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Tuesday, 30 June 1998
Page: 5703


Mr SLIPPER (8:53 PM) —I do not know whether the honourable member for Banks (Mr Melham) is turning over a new leaf, but in speaking on a couple of bills recently his contributions have been—in a blessed way—quite brief, and I thank him for that. The government is also appreciative of the fact that the opposition is supporting, and prepared to assist, the passage of the Family Law Amendment Bill (No. 1) 1998 currently before the chamber.

As has been pointed out, the Family Law Amendment Bill (No. 1) proposes that two changes be made to the Family Law Act 1975 to facilitate Australia's international arrangements on intercountry adoption. The bill will change the Family Law Act to permit the promulgation of regulations giving automatic recognition to adoption decisions made under the law of prescribed overseas jurisdictions. Currently, only one country—the People's Republic of China—is proposed to be a `prescribed jurisdiction' for the purpose of this amendment, but in the future, if the various state and territory governments from around Australia are prepared to agree, there could be further regulations made prescribing other jurisdictions. So, while initially this proposal will be restricted to the People's Republic of China, it is possible that the ambit of this amendment might well be wider in the future. But, given the fact that states and territories have responsibility for adoption law in Australia, it is clear that the ambit of this amendment could not be wider without the consent of those state and territory jurisdictions.

The second change proposed by the bill will amend the Family Law Act again to facilitate arrangements for implementation of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Downer) tabled the convention in parliament on 1 April 1998. Unlike our predecessors, this government does have in place a new treaty making process which ensures that any proposed treaty is available for consultation and is open to public scrutiny. There have been discussions between state and territory governments. In this case, the arrangements for the implementation of the convention have been developed by the federal government working in a cooperative way with state and territory governments.

It has been proposed by those other state and territory governments that certain territory and state courts should have the right to exercise jurisdiction in relation to decisions concerning adoption to be made under the convention. Present provisions of the Family Law Act do allow jurisdiction to be conferred on some, but not all, of the relevant courts. The bill currently before the chamber will ensure that the Family Law Act is changed to permit the necessary promulgation of regulations when required to ensure that the conferral of jurisdiction on courts can be dealt with in a comprehensive way.

It has also been stressed that the legislation before the chamber does not have any finan cial impact. The government hopes that this legislation will be passed expeditiously and we are heartened in this aim by the words of the honourable member for Banks, who indicated that the opposition was prepared to facilitate passage of this legislation through the parliament. When he says through the parliament, one would imagine that he is referring to the Senate where the government does not have the numbers to pass legislation without support from either the opposition or other parties.

Intercountry adoptions have become quite popular in Australia over the years, and some 300 children from around the world are adopted each year by parents in this country. The Victorian Department of Human Services has actually acted on behalf of other state and territory governments and negotiated with the authorities in mainland China towards a new bilateral agreement on the adoption of children from that country by parents not only in Victoria but also in other parts of Australia.

Interestingly enough, the Chinese authorities have said that they will not allow an agreement to be finalised unless adoption decisions under Chinese law are given automatic recognition under Australian law, and that is the reason that this piece of law is being passed through the parliament at this time. As I said earlier, adoption is indeed a state and territory matter, but presently there is no consistent mechanism in Australian state or territory law for such recognition of overseas adoptions.

This is an important piece of legislation. It is one of the great raft of bills that every year passes through the parliament supported by both sides of politics. At this time, when certain people might be stating their disillusionment with the political process and their opposition to the way that the Labor Party in question time misbehave and are constantly out of order, it ought to be recognised that many bills that pass through the House of Representatives are in fact passed in a bipartisan way.

There is real cooperation in this place and in the committee system of the parliament. I think there might be a perception around that politicians are argumentative, that we tend to score points and that we appear to be remote from people in the Australian community, but when one looks at the ways that the parliament works in practice, the committee system operates and that many items of legislation receive the support of all members, it is clear that the political process in Australia is alive and well and working for the good of all Australians.

Of course, we will continue to listen and consult. We appreciate that politicians do not have a monopoly on good ideas and commonsense. But the legislation currently before the chamber is an example of our ability to work through and bring forward a law which will make two sensible changes to the Family Law Act, two changes which have the support of both sides of politics. After this legislation passes through the parliament the Family Law Act will be very much better able to deal in a compassionate and humanitarian way with intercountry adoptions.

So I am very pleased to be one of the members supporting this legislation before the House of Representatives tonight. As has been indicated, it does have the backing of the government and the opposition. Hopefully, it will pass through this place expeditiously and be given a speedy passage through the Senate. It is with a great deal of pleasure that I indicate my support for this item of legislation and I commend it to the chamber.