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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 9935

Mrs MARKUS (Macquarie) (12:33): I rise to speak with delight on the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Intercountry Adoption) Bill. This bill has the ability to deliver incredible outcomes on an issue that impacts many people. This bill is for the parents that long to nurture a child and for a child that longs to be nurtured. Our government wants to make adoptions easier for Australians who yearn for a child and for children that face the uncertainty of being in an orphanage or out of home care. While many organisations do a wonderful job caring for children, I am sure we can all agree that a stable family is the best environment for a child's development and future. Prospective parents invest much time and energy in what can be a long and emotional journey. The decision to adopt is a decision most would not have come to lightly. In many cases, the decision is made after an already anxious time in their lives—family planning issues and unsuccessful and heartbreaking IVF attempts.

The decision by our Prime Minister in December 2013 to reform adoption by the end of this year was a very welcomed one, for many. In June, Australians celebrated National Adoption Awareness Week and founding member Deborra-Lee Furness said:

We always knew we needed a champion and a leader within government to bring about change, so let's aim for the top. I'm thrilled to have the Prime Minister on board.

I recognise and appreciate all the work Deborra-Lee and her husband, Hugh Jackman, have undertaken for this very important issue. The Prime Minister's commitment led to the report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Intercountry Adoption, which was released in April this year. Following the receipt of more than 100 submissions, the report recognised many deficiencies and shortcomings that impede the process of adoptions. There are protections and safeguards that must be adhered to, to ensure that adoption will provide a genuinely safe and loving home; however, there is no need to delay the process once this has been established and both countries have come to agreement. By the time the adoption process has been finalised, in many cases taking years, families are eager to be united without further delay. There is a gamut of red tape that exists around intercountry adoption that has caused much complexity and frustration. This bill is a start to the process of unravelling and alleviating the unnecessary parts of that red tape.

In 2005, I had the pleasure of being a committee member on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Human Services. Led by the now Speaker of the House, the Hon. Bronwyn Bishop, the committee conducted an inquiry into the adoption of children from overseas after reviewing the 2003-2004 annual report of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Intercountry adoption is now the main form of adoption in Australia. At the time of this committee inquiry, we found that there had been a sharp decline in the number of adoptions in Australia within the last 40 years. The peak of adoptions was in 1971-72, with over 9,000 adoptions, however in 2003-2004 there were only 73 adoptions. The particular emphasis on that inquiry was on the inconsistencies between state and territory approval processes for overseas adoptions. Throughout that inquiry it became evident that the issue was far more complex than we could have imagined and there were a number of key recommendations made to the government at the conclusion. Given my close involvement and exposure to this issue I am so pleased to see a real attempt being made to strengthen Australia's intercountry adoption process.

It is pleasing for me to see that our Prime Minister and this government is continuing with its commitment to ease the burden associated with the process of overseas adoptions. Families want to be brought together as soon as possible. This government wants to make it easier to adopt when it is in the best interest of the child. We want to improve the process without the mistakes of the past. Since 1 July 2007, adoptions finalised outside Australia were provided a specific pathway for children adopted under full Hague convention arrangements to apply for Australian citizenship. This bill will facilitate the grant of Australian citizenship to children adopted by Australian citizens under bilateral adoption arrangements between Australia and countries not party to The Hague convention on intercountry adoption. This will enable children adopted under bilateral arrangements to arrive in their new homeland as Australian citizens, such as those adopted from South Korea and Taiwan and families currently awaiting finalisations of adoptions from Ethiopia.

Amending the Australian Citizenship Act so that a child will come to Australia as an Australian citizen will not only eliminate some of the time delay but give a sense of 'reality' and authenticity to the relationship after the many years of completing documents, interviews, letters and emails. A child would have mixed emotions arriving to a new future, but imagine the euphoria of the parent and child meeting and being welcomed by their country. On 5 May this year, the Prime Minister and the Attorney General announced the commencement of a new intercountry adoption program with South Africa. With this arrangement now in place, I am sure there will be many Australians who will pursue this path.

The many separate and different eligibility criteria in our states and territories can also present challenges. In May this year, COAG agreed to a national system for intercountry adoptions, which in itself will make a significant difference to the process. The Commonwealth will act swiftly with our states and territories to put this measure in place by early 2015. As the government believes this is an important issue, it will fund the cost of a national approach.

As a mother, I know how important and precious children are and how blessed I am to have them. I hope they realise how blessed they are to be part of a loving family. If I am able to assist others in having this same experience then I will be glad that I was able to contribute to that. I thank the Prime Minister for having the fortitude to encourage and pave the way for this to occur.