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Committee Chairperson discusses differing state and territory legislation on overseas adoptions.

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Wednesday, 20 July 2005



FRAN KELLY: Australia’s birth rate slows to a standstill. It seems ironic that the process of overseas adoption should remain such a difficult one, fraught with red tape and huge costs. If, as a potential parent, you meet the list of requirements and pass muster, you’ll still have to wait a long time, often years, and the whole process will cost you tens of thousands of dollars.


In the year 2003-2004 there were 370 overseas adoptions in Australia, but each state and territory has its own adoption legislations and the rules and guidelines differ greatly. So to what extent do large fees and complicated paperwork contribute to the low number of these adoptions?


The House of Representatives Committee on Family and Human Services has formed an inquiry into overseas adoption to look at this issue. Chaired by Bronwyn Bishop, the federal member for Mackellar, it will meet in Brisbane for the first time this week. Bronwyn Bishop joins us now. Bronwyn, welcome to the program.


BRONWYN BISHOP: Good morning, Fran.


FRAN KELLY: What sparked this inquiry? Why did you decide you needed to look into this whole issue of overseas adoption?


BRONWYN BISHOP: It came from within the membership of the committee itself in that people had people coming to them complaining about the difficulties they were having, and of course there’s a very low number of children who are Australian born  available for adoption and more and more people were looking to overseas adoption.


FRAN KELLY: Can we just look at those figures for second? How low are the levels of children available for adoption in Australia now?


BRONWYN BISHOP: In that same year, 2003-2004, in which we had 378 overseas adoptions, we had just around 100 local adoptions.


FRAN KELLY: And that’s very different to what it was even 10 years ago, isn’t it?


BRONWYN BISHOP: Well, it’s quite interesting, Fran. The peak of the adoptions was 1972 when there were 10,000, but it dropped back fairly quickly to 7,000 and that seems to have been the high, and then it dropped off that peak from 1973 on. But, interestingly enough, from the 80s on, IVF-born children seems to have been a very important factor, and the IVF figures are that last year there were 7,000 IVF children born. So it’s quite a complicated decline in adoptions and rise in IVF and interest in going through to overseas adoptions.


FRAN KELLY: I suppose it makes sense, the interest in overseas adoptions, and that’s a complicated business, too. I mean, there’s ethical concerns in there, but there’s also financial costs and just difficulties in getting through the red tape.


BRONWYN BISHOP: When we first took this inquiry on I thought: oh, this will be reasonably straightforward; we’ll find out what the situation is and report upon it. But it turns out to be incredibly complex. It’s really dominated by the fact that state governments and territory governments are the people who regulate and pass laws saying how old people can be, what sort of people they can be, and yet the responsibility for dealing with the international countries from which we wish to adopt is now governed by the Hague Convention which we ratified in 1998. And yet the Commonwealth has not taken over that role. It is still the individual states who are dealing with the countries from which children come for adoption.


FRAN KELLY: So each state has laws about how old a child can be before you can adopt them from overseas, is that right?


BRONWYN BISHOP: Maximum, they usually put a maximum age …


FRAN KELLY: Right, okay.


BRONWYN BISHOP: … of how old the child can be, and how old the parents can be and what sort of people they can be. And each state and territory is different. The fees they charge are different. For instance, New South Wales is the most expensive. New South Wales charges $9,700 whereas Queensland charges $2,553. But Queensland has a system where they don’t let people get on a list to be considered for overseas adoption, they open a window every now and again and they give you eight weeks to get on the list, and if you don’t get on the list then you kind of miss out.


FRAN KELLY: And, Bronwyn Bishop, in a sense, why is this the business of the states and territories, not going to what you just described there about the Commonwealth responsibilities in the Hague Convention, but shouldn’t this be the business of the countries from whom people are looking to adopt? Shouldn’t they be the ones laying out the conditions?


BRONWYN BISHOP: They have their own conditions as well. The Hague Convention is a very good convention in that it lays down standard sort of requirements about the welfare of the child and the vetting process, and the placement vetting process, and that’s good and sensible. And yet, ironically, most of our adoptions come from non-Hague ratification countries, but we have bilateral agreements.


For instance, the biggest sources of adoptive children in Australia in that particular year, and consistently, is China, and South Korea, Ethiopia, Thailand, India, Philippines and then a small group of other countries. And of those India ratified … or I think in the course of 2003 the Philippines has ratified, but all the other countries we deal with on a bilateral basis. And what has happened is that by arrangement between the Commonwealth and the states, which seems to have been traditional, various states have the primary function of having negotiations with different countries. For instance, Victoria is responsible for dealing with China and the Philippines, but that doesn’t mean to say that people from other states can’t adopt from those countries—they clearly do—but it is Victoria which has established the relationships with the agencies that deal with potential adoptive children, and then they meet together once a year and have a bit of a talk about it.


FRAN KELLY: It’s incredibly complicated, as you say, with all these different regimes in different states.




FRAN KELLY: Different states also have different standards on who can adopt, whether you’re married in some states, single in other states, even same-sex couples, I think, in the ACT. Is that right?


BRONWYN BISHOP: That’s correct. There have been no same-sex couple adoptions from overseas because overseas countries from which we take the children won’t allow that to occur. So the country of origin for the child who is being adopted also has its own requirements.


FRAN KELLY: Okay. What do you hope to achieve, just finally, from this inquiry?


BRONWYN BISHOP: What I hope to … I think what the entire committee hopes to achieve is that we hope to make it easier for people who want to adopt but not by putting the child at risk in any way, but by seeing that we can have some, I think more logic in the process and a more timely way of going about it. And one thing that came to my attention very recently, and I find is very unfair, is in the ACT. To get on the overseas adoption list they have to be off the IVF program for six months. And, as was explained to me, that’s like asking two parents who were trying hard, it was like asking them to grieve twice.


FRAN KELLY: Bronwyn Bishop, it sounds like a quagmire, good luck with it.


BRONWYN BISHOP: Thank you very much, Fran.


FRAN KELLY: That’s Bronwyn Bishop, the federal member for the seat of Mackellar and Chair of the House of Reps Standing Committee on Family and Human Services, and they’re of course inquiring into overseas adoptions.