to register the birth of their child

  1. 3.139 Submissions and consultations supported the greater involvement of health care professionals in helping new parents to understand their rights and obligations about the registration of their child’s birth.182 This included support for enhanced antenatal and postnatal assistance. In some instances, health care professionals assist parents to fill in the birth registration statement prior to the mother and child’s discharge from hospital.183 It was suggested that if the process of birth registration started antenatally and was reaffirmed postnatally, this would increase registration rates.184

Antenatal

  1. 3.140 Some participants suggested that birth registration should be a topic discussed with new parents antenatally, either at one of the mother’s appointments with a doctor or midwife or as part of the antenatal education programs run by, or attached to, hospitals and birth clinics.185 The Commission was informed that some hospitals already include a short segment on the requirement to register a birth in these classes.186 This is discussed further in Chapter 7. 
  2. 3.141 A number of participants consulted spoke of the general lack of information about what is required of new parents following the birth of a baby. Participants agreed that the antenatal period could be an ideal time for health professionals to engage with parents about their rights and responsibilities.187

Postnatal

  1. 3.142 During consultation, it was noted that health professionals are often best placed to know whether clients need help with completing a birth registration statement, including those with low levels of literacy or for whom English is a second language.188 Others noted that the form could be complicated and overwhelming for young mothers dealing with a newborn child.189
  2. 3.143 Many health professionals who frequently deal with disadvantaged groups mentioned that it is not unusual for people in these circumstances to live chaotic lives. Consequently, birth registration, along with engagement with other services, can be problematic.190
  3. 3.144 One suggestion to increase the involvement of health professionals included requiring the birth registration statement form to be submitted by the hospital.191 In another consultation, participants discussed the role volunteers could play in assisting new parents to fill in forms either at the hospital or a local community health centre.192
  4. 3.145 Lack of time and resources were cited as the main reasons health professionals are unable to help new parents to answer questions or fill in the birth registration statement. Midwives and nurses in hospitals are often very busy and participants noted that new mothers may only stay one night in hospital before discharge, or as little as six hours for second or subsequent births.193
  5. 3.146 Some health care professionals noted that while they were happy to help clients to fill in the form, they were uncomfortable with witnessing the signatures on the birth registration statement. Some suggested that they did not wish to place their own details on the birth registration statement.194
  6. 3.147 The Mercy Hospital noted in consultation that it was their practice not to provide new mothers with a parents’ pack until discharge. The rationale for this was to ensure parents did not misplace the forms in the often busy time after birth. Participants interviewed felt that the downside of this approach was that staff could not assist with any of the forms, should parents require it.195 

The role of maternal and child health nurses

  1. 3.148 There was also support from participants for greater involvement of maternal and child health nurses in discussing the issue of birth registration with clients and prompting completion of the birth registration statement. As previously discussed, MCH nurses routinely ask new parents at the two-, four- and eight-week checks whether they have registered the birth of their child.196 Many participants felt that this discussion could include asking parents whether they required further assistance with the form.
  2. 3.149 One participant felt that the MCH nurse could have additional copies of the birth registration statement form to provide at the first health check.197 Another felt that nurses should have a sample birth registration statement to show clients.198 One participant felt that greater use could be made of the local council SMS appointment service (a service which sends a text message to residents) to remind parents to complete the birth registration statement.199
  3. 3.150 Some MCH nurses expressed the view that more information could be provided to nurses about the importance of birth registration and how to convey this to clients.200 However, concerns were raised over the resources and time available to training staff to provide this service.201 The Commission was advised that Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) provides funding for biannual conferences for MCH nurses, and these could be a convenient time for sharing information about birth registration requirements.202
  4. 3.151 The Commission heard that the Enhanced MCH service already plays a role in helping vulnerable clients to register the birth of their child. This service is offered to families who are at risk of poor outcomes and need more intensive support than provided by the mainstream service.203 This is discussed further in Chapters 6 and 7.

