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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 9942


Mr LAMING (Bowman) (13:05): As yet another contributor to this debate in considering a bill to change the Citizenship Act to streamline the process of intercountry adoption I really only rise to deliver a cautionary note in this area. Having lived overseas for a significant part of my pre-political life, I am a little bit cautious about this extremely complicated area of intercountry adoption. I have seen some of the source countries from where these children originate. There is a temptation, I think, in a very superficial way sometimes to visualise this as effectively an airlift out of the red zone for children who have no future in source countries. There is the general Western notion that we can offer them all a better life. I have no doubt that there is an incredible amount of love amongst recipient parents, who, in many cases, have explored every other option to no avail. It is encouraging to see at least in the Hague convention a genuine focus on identifying the best interests of the child. I also concede that probably the most frustrating thing for impassioned and well-meaning couples in a place such as Australia is the cost, wait and uncertainty around adopting a child.

But I wonder whether when we look back on and read this debate decades from now we might just feel that we skimmed over some of the more sensitive elements. They are ones that are almost imponderable to us now, but we need to be extraordinarily cautious when we move minors—in most cases, infants—from one nation to another.

While we in this chamber have absolutely no doubt that by setting up bureaucratic protections we can ensure the best interests of the child, I want to make the simple point that that is not quite so simple to do in a number of source countries. I know that in some cases we are dealing with free democracies and fairly elaborate public service structures, where there can be some hope of that occurring; but that is not always the case. It is not always the case that we can be 100 per cent sure that this will be in the best interests of the child. We do not have to go much further than recent media reports about arrangements made between Thailand and Australia.

I am also concerned in essence that a judgement by an individual or by an official that this is an act of last resort may not always be the case. While it may well be written in the conventions and in the legislation that this should be an option of last resort, I am aware of two other things. I know first of all that we are nation that invests heavily in enabling couples to become families. We have probably the world's most generous IVF arrangements and we are seeing an expansion in surrogacy as well. I understand that that does not suit everyone. Adoption plays an incredibly important role there. But I just wonder whether decades from now we will look back and be absolutely certain that each one of these arrangements, with all the information that we have before us right now, would have been in the child's best interest.

If there is one sense that I have deep in my heart, it is that a decade or two from now we will have a very, very different view about the importance of children remaining with birth parents, with the extended families and within their own cultures. I think it is a prescient but also cautionary note that we need to remember that in one of the wealthiest countries in the world we should never assume that, simply because we have more resources here, a child's life will automatically be better. I have got no doubt also that there is also an enormous selection bias at play, where those children who have come to live in Australia will almost always say that that has been an enriching and a better experience for having done it. But we need to remember that there is also a family at home. There is also an extended family unit in that developing economy, which not only remains silent but is almost completely disengaged from this process.

So I appreciate the efforts here to simplify and streamline to make sure that these are adoptions of last resort, but I do remain very concerned that that child who moves from one country to another leaves behind, like a furrow in a field, a gap can never be filled. It can never be filled not simply because there may have been in this case no direct biological first degree parent but because we have made an assessment that their life will be better somewhere else. We have made an assessment that that child does not necessarily belong as part of a greater extended family simply because at that temporal moment in time we could not actually find the appropriate people to fulfil the role.

I am concerned that there will be, through expanding these networks, a greater and greater demand upon these officials in source countries to set up these arrangements and to ensure that they occur. In some ways, the great risk of coming up with a system that has less cost, less wait and less uncertainty is that we reduce that window of opportunity to ensure that this is absolutely in the child's best interest. I have got an enormous amount of faith in the people who are often working in very, very uncertain arrangements in difficult economies; but I think we just need to for a moment release ourselves from this notion that we are airlifting children to a better future and to a better life, because that is a distinctly Western way of examining this problem.

I commend the fact that we are part of the convention and I commend the fact that we are identifying one-to-one strong bilateral relationships with countries where we will be engaging this process, but I would make that cautionary and concluding note that we must never, ever forget that we leave behind a family unit in these source countries in many cases. While our instantaneous assessment now is that the child is better off, I would love to know that that family unit and the broader culture is also better off having participated in inter-country adoptions.