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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9238

Ms PRICE (Durack) (20:17): I rise to speak on a bill that expresses this government's commitment to helping every man and woman who has, or will, put their heart, mind and a significant amount of money into giving a better life to a child by bringing him or her to this great country of ours. The Australian Citizenship Amendment (Intercountry Adoption) Bill 2014 seeks to amend the Australian Citizenship Act 2007.

Before discussing the significant benefit these amendments will bring to Australia's adoption processes, let us look at exactly what is intercountry adoption. It refers to the adoption of a child from overseas by prospective parents in Australia. The adoption must be arranged by a state or territory welfare authority. The term does not refer to adoptions which prospective parents have arranged by themselves and which may be illegal. Needless to say, this decision is not entered into lightly by prospective adoptive parents but, unfortunately, current processes often make it a long and arduous one. At its core, that is what these amendments seek to improve.

In Australia, intercountry adoptions are recognised by the Commonwealth when they are processed under the Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption or, as most people simply put it, the Hague convention. They are also recognised when the child in question is adopted by Australian citizens through bilateral arrangements made by Australia with countries who are not signatories of the Hague convention.

The Hague convention came into force in Australia in December 1998 and was designed to protect the best interests of children involved in adoption and to establish cooperation amongst contracting states, thereby preventing the abduction, sale of or trafficking in children. This government's reason for proposing these amendments is not only to encourage Australians to undertake intercountry adoptions in those cases where it would improve the life of the adopted child and the lives of the adoptive family, but also to improve the processes that are currently undertaken by prospective parents to adopt a child. We are achieving this by continuing our overall agenda to reduce regulation and to improve Australia's adoption processes, by streamlining access to citizenship for children adopted by Australian citizens through these bilateral agreements.

Previously, Australian citizens have been able to adopt children from South Korea, Taiwan and Ethiopia under prescribed arrangements in the Family Law (Bilateral Arrangements—Intercountry Adoption) Regulations 1998. This government has already announced improvements to bilateral arrangements, specifically for those families adopting children from Taiwan and South Korea. Although it is important to note that Australia's intercountry adoption program with Ethiopia is now closed, the changes by this government to adoption processes will also help those families who are currently waiting for their adoptions to be finalised.

Those changes will effectively remove the requirement for families to obtain an adoption order in Australia, which would generally be granted after a 12-month wait. Instead, these improvements will allow adoption orders from South Korea and Taiwan to be recognised in Australia without needing to go to a state or territory court. In essence, the amendments that the government seeks to make further expand this scope. It does this by amending the Australian Citizenship Act, so that the process for families adopting a child under a bilateral agreement are brought in line with those who adopt from countries which are parties to the Hague convention.

It is the view of this government that, where the same standards and safeguards are in place to those countries who are party to the Hague convention, the same adoption processes should apply. By passing these amendments, we will improve the adoption process by allowing children who are adopted under Australia's bilateral agreements to no longer require a visa to enter Australia. They, instead, will immediately be eligible to apply for, and be granted, Australian citizenship once the adoption is finalised overseas. Put simply, adoption approvals will change to an automatic process which will allow the adopted child to travel to Australia, as an Australian citizen and on an Australian passport, with their new family, as long as Australia has signed a bilateral agreement with the home country. This will significantly improve the administrative processes of adopting a child under these arrangements, and will save adoptive parents a significant amount of time and money. This is because, under the current processes, a passport from the child's home country has to be obtained, and an adoption visa issued under the Migrations Regulations 1994.

Although the financial benefit of these changes will be significant, we must not forget the emotional strain that is placed on families wishing to open their hearts to an adoption. By reducing the time frame for processing adoptions, this government will help to reduce the amount of stress placed on these families.

The amendments proposed by this bill were announced by the Prime Minister in December last year when he committed to establishing an interdepartmental committee on intercountry adoption. The purpose of this committee was to recommend options for implementing reform within Australia over the next 12 months. The committee finalised its report in April.