Commission’s view

  1. 3.152 There appears to be scope for the greater involvement of MCH nurses in promoting and assisting with birth registration. The MCH system has a strong take-up rate of 95 per cent for mothers’ first appointments after discharge. This provides MCH nurses with an ideally timed opportunity to discuss the issue of birth registration with clients.
  2. 3.153 Clients who do not wish to engage with mainstream MCH services are directed to other services. For example, if the client identifies as Indigenous, she will be offered a visit from a Koori domiciliary midwife or community health worker. The role of Boorai nurses and the Welcome Baby to Country Project are discussed in Chapter 6.
  3. 3.154 By way of comparison, the Commission understands that in England registration facilities are provided in some local hospitals or other locations such as children’s centres.204 For example, Liverpool City Council permits the registration of births at the Liverpool Women’s Hospital or at the Liverpool Register Office.205 Likewise, in Manchester the local Registry sends a registrar to local children’s centres to provide a registration service for parents who do not wish, or are unable, to attend the main register office. 
  4. 3.155 Assistance by dedicated personnel before discharge would have resourcing implications, and the value of such a scheme would need to be weighed against the cost. The Commission raises these approaches from other countries as examples of practices that may improve the rates of birth registration. However, given that the vast majority of Victorian births are registered before the child starts school, the Commission considers that more targeted assistance to disadvantaged groups would be a better use of resources.
  5. 3.156 The Commission notes the good work already being done by MCH nurses and suggests that some of the points raised above could be considered by the Registry and DEECD in their ongoing collaborative work in relation to birth registration.

Cross-jurisdictional registration

  1. 3.157 People born in cross-border communities face particular issues in relation to birth registration. In Victoria and New South Wales Indigenous people often live in such communities along the Murray River and often move between jurisdictions.206 In its submission, Legal Aid NSW noted:

While access to birth registration documents is an issue in many communities, Legal Aid NSW has observed it to be a particular issue in cross-border communities…Accessing the services in other states presents yet another barrier to obtaining birth documents. Literacy and capacity levels in some of these communities can make accessing the complex processes even more difficult.207

  1. 3.158 During consultation, the Commission heard examples of difficulties encountered by people born near the Victorian/New South Wales border, as well as communities living near or on the Victorian/South Australian border.208 One example from a Victorian service provider follows:

A 16 year old girl who lives in kinship care does not have a birth certificate. As a result the kinship carer is having difficulty accessing Centrelink support programs for the girl. The girl’s mother lives in NSW and also does not have a birth certificate. The kinship carer is unsure if the birth/s have been registered, and if so, in what state.209

  1. 3.159 Obtaining appropriate identification documents for people born interstate or living near the border can be problematic. In East Gippsland, participants with extensive experience in birth registration matters commented on the frustration of dealing with multiple agencies when trying to help people, often Indigenous people, locate identification documents.210
  2. 3.160 The difficulties of cross-jurisdictional issues prompted one group of consultation participants to suggest that a cohesive national law was required in this area, instead of state-by-state law.211
  3. 3.161 The Victorian Registry has an Indigenous Access Team (IAT), which is discussed in more detail in Chapter 6. 
  4. 3.162 The Commission understands that the Victorian Registry has an agreement with the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages to allow NSW permanent residents living in Albury shire,212 who have a baby at Wodonga Hospital, to register the birth with the NSW Registry.213 Legal Aid NSW noted, with regard to the Albury/Wodonga arrangement, that:

A similar kind of protocol may be useful to consider for other less advantaged communities … . Legal Aid NSW would welcome a coordinated, inter-jurisdictional strategy to assist cross-border communities with birth registration and gaining access to birth certificates.214

Commission’s view

  1. 3.163 The Commission acknowledges the particular challenges faced by communities living near, or on, state borders. The Commission further notes work undertaken by the Victorian Registry in 2009 on applications for birth certificates, and birth registrations, for Indigenous residents born in other jurisdictions. This work, undertaken as part of the Registry’s Indigenous Access Project, accepted some 46 applications on behalf of people born in other states and territories, and forwarded these on to the appropriate state or territory registries for processing.215
  2. 3.164 The Commission commends the Registry on this work and agrees with the suggestion by NSW Legal Aid that assistance should be provided to cross-border communities to help them to obtain birth certificates and register the birth of their children.

