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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9223

Mr VARVARIS (Barton) (19:13): The Australian Citizenship Amendment (Intercountry Adoption) Bill 2014 is the first key in the necessary reforms that the coalition is committed to so that children can be granted loving parents and a secure home. This bill is key in allowing for automatic Australian citizenship to be granted to children adopted by Australian citizens under bilateral adoption arrangements between Australia and countries that are not party to the Hague Convention on intercountry adoption.

Currently, children who are adopted through bilateral arrangements do not inherit automatic citizenship. Parents must organise a child category visa, for adopted children to come to Australia, even though the adoption process is correct and accepted both domestically and internationally. Clearly, this imposes both additional costs and delay to the child and to the prospective parents. Yet those who are adopted through the Hague Convention, are given Australian citizenship status without the waiting times for a visa to come through. These children are able to be flown to Australia and start their new lives immediately.

This bill allows for this key amendment so that adopted children become citizens just as those born in Australia are citizens and are permitted to travel to our shores as Australian citizens to start a new life with their family. This bill will expand the current scope of the Hague Convention, so that the same permits are incorporated under bilateral agreements and children adopted from either arrangement have the same benefits. The coalition is committed to helping Australian families to be united with their adopted children within an appropriate time frame to minimise the emotional ramifications of lengthy waiting times.

Australia has currently one of the lowest intercountry adoption rates in the developed world. Two out of five adoptions in Australia are of children born overseas, with statistics showing only 129 adoptions for Australian couples in the year 2012-13. Of these adoptions, 61 adoptions were under the Hague Convention, with 68 from non-Hague adoptions. Statistics also show that on average the waiting time for intercountry adoptions was about five years as of 2013. Back in 2007-08, the waiting time on average was three years.

Overall adoption from overseas has decreased by 13 per cent. Whilst there are many factors which contribute to the overall decline in intercountry adoption of children by Australian parents, no doubt, the average waiting time of five years is a major deterrent for parents seeking to adopt a child from overseas. The waiting period is a combination of the process of adoption plus the time it takes for the child to be granted a visa to arrive in Australia.

Australia's intercountry adoption process is both state and federally governed. Whilst it is always prudent that we have disciplined visa requirements and entry permits, we must also not allow it to impede with the best interests of the child. As I previously mentioned, the median length of waiting periods for intercountry adoption has increased continuously since 2012, from 37 months or three years to 61 months or five years and, in some cases, up 10 years.

Whilst the reasons behind this can be attributed to an increase in processing times in the countries of origin from where the child was born and the bureaucracy of application, it is fundamentally distressing for all parties involved when there is false hope of a successful adoption when a visa is delayed and their child remains in their original surroundings.

Although Australia currently places no cap on the number of child visas it grants per year, the federal government department of immigration sets the quotas for child visas to be granted each year meaning that there is a backlog with each successful applicant waiting for a child visa to be granted to their adoptee. Requests for child visas far exceed the quotas set per year and are a major contributing factor to delays between the time the adoption application is successful to the time the child is united in Australia with his or her adoptee parents.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has confirmed in the recent government's interim report on intercountry adoption that the process time for adoption visas can exceed 12 months depending on the location and complexity of cases. Thus to have a successful adoption application only to be thwarted by the outcome of a child visa does not make sense for what should be a seamless and joyful process.

The coalition is committed to lifting Australia's intercountry adoption statistics to reflect the needs of the parents and child, and this bill today is one step in the right direction to enable important streamlining for overseas adoption. Making important reforms to the current immigration and citizenship requirements so that one aspect of the intercountry adoption process is easier and quicker will benefit children awaiting new homes and encourage willing Australian parents to adopt without being hampered by unnecessary visa waiting times.

I would like to reiterate that this bill is important to relieve some of the frustrations that current and prospective parents experience in the adoption process. It is an important first step for all parents wishing to adopt. The essence of time is pertinent to intercountry adoptions, which are inherently about giving children better lives.

This bill seeks to amend the existing Migration Regulations 1994 by allowing automatic citizenship for children adopted by Australian parents, the current benefit enjoyed by those adopted under the Hague Convention. There is great value in having greater efficiency in the intercountry adoption process, which prioritises the needs of the children. This bill is focused on the needs of children and is not about reducing the due diligence of the adoption process. This bill seeks to eliminate the unnecessary waiting time for a child to step foot on Australian soil by granting automatic citizenship to those adopted outside of the Hague Convention.

As an Australian and as a member of the coalition, I hope that those on the other side would agree with me that Australia is right in recognising all children, whether domestically or abroad, who cannot be brought up with their respective family are entitled to grow up in a stable, secure and loving family. By allowing this bill to be implemented, we can unite children who are in need of stability with their new loving families in an appropriate and timely manner.

I commend this bill to the house.