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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9230


Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (19:46): I rise today to speak on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Intercountry Adoption) Bill 2014 and commend the contributions made by other speakers. The key feature of this bill is to facilitate the grant of Australian citizenship to children adopted by Australian citizens by expanding the scope of existing Hague convention provisions to non-Hague states through bilateral adoption arrangements. While Labor supports changes that will enable parents to avoid red tape and any increased confusion, it is important to raise the significance of maintaining stringent safeguards to protect the children from exposure to abduction and trafficking. I am sad to see that even on the ABC news tonight we have examples of when this can go wrong, whatever safeguards are set up.

In Australia, intercountry adoption is regulated through Commonwealth and state and territory legislation. We heard the Chief Government Whip detail some of the challenges that come with our Federation and having some harmony. The Commonwealth is responsible for establishing and managing intercountry adoption programs and, under this responsibility, they are accountable for the rights and protection of the child as well as ensuring that all contracting states recognise the objectives set out in the Hague convention, such as specific safeguards.

Australia has a long history of involvement in intercountry adoption. Immediately after World War II there was a great effort by Australian families to adopt children from overseas following the Second World War, but it was not until the Vietnam War that significant numbers of adopted children began to arrive in Australia and be placed with families. During the 20th century, thousands of children were deported from the United Kingdom to its colonies, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and other, former colonies. Between 1912 and 1970, about 7,000 of these children were sent to Australia to populate a nation with what was called at the time 'good white stock'. They were promised that loving families were waiting to adopt them. Sadly, many were delivered into institutionalised abuse. Well-known national charities such as Barnardos provided a wider range of child care services, along with the Church of England, the Methodist Church, the Salvation Army and, obviously, the Catholic Church. The children were separated from their families and told that they were orphans, while the parents were told they had gone to a better life, but most were brought up in institutions or by farmers and, sadly, many were treated as child slave labour, and that might have been the best that happened to them. The migrated children were euphemistically told that they would find an idyllic lifestyle in our new country—a land of sunshine and oranges. In reality, they were often badly cared for, counted as second-class citizens, arrived sick or without a name and put in overcrowded and run-down institutions. Very few were actually adopted or fostered.

Thank goodness, former Prime Minister Gillard commenced the royal commission looking into institutional child abuse. That has and will expose, and will let the nation know, many of these tragic tales from our past. Thankfully, intercountry adoption is a much brighter tale. The rise of intercountry adoption in Australia in the late 1960s coincided with a rapid decline in white infants available for domestic adoption. As the popularity to adopt increased, the Commonwealth government instigated a push to have all the varying state adoption laws made uniform. Following this change in legislation, state governments recorded the highest ever rates of adoption, reaching a peak of almost 9,798 infants and children in the year 1971-72. During this time, Australia also began embracing multiculturalism at a policy level. The final vestiges of the white Australia policy were removed in 1973 by former Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. Australia also saw medical innovations such as the contraceptive pill and introduced welfare reforms such as income support for single mothers. These all combined gradually to change attitudes towards single motherhood. Perhaps there was also a changing attitude by Catholics to the idea of having children.

On that note I would like to give a big shout-out to my eldest nephew, Andrew Garbe, who was adopted out in the 1970s by my sister. I only met my nephew at my sister Debbie's 50th birthday party, but obviously now he plays a big part in my family, even though he seems to live a fairly crazy life sometimes up in the Northern Territory. That experience led Attorney-General Roxon to put me on the committee regarding the national apology for forced adoption. The apology was delivered by Prime Minister Gillard, sadly on the day of the 'faux coup' and was lost amidst all the media coverage, but surely it was one of the great days in this parliament. I will quote some of the words of Prime Minister Gillard on that day, 21 March 2013. She said:

Today, this Parliament, on behalf of the Australian people, takes responsibility and apologises for the policies and practices that forced the separation of mothers from their babies, which created a lifelong legacy of pain and suffering.

We acknowledge the profound effects of these policies and practices on fathers.

And we recognise the hurt these actions caused to brothers and sisters, grandparents, partners and extended family members.

It was a great day in the Australian parliament that should be acknowledged.

Coming back to the legislation, as you can imagine, these changes contributed to the subsequent decline in the number of Australian children available for adoption. Intercountry adoption emerged in Australia as an institutional practice in the 1970s and, since that time, has been the focus of controversy, with diverse viewpoints. In 1975 the Commonwealth government established an interdepartmental committee to investigate intercountry adoption in Australia. Joint Commonwealth and state delegations visited eight South-East Asian countries to investigate possible new partner countries with which Australia could establish intercountry adoption programs. Throughout the 1980s the number of intercountry adoptions continued to grow—to 420 adoptions in 1990—before dropping to a constant figure of around 250 throughout the 1990s.

In 1998 Australia ratified the Hague convention on the protection of children and cooperation in respect of intercountry adoption. The Hague convention is implemented in Australia largely by the Family Law Act and associated regulation. The Hague convention aims to ensure that intercountry adoption only occurs when it is in the best interests of the child. It aims to protect children and their family against the risks of illegal, irregular or ill-prepared adoptions abroad. The convention also focuses on the need for countries to work to prevent the abduction, sale or trafficking of children. The objects of the Hague Convention are to establish safeguards that will ensure intercountry adoptions take place in the best interests of the child and with respect to his or her fundamental rights. It establishes a cooperative system among contracting states so that safeguards are respected and the abduction, sale and trafficking of children is prevented and ensures the contracting states recognise adoptions made in accordance with the convention.