Recommendation

  1. 6 The Registry should consider how the work of the Indigenous Access Project could be expanded, to better facilitate birth registration and access to birth certificates for cross-border communities.

 

  1. 3.165 Further, the Commission notes the current agreement between the NSW and Victorian registries, with regard to Albury residents who deliver at the Wodonga campus of Albury Wodonga Health Services. The Commission understands that this agreement was developed in response to the specific issues facing NSW residents following the closure of maternity facilities at the Mercy Hospital in Albury.216 Therefore the Commission makes no further recommendations with regard to the expansion of interstate registration agreements at this stage. 

Registration, citizenship and access to health and welfare benefits

  1. 3.166 Neither the birth nor the registration of a birth in Australia confers Australian citizenship. However, if one or both parents of the child are permanent residents, or meet the relevant criteria (as discussed below), they and the child will be entitled to relevant Centrelink and Medicare benefits.
  2. 3.167 Australian citizenship and entitlement to welfare benefits are determined by other legislative criteria. The requirements of citizenship are set out in the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 (Cth). The most common way of obtaining citizenship is by being born in Australia and by having a parent who is an Australian citizen or a permanent resident at the time of the birth.217 Other ways include:
  • if the person is ordinarily resident in Australia in the 10 years following their birth218
  • if the person is an adopted person under state law219
  • if the person has obtained citizenship by descent220
  • if the person is a permanent resident who makes application to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship.221
  1. 3.168 Entitlement to the baby bonus and paid parental leave scheme requires the applicant, and child in their care, to be an Australian resident,222 and to meet the income test. Paid parental leave has certain additional work requirements.
  2. 3.169 A newborn child of up to 52 weeks of age can be added to a parent’s Medicare card by the parent filling in the Newborn child claim for paid parental leave, family assistance and Medicare form.223 If the parent does not meet the income test for the payment, the form can still be used to enrol for Medicare. In the case of a bereavement payment, parents would be required to fill in the claim form for bereavement payment only.
  3. 3.170 If a child is over 52 weeks of age or is an adult who has not previously enrolled for Medicare, then a Medicare enrolment application is required along with identification, such as a birth certificate.224 If the person is Indigenous they may choose to fill in a separate enrolment form which accepts more flexible forms of identification (such as a birth extract). For Indigenous people who are unable to show identification, a referee can vouch for the person.225
  4. 3.171 The Medicare enrolment application does not make provision for Australian citizens who are resident in Australia and have not been enrolled previously. In the rare case that a person has never been enrolled, is not an Indigenous person, and does not possess an Australian or New Zealand passport, then a birth certificate would be required as proof of identity.
  5. 3.172 In the case of an unidentified abandoned child, the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 (Cth) provides that the child is considered an Australian citizen unless the contrary is proven.226 Therefore, carers of a child in this situation would be able to access Medicare benefits on their behalf.
  6. 3.173 During consultations, the Commission heard that problems with a parent’s residency status in Australia can create barriers to the registration of a birth. The Commission was provided with an example of an itinerant worker giving birth in a regional area, but reluctant to engage with services, including registering the birth of their child or engaging with maternal and child health services, due to concerns about an invalid or expired visa.227
  7. 3.174 Immigration, citizenship and access to social and health services, such as Centrelink and Medicare, are within the purview of the Commonwealth. As such, the Commission is unable to make further recommendations about this issue, as it is beyond the scope of the terms of reference for this review.

