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Family and Human Services Committee Report

Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (10.14 a.m.)—The report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Human Services entitled Overseas adoption in Australia: report on the inquiry into adoption of children from overseas is one of the most pleasing reports I have been involved with.

There was unanimity amongst the members of the House of Representatives committee. We came to our conclusions fairly rapidly. There was always discussion about precise wording and, in particular, the role of the states and whether we had, in our terms of reference, a capacity to look into what state governments were doing. But it was a very pleasing inquiry because the results indicate—to all of us, I believe—that adoption within Australia, whether it is intercountry or not, deserves attention.

The constant claim by agencies around Australia was that they were looking at the best interests of the child. In many instances, particularly with internal adoptions, it only appeared to be the claims of parents that were considered and not what was in the best interests of children. It was a tragedy that we discovered over 10,000 fostered children across the nation—some of them moving from home to home, with a disruptive lifestyle and little prospect of settling and establishing continued supportive relationships. Often they are moved on because somebody felt they were disruptive or a departmental officer felt that things needed to be changed. Those children are never given the opportunity to be adopted.

But I have digressed from the report. It was a pleasing report, with two aspects. I will start with the internal aspect, as we considered it first, and then I will deal with the international aspect. It was my impression that many parents come to overseas adoption through a process where they may have children of their own and would like more but, because of age, feel that is not possible or not wise. Alternatively, they may have unsuccessfully been through the IVF process, realised that was not a course they wanted to pursue and tried domestic adoption within Australia. They are basically told, ‘Stop wasting your time; you have to go internationally,’ and they then look at intercountry adoption. Having done that, they are confronted with the cost as compared with the cost in Australia.

I have to say that, when one looks at the cost, one comes up with just a fee within the state administration, ranging from $9,700 in New South Wales and $8,377 in South Australia, which is the second highest, down to a couple of thousand dollars in some of the other states. There is a big range in the charges being applied by state governments. The impression that I gained was there was a real resistance from states for intercountry adoption, but there was also a resistance for domestic adoptions. So adoption is off the agenda as far as state administrations are concerned. In my opinion this is a carry-on from the past, when adoption was not considered a reasonable thing.

It is strange when you look at this issue that the media can present surrogacy as a brilliant and wonderful thing when somebody is prepared to act as a surrogate mother for a couple and, through sacrifice, presents a baby to them. This is illegal in Australia, but overseas it is covered by television and the media as being a wonderful thing. Adoption is very little different to surrogacy, and it is only the attitudes of the people involved—the community, the public servants and those who wish to adopt—that need to change. There is only a need to change the ethos, and that is what this committee found. I was delighted that we discovered this. We uncovered it, and now I believe that we ought to have a far healthier attitude to adoption and the opportunities for children no matter what their origin, whether they are from within Australia—those thousands who are consigned to a fostering existence—or from overseas. The best interests of the child must dominate.

I note that some states allow single parent adoption. Given the huge number of couples wanting to adopt, to permit single parent adoption has doubtful advantage because I think there is not a sociologist in Australia that does not consider that, if possible, the best achievable result for children is to have parents—male and female—committed to that child and the child’s best interests rather than single parents. So I really think that the focus needs to be more on couples, because there are so many of them wanting to adopt. Queensland, who opened their adoption books for a short period, were inundated by over 700 couples wanting to adopt and then slammed their books shut. They were surprised that people actually wanted to do this and were horrified that adoption was popular, with couples wanting children. State governments around Australia need to reconsider their stance, their policy and their attitude and to review the ethos within their departments. The sections of departments that are looking at the way in which people behave in families and the sections that tend to represent the punitive aspect of family or community services departments—whatever they may be called—are those that are called upon to administer adoptions. Those roles need to be separated and a much better approach adopted.

The aspect of international responsibility caught the attention of the committee. There has been a general decision in Australia that we prefer to and will adopt in the future from countries which are signatories to and have ratified the Hague convention. The Hague convention deals with things such as the adoption and movement of people and the movement of families. The Commonwealth has signed off on the Hague convention. But what do we find in the administration of adoption? The Commonwealth has backed out. Because the states are the adopting agencies, the Commonwealth is really only supplying immigration services in the process. The Commonwealth has backed out completely, so state by state there is a state to foreign country agreement. I think there are lots of flaws in this process. The Commonwealth ought to be taking a more prominent role not only in negotiation of the Hague convention matters but also in internal discussions so that there is a more cohesive and better coordinated approach by the Commonwealth and Australia than there currently is.