The Hague convention of 25 October 1980 on the civil aspects of international child abduction is a multilateral treaty that seeks to protect children from the harmful effects of abduction and retention across international boundaries by providing a procedure to bring about their prompt return. The convention was drafted to ensure the prompt return of children who have been abducted from their country of habitual residence or wrongfully retained in a contracting state not their country of habitual residence. The primary intention of the convention is to preserve whatever status quo child custody arrangement existed immediately before an alleged wrongful removal or retention, thereby deterring a parent from crossing international boundaries in search of a more sympathetic court. The convention only applies to children under the age of 16.

As of January 2014, 94 states are parties to the convention—sadly, over 100 countries are not party to it. In 2013 the treaty entered into force for South Korea and Kazakhstan, significantly for Australia. On 1 April 2014 the convention became effective for Japan and on 1 July 2014 it became effective for Iraq. Australia has intercountry adoption programs with 12 Hague convention countries and has bilateral arrangements with two non-convention countries—Taiwan and South Korea. Taiwan is significant because my electorate has a very significant Taiwanese presence. In recent years, there has been a significant shift of focus in international studies of adoption that look beyond its personal implications for individuals and families and seek to examine the broader social, cultural and political implications of adoption practices.

As a response to increased risk to children, in March 1994 Labor introduced sponsorship limitations in migration regulations that prevent a sponsorship from being approved if one of the proposed applicants is under 18 years of age and the minister is satisfied that the sponsor's spouse or de facto partner has a conviction or outstanding charge for a registrable offence. These changes require Australian national police checks and/or foreign police certificates as part of the process of assessing the application, hopefully weeding out those who are not appropriate.

In Australia there were 129 intercountry adoptions finalised in 2012-13. This figure represents 38 per cent of all adoptions over this period. Intercountry adoptions have gone down by 13 per cent since 2011-12. A new report has identified significant barriers facing Australian families wanting to adopt from overseas. Inconsistent rules, costs and the lengthy wait to adopt deter many people from even starting the adoption process. The amendments to the Australian Citizenship Bill will streamline the ability of Australians to seek adoptions from non-convention countries that meet the standards of the Hague convention and they will also enable the adopting parents to obtain Australian citizenship for the child at his or her country of origin. The bilateral arrangements regulations were amended in March this year. This will enable children adopted through bilateral arrangements with Taiwan and South Korea, and previously with Ethiopia, to obtain automatic recognition under Commonwealth, state and Territory laws, thus removing the need for families adopting children from non-convention countries to go through the process of applying for an additional final adoption order from an Australian court. Taiwan is now the largest country involved with Australia's intercountry adoption program. As I mentioned, I have a significant Taiwanese population in my electorate, so anything that can further that process is to be commended.

I urge the government, in their changes, to ensure adequate funding is provided for post adoption support programs as recommended by the Senate committee. The government should be extremely attentive to ensure the amendments do not lead to coercive practices and breaches in international and national laws. The Attorney-General's Department must ensure that criminal organisations cannot exploit loopholes by applying the regulations and safeguards required regardless of whether the child's country of origin is a signatory to the Hague convention.

Recent events in Thailand have emphasised our international obligation to protect the best interests of the child and to pay particular attention to the potential exploitation of families in home countries that may be laden with false information, mistruths and overpromises in the search for a better life for their children. We saw the horrible situation of Gammy. I was actually in Thailand talking to departmental staff before that story broke, and it broke my heart to hear of the situation for Gammy. Intercountry adoption should always be about finding families for children, not children for families. I say that carefully because I know the heavy heart that can come for families desperately seeking a child who are not able to find one through the normal processes.

Popular Australians have taken up the campaign to eliminate bureaucratic obstacles to adoption. Actors Deborra-Lee Furness and Hugh Jackman are the parents of two intercountry adopted children. I commend them for their efforts. More people in the community are becoming aware of the difficulties people face when adopting children from overseas who are abandoned and orphaned. Hugh Jackman starred in a great movie, Paperback Hero, which came out in 1999. It was filmed at St George and Nindigully.

Mr McCormack interjecting

Mr PERRETT: He might look at The 12th Fish as a sequel to be filmed out at Nindigully!

I would love to see him and Claudia Karvan go back out to Nindigully and St George. I am sure they would be most welcome. I know that my sister, who worked at the Nindigully Pub when he was out there, is still talking about the experience of serving Hugh Jackman. So I commend both Deborra-Lee Furness and Hugh Jackman for their continued efforts to see the process for adoption in Australia improved and their drive to improve conversations with countries like Vietnam, Kenya, Bulgaria, Latvia, Poland, the United States and Cambodia over the future of intercountry adoption.

Obviously the desire to have a child and give a child an opportunity is an incredible urge. I know it can be a difficult journey, especially nowadays with Australians having children later. With women making decisions about having children much later and with one in six not being able to have a child even though they so desire, intercountry adoption and adoption in general will become a much more significant issue. I wish them all the best. The opposition will support the government and stand together with the government on this. With proper safeguards in place, I will be supporting the bill before the House.

Debate adjourned.