Registration of birth in order to receive the baby bonus, paid parental leave and/or Medicare card

  1. 3.175 Consultation participants showed different levels of understanding of the eligibility requirements for Medicare, as well as whether a child needed to be registered for parents to receive the baby bonus or paid parental leave.
  2. 3.176 As outlined earlier in this chapter, under the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999 (Cth), parents are required to register the birth of their child (or to have applied to register their child) in order to receive the baby bonus or paid parental leave (including the bereavement payment).228
  3. 3.177 The application form states that proof of registration may be required for an application to be successful. The Commission was advised that in practice, proof of registration would only be requested in ‘rare occurrences where there is evidence to suggest substantial doubt that the person has registered or applied to register their child.’229
  4. 3.178 One consultation participant stated that she had been asked to provide proof of registration of the birth of her second child. This participant felt that if this were routinely required, then more people would register their child in a timely manner.230
  5. 3.179 Unlike the baby bonus, there is no specific provision within the Health Insurance Act 1973 (Cth) or the Human Services (Medicare) Act 1973 (Cth) requiring registration in order to enrol for Medicare alone. However, because a single enrolment form is used for newborns up to 52 weeks of age, the Newborn child claim for paid parental leave, family assistance and Medicare form,231 it is possible that an application for Medicare could be delayed if proof of registration was requested in relation to the Centrelink payments. However, as noted above, this occurs rarely.
  6. 3.180 Views expressed in consultations concerned both enrolment for Medicare and application for benefits. Some participants thought that a Medicare card could not be received without the registration of their child.232 Others were more concerned about the application for, and receipt of, the baby bonus, citing this as the main reason they had registered their child.233 Finally, a number of participants had applied for the baby bonus but had not completed the registration of their child.234 
  7. 3.181 Several consultation participants felt that proof of registration should be required for newborn payments to be issued.235 These participants felt that linking Centrelink and birth registration processes would encourage more timely birth registration.236

Commission’s view

  1. 3.182 One way of providing proof of registration would be for the Commonwealth to have access to state registries. The Commission understands that no disclosure of information or data-matching arrangements of this kind currently exist between the Registry and the Commonwealth Department of Human Services. The Department of Human Services commented:

While the department has investigated opportunities to assist in increasing birth registrations, including the possibility of data matching with birth registries, the department does not have any existing MoUs with any state or territory registry of births, deaths and marriages in relation to verification of registration of births.237

  1. 3.183 The Victorian Registry has advised the Commission that it would consider introducing a data-matching arrangement with the Commonwealth because data matching would promote birth registration and help new parents to receive the baby bonus.238 The Commission understands that this is a view held by a number of state registries. However, it appears that to date the States and the Commonwealth have been unable to agree on the details of the arrangement.239
  2. 3.184 The Commission supports the current legislative requirement to register, or to have applied to register, the birth of a child before the baby bonus or parental leave can be paid.240 The Commission understands that the current system, which requires a declaration and follow-up only in rare cases, allows for efficient application for and receipt of benefit.
  3. 3.185 The Commonwealth Department of Human Services wishes eligible applicants to have easy access to payments.241 It would not, for example, be ideal to implement a system that delayed new parents from receiving their newborn payments or a Medicare card.
  4. 3.186 However, the Commission is concerned that an opportunity to use the strong incentive of the receipt of newborn payments to encourage register of the birth of a child is not being fully utilised.242 Data matching would appear to provide a benefit to both the state and Commonwealth. Being able to check for registered births would help the Commonwealth meet its goal of ensuring all eligible parents can access payments. For the State, data matching with Centrelink records could flag to the Registry where a potential registration has not occurred and enable follow up by the Registry.
  5. 3.187 The streamlining of processes between state and federal agencies is discussed in the following section. 

Recommendation

  1. 7 The Registrar should have further discussions with the Commonwealth Department of Human Services on data matching of birth registration information to promote greater compliance with both state and federal legislation.