In total, 108 submissions were received by the committee from stakeholders, as well as individuals representing adult adoptees; adoptive or prospective parents; academics; individuals with a professional interest in intercountry adoption; and parents and children, who are now adults, who were deeply affected by past practices of forced adoption. When investigating different approaches to streamline the intercountry adoption process and to create a framework for reform, this government of course could not do so without first acknowledging and being aware of Australia's unfortunate history of forced adoption, as a means to ensuring that history does not repeat itself. The majority of submissions received by the committee were supportive of intercountry adoption, with an ongoing theme being the need to focus on the child's interests first and foremost.

It is also important to note those submissions which were not supportive of intercountry adoption, in order to understand and acknowledge any legitimate concerns being raised. These concerns generally focused on appropriate safeguards being in place to protect parents and children from unlawful practices. This is something that should be of concern to all Australians, which is why I am pleased that any partner country Australia forms bilateral agreements with is expected to meet the same standards and safeguards as those who are signatories to the Hague convention. These standards and safeguards were recently met by South Africa, with the Prime Minister announcing the commencement of a new intercountry adoption program on 5 May. The Abbott government has also now commenced discussions with seven other countries about possible new overseas adoption programs. I look forward to these programs being established and more children being welcomed to Australia by their loving families.

These agreements will go hand-in-hand with the COAG's agreement in principle to implement a new national overseas adoption service from 2015. The minister for immigration is also developing options to reduce waiting times for visas for adopting children from overseas.

These are significant changes that I believe reflect the commitment that is made by many Australian families to improve the lives of children from other countries by caring for and loving those children as they would one of their own.

I am aware of two Western Australian families who each made the brave and heartfelt decision to adopt a child from another country. One of these children is from China and the other is from Cambodia. In each case, I must say that the story of the child's past was very tragic and that in each case the child was living in an orphanage in their respective country at the time of adoption.

One of my constituents, Jane Foreman of Geraldton, adopted her son from the Philippines more than six years ago, and she is currently waiting to adopt her son's two sisters. This is what Jane said in an email to me recently:

Thanks for meeting with me Melissa. After I left you, I phoned Adoption Services and found that we had finally received allocation for our son's two sisters!!!

I have been busy getting all the paperwork completed and our immigration papers will be couriered to the Philippines tomorrow!

I am really pushing for an 8 week waiting time until we can meet and bring home our two new daughters.

Melissa, six years of waiting has been too long for them and for us.

I am very thankful to our Prime Minister for taking up the issue of Inter-country Adoption and committing to streamlining the process to make it easier for Australian families to adopt.

This cannot be good for anyone—the waiting, the worry, the stress and anxiety, not to forget the expense, and the separation of a brother from his two sisters for so many years. We must expedite this process.

When we think of the costs involved in the adoption process, I think it is important to remind each member in this place and all those outside it that families do not make this decision flippantly. It is both an emotional and a financial decision to not only add value to their own lives but improve the life of the adopted child. They do this by opening their homes and their hearts and all that this great nation has to offer.

To get to this point, the families did, however, face a time-consuming and costly process. The first cost is the adoption fees in Australia, which vary greatly between the states and territories. In fact, just for the first application, fees can vary from $2,706 in Western Australia to $10,503 in South Australia. This does not take into account other costs such as airline travel, overseas accommodation, and the costs of preparing documents which are more commonly known as notarisation fees.

Families also then need to take into account the estimated adoption fee of the child's home country. This again varies. As an example, Taiwan—which had the highest number of intercountry adoptions with Australia in 2012-13, at 28.7 per cent of total adoptions—has an estimated adoption fee and cost of between US$5,000 and US$14,000, depending on the child's needs and the agency facilitating the adoption.

As you can see, the costs quickly add up. Over the past decade, there has been a decline in the number of overseas adoptions in Australia, with 370 in the 2003-04 financial year—

(Quorum formed) By passing the proposed amendments before us today, those in this place will highlight to every Australian and our international neighbours that we support intercountry adoptions. We support intercountry adoptions when it is in the best interests of the child and when appropriate safeguards are in place, aligned with the Hague convention. This government is demonstrating our commitment to helping Australian families adopt by expediting this process and implementing key reform measures that benefit both the child being adopted and the families who have made this brave decision. I am pleased this government has used its heart and mind to formulate these policy measures which will help so many Australians. I commend this bill to the House.