It must be extremely confusing for different countries around the world to have to deal with different parts of Australia over adoption, instead of dealing with the Australian government itself. The Commonwealth should establish the processes for adoption, with the states filling their traditional role and not standing back from their role of saying whether parents are suitable and approving adoption in the last instance. The Commonwealth should assume its proper international stance. It should be a much better coordinated and much better led process than is currently the case. The approach is so inconsistent. We have adoptions taking place out of Romania lock, stock and barrel—as many as we can take—and out of China, but we cannot adopt from the United States. I do not know how these decisions are made, but it seems to me that non-signatory countries such as Romania are much more likely to have a doubtful process of selection of children than would the United States. I think it is critical that the Commonwealth lead in this process.

There is also a need for the Commonwealth to examine its support. I was delighted to see in the last budget that baby benefits to families had been extended to adoptive parents. More attention needs to be given to such areas, and if the committee’s recommendations are adopted there is going to be a more positive and more successful approach to adoption which will be far better for parents and will promise a far better outcome for children adopted both in Australia and from overseas. One of the features of the inquiry that I found quite touching was the attitude of parents to their overseas adopted children and the relationships and bonds that had been established. All we members of the committee were pretty excited with the choice of cover for this report and by the comments of Amee, who appeared before the committee, when she concluded her comments by saying:

I am thankful to be here because when I went back a couple of years ago to Ethiopia I saw all the poverty over there. It opened my eyes. I am grateful to have an education, and that I am healthy and I can grow up, because over there the life expectancy for women is—only about 38 ... I know that here I can live a healthy and prosperous life, so I am grateful for that.

It is a wonderful comment from a young girl who appeared before us.

Nobody offered overseas adoption as a way of solving the world’s problems. It is in part the way in which some individuals are led to feel that they can make a contribution not only because of their own family needs but also because of the fact that they are touched by international circumstances, whether in Ethiopia, Romania, China or wherever. The attitudes of those parents need to be encouraged just as those parents who wish to adopt within Australia need to be encouraged because it seems a tragedy that with those foster children out there, a reoccurring difficulty within Australia, parents are pushed past that and forced to look at international adoption. It seems to me that there must be a point in a child’s development where continual failure by the birth parents to accept their responsibility must be dealt with and where the child, for the child’s sake alone, must be given an opportunity to establish a permanent loving environment within a home. There are hundreds and, I believe, thousands of families out there who would anxiously look for the opportunity to adopt.

Some of the tests adopted by state governments also appear to be hangovers from the past or some weird notions of what is required for an eligible parent. There were inconsistencies between the states and territories in the approval process that I think need to be rectified. If possible, states should work with the Commonwealth towards establishing a more discernible and predictable approach than is currently the case. I thought the body mass index for some states was a strange way of making a judgment about parenting qualities. It has no place really. If a person can demonstrate in their home that, by their size, they are incapable of managing their household that becomes a factor but not otherwise. So that should be removed.

My preference would be that there are so many couples out there that want children that I would fill that demand first before going to single parents. Police checks have been inconsistent. The strangest factor of the lot was that, when a couple were actually paired with a child in China, for instance, they had a photograph of the child, they knew the child’s name and they were ready to set off to China to pick the child up, the woman was required to indicate whether or not she was pregnant.

Mrs Irwin—And that child usually had a photo of the parents.

Mr CADMAN—Yes, exactly. I thank my colleague for that interjection. Here they are, partly bonded, with an expectation for a future together and they are told, ‘If you are pregnant, lady, I am sorry we can’t go ahead.’ It is as though people have never heard of twins or multiple births or looking after someone else’s children because there is an emergency in the family. All of those things happen. They are unpredictable and for a government department to insert itself with a requirement of that sort right at the last minute of an adoption is absolutely wrong and needs to be abandoned immediately. I call on those governments that have that policy to scrap it and to start focusing on the real needs of people.

Author: The Hon Alan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard - 8th December 2005
Release Date: 8 Dec 2005


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