 

Streamlining processes

  1. 3.188 There was considerable support in consultations and submissions for streamlining and integrating processes between agencies, both federal and state.243
  2. 3.189 Consultation participants highlighted the duplication of time and effort in completing forms and the potential barriers created by multiple reporting requirements, for example, between the Registry and Centrelink, and, in some instances, Medicare.244 Consultation participants questioned why government bodies could not better coordinate services and make the registration process more streamlined.245 Participants supported improved links between state and federal government systems, particularly in the area of birth registration.246 Suggestions included:
  • having one form for birth registration and the application for a newborn payment, as discussed above;247
  • greater cooperation between state and federal agencies in the sharing of information with regard to births registered and applications for newborn payments (as discussed in the previous section).248
  1. 3.190 Other participants went further, suggesting that there should be a more citizen-focused approach to creating identity. This proposal supported the idea that children should receive identity documents together, for example a birth certificate accompanied by a Medicare card.249 Another suggestion was that linking Medicare to registration would ‘capture people in the first instance’.250
  2. 3.191 The australia.gov.au251 initiative was highlighted as a better way of linking up a number of services. Participants acknowledged that while this currently only involved a limited number of federal agencies, it could be expanded or adapted to include state-based agencies such as the Registry.252
  3. 3.192 The Commission is aware of current discussions at a national level concerning the development of a more integrated approach to birth registration and birth certificates. 
  4. 3.193 These discussions stem from a project based in Armidale, New South Wales involving the University of New England, Community Mutual253 and local schools in the area. The project is aimed at raising the profile of birth registration and birth certificate issues. Federal Ministers have agreed in principle to explore options for a more coherent system for birth registration and obtaining birth certificates.254 Further discussion of this work is contained in Chapter 7.
  5. 3.194 The Commission is aware of examples in other jurisdictions with a federal system of government, that have brought together both state and provincial agencies to enable a streamlined birth registration system. Details of the Canadian system are outlined below.

National birth registration scheme—Canada

  1. 3.195 Like Australia, Canada has a federal system of government. In 2009, the Canadian federal government and participating provinces, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, launched the national birth registration scheme.255
  2. 3.196 The Newborn Registration Service (NRS) is a ‘fully electronic application for the birth registration’ of newborns.256 Each province jointly funds the service with the Federal Government and the service amalgamates provincial and federal requirements and services into one application.257 This avoids the requirement of providing similar information to different levels of government in a multitude of application forms.258
  3. 3.197 The benefit of the NRS, as stated by the Ontario government, is that:

this partnership results in better customer service, faster processing of applications and improved security and integrity of personal information for Ontario newborns.259

  1. 3.198 The NRS is a platform which enables parents to apply and register for various government services concurrently in one simple transaction, provided they meet certain criteria (for example, only the mother of the child can make an application for child benefits in Canada).
  2. 3.199 Specifically, the NRS enables parents to complete their child’s birth registration and apply for the child’s Social Insurance Number in one application.260 In British Columbia and Ontario, the NRS also facilitates the application for a birth certificate.261 Additionally, in all participating provinces, except for Newfoundland and Labrador, the application process also enables parents to apply for Canada Child Benefits, including the Canada Child Tax Benefit, the Universal Child Care Benefit and the GST/HST credit.262
  3. 3.200 All information provided by parents on the birth registration form is electronically transmitted to the Canada Revenue Agency.263 The application process is free264 but a fee is payable for a birth certificate.265 
  4. 3.201 The Commission has outlined the Canadian scheme as it provides an example of an integrated model working within a federal system of government not unlike Australia’s. The Commission believes there is scope and merit in both state and federal governments exploring the possibility of a similar service working in Australia.
  5. 3.202 The Commission is unable to provide further comment on what an integrated model may look like in an Australian context, as it is outside the terms of reference of this review.

Footnotes

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