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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 9932

Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (12:24): I rise to speak on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Intercountry Adoption) Bill 2014. This bill amends the Australian Citizenship Act of 2007. This bill will place children who are adopted by Australian citizens under bilateral arrangements in the same position as children who are adopted by Australian citizens under the Hague Convention arrangements. At least one adoptive parent must be an Australian citizen at the time of adoption for the child to be eligible. At present, children adopted under bilateral arrangements require a passport from the home country and an Australian adoption visa to travel to Australia. This imposes additional complexity and cost on the adopting families. Under the amendments to be made to this bill, children will be able to be granted citizenship as soon as the adoption is finalised. They will then be able to travel to Australia on an Australian passport with their new families as Australian citizens.

The key feature of the bill is an amendment to subdivision AA of division 2 of part 2 of the act. The amendment simply expands the scope of the existing Hague Convention provisions so that they also cover adoptions in accordance with bilateral arrangements. The amendments made by the bill will apply for the benefit of all children adopted under bilateral arrangements, whether the adoption was finalised before or after these amendments come into force. Previously, bilateral adoptions were required to be finalised through Australian courts and required the child to apply for a visa to travel to Australia. Recently the Australian government amended the Family Law Regulations 1998 to provide automatic recognition of adoptions in partner countries of Taiwan, South Korea and South Africa and previous adoptions from Ethiopia. Prime Minister Abbott himself has met with Adoption Awareness Week patron Deborra-Lee Furness. They have also been involved with meetings with National Adoption Awareness Week board members.

In December last year Prime Minister Abbott announced that he would improve overseas adoptions. In his second reading speech in this place on 29 May 2014 he said:

… this bill is another step in delivering reform to intercountry adoptions.

For too long, adoption has been in the too-hard basket. For too long, it has been too hard to adopt and for too long, this has been a policy no-go zone.

It should not be that way—because adoption is all about giving children a better life.

He has hit the nail on the head. The number of adoptions shows a substantial long-term decline of 32 per cent since 2003-04 and 77 per cent since 1988-89. In financial year 2012-13 Australians adopted more children from non-Hague Convention countries like Ethiopia, South Korea and Taiwan than they did from Hague Convention countries—40 per cent of Australian adoptions occur from Taiwan and South Korea. We have announced improvements to the process for families adopting from Taiwan and South Korea. Children adopted from Hague Convention countries which issue adoption compliance certificates are already able to obtain Australian citizenship as soon as the adoption is finalised. This has been the case since the enactment of the Australian Citizenship Act 2007. As the process for child adoption under bilateral arrangements, including automatic recognition under Australian law, is in substance identical, there is no reason those children should be treated differently under the Australian Citizenship Act.

The government wants to make it easier to adopt when it is in the best interests of the child. I think that at the heart of everything here we should always remember that this is about people. It is red tape that impacts on children who legitimately need a safe and loving home and on Australians who dream of providing that home. We want to remove the red tape and reduce the delays that do not benefit anyone. COAG—the Council of Australian Governments—has also agreed in principle to the new national overseas adoption service from 2015, and the minister for immigration is developing options to reduce waiting times for visas for adopting children from overseas. Where a non-convention country meets these standards, there is no reason adoptions should not be recognised in the same way as adoptions from convention countries.

What I am about to say is not strictly to do with the legislation, but I will tie it up at the end and make my central point on the bill. My wife always says you have to walk a mile in someone's else's shoes. I have the three best children on the face of this planet—most of the time, anyway. I know the joy of celebrating a pregnancy, the preparations for the birth, the delivery and everything that comes after that. To watch your child go from being a baby in arms to a grown adult who disagrees with you in every way is an amazing journey. I recognise the joy and absolute luck I have had with my three children over two marriages. My current wife Linda was told that she should never expect to have children. We spoke about it and Linda said she could never do IVF or the like. This was a personal decision by her and it was guided by her faith. I simply agreed with her. We did, however, discuss adoption and foster parenting. It was a very live option for us until Linda discovered that she was pregnant. Andrew came along and joined Emma and Abbie in our family. So, while I have no direct involvement in this issue from a personal perspective, it is something which has been discussed in our family.

I have a mate and his sister who are adopted children. That mate is Clifford Kern, better known as CK to the people who listen to 106.3 breakfast radio in Townsville. Their adoptive parents were up-front with them all their lives and they are a beautiful family. CK recently met his birth father and he is working through that relationship. It is something he is doing with a smile on his face and love and understanding in his heart. I have a mate in Townsville, Wayne 'Nicho' Nicholson, who is an adoptive father. He and Margaret—or, to use her title, the long-suffering Margaret Nicholson—have an adopted son, Mitch. Mitch and CK are mates who greet each other with a hug and tell each other they are brothers from a different mother. Both these men and their roles in the adoption process are to be applauded. Nicho and Margaret will tell you that adoption made their family whole. It completed them. They were able to provide for Mitch and give him an upbringing of privilege. Nicho will tell you that adoption, when done right, is a brilliant thing. It is something which is not easy. The paperwork is onerous and invasive. In some ways, Nicho is anti the paperwork but he acknowledges the risk the authorities are taking with someone else's life.

There were some 130 intercountry adoptions in 2012-13. That is 102 young lives on which some administrator is making a life changing decision. We have a duty of care to apply the same rules which apply to CK and to Nicho and Margaret. We have to ensure that the adoptive parents are doing this for the right reasons—that they will love their baby as their own, and that they understand what they are doing and the reasons why. The child must always come first. That is what this legislation is all about. While I want the system to work for the best result, I do not want layers of bureaucracy killing it for prospective parents, we here need to ensure that our duty of care is observed. I support this legislation. I support adoption and the people who make this massive decision to ask another person to share their lives. Just like CK and Nicho and Margaret, there are decisions made and accepted. If those decisions are made with the right motivation the love of a lifetime together will follow.