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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 9936

Mr BALDWIN (PatersonParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry) (12:39): I rise today to speak to the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Intercountry Adoption) Bill 2014. Last year, the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, teamed up with adoption activist Deborra-Lee Furness and her husband, Hugh Jackman, to announce coming changes to make it easier to adopt children locally and abroad within a year. Prime Minister Abbott announced that initial changes would be made to ensure no unnecessary delays for families who have adopted from countries where Australia has bilateral adoption agreements. Today, this bill has come to fruition, and a nation of parents-to-be celebrates.

This bill will streamline access to citizenship for children adopted by Australian citizens through bilateral arrangements made by Australia with specific countries. The proposed amendments will mean that adopted children from these countries will no longer require a visa to enter Australia. They will instead be immediately eligible to apply for, and be granted, Australian citizenship once the adoption is finalised overseas. 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 by 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.

Previously, only countries that had signed up to The Hague convention on intercountry adoption would yield an automatic adoption order when arriving in Australia. For countries with which Australia has a bilateral adoption agreement but which are not formal signatories to The Hague convention, the process is much more complicated and risks court delays to have these adoptions recognised in Australia. Currently, after a couple has completed the adoption process in the child's home country, there can sometimes be lengthy court processes at the Australian end—a 12-month wait is typical.

The bill will also ensure improvements to the process for families adopting children from Taiwan and South Korea. In 2012-13, 40 per cent of intercountry adoptions were from Taiwan and South Korea. In June 2012, Ethiopia closed its intercountry adoption program with Australia. Under this program, Australian couples have adopted more than 600 children. These changes will also benefit those who have not finalised their Ethiopian adoption. We have now opened a new overseas adoption program with South Africa, and we are also commencing discussions with seven other countries about possible new overseas adoption programs. As of late 2013, Australia has intercountry adoption programs with 13 countries: Bolivia, Chile, China, Columbia, Fiji, Hong Kong, India, Lithuania, the Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand. Programs with Bolivia, Fiji and India are currently on hold due to a decision either by the Attorney-General or by the relevant overseas authority.

Adoption in Australia is a big issue. Adoption rates in Australia have been falling since the 1980s. In 1988-89, 1,501 adoptions occurred across Australia. In 2012-13, only 339 adoptions occurred. In 1988-89, 244 of the 1,501 adoptions were intercountry. In 2012-13, 129 of the 339 adoptions were intercountry. There has been a 77 per cent decline in adoptions in Australia over the last 25 years and only two in five adoptions were intercountry—and it is not from lack of trying. Adoptive parents in Australia are dying for the chance to share their home and heart with a child, but the process is just too difficult. Each country has a different set of rules and set of hoops to jump through—whether it is age restrictions, language barriers, living in the country for a length of time or even stopping any kind of reproductive program you may have previously used. It has become a heart-breakingly difficult situation and children are missing out on opportunities for safe homes, loving families and better lives. If they have endured all that and succeeded then, at the end, they should not have to worry about entry to the county due to bureaucratic rigmarole of a visa. The government wants to remove the red tape and reduce the delays that do not benefit anyone. We need to create opportunities for families that can offer a better life and a safe and loving home to children who do not have parents.

In my electorate of Paterson, I know of these hurdles from listening to my constituents who have come to me to assist them. I would like to talk about constituents like Dr Samuel Vidler, who, with his wife and two young sons, moved to China to do voluntary medical work with the community and with orphaned children. Whilst working there he came into contact with an abandoned little girl, Maggie. She was 18 months old, with stage four HIV-AIDS. She was very unwell and had been abandoned in the city of Hanzhong. Due to the fear of this condition in the community, his family took her under a foster care arrangement, believing she had only six months of life remaining. One and a half years later, with good medical care and the love of a family, her immune functions miraculously returned to normal levels. Maggie is now a three-year-old girl and her blood tests show that the HIV had become undetectable. She learnt English and was fluent in both English and Chinese. She was intelligent, happy, and loved by the only family she had ever known.

The Vidler family's time in China was also coming to an end, and they wanted to return home. The family quite understandably wanted to make Maggie's living arrangements with them permanent by adopting her. Over the 18 months she had stayed with them, the family had grown to love her as one of their own. She was, and I quote Dr Vidler, 'an integral part of the family,' and he could 'not imagine her now being sent to another country, to another family.' The adoption should have been relatively straightforward. Dr Vidler and his wife are both doctors and able to give their foster daughter good medical care. They were financially sound and had a strong marriage and family base. They sent in an application to the China Centre of Adoption Affairs in Beijing and it was accepted.

However, due to the tricky red tape laws in Australia, Dr Vidler was facing some difficult hurdles. The Australian government would only consider an application for citizenship once the adoption was completed. But the Chinese government would only allow the adoption to go through if the accepting country had guaranteed to accept them. The Australian embassy in Beijing acknowledged that once an adoption is complete, they would be willing to view her application. This bureaucratic process was tearing a family in two and putting a little girl's world in jeopardy. It was causing undue stress on a family who had only wanted to help an abandoned, sick little girl to stay in good health and have a great future in front of her. Red tape was strangling what should have been a relatively straightforward procedure.

Dr Vidler contacted my office for my assistance in the matter. I was only too happy to represent the family to the then minister for immigration, Chris Evans. Luckily, he saw the situation as it was, and it was fixed. I am glad to say that Maggie now is living and thriving in Australia with her adopted family. However, it should not have taken a ministerial representation to have the matter resolved. Both countries were happy for the adoption to occur but bureaucratic difficulties delayed this child's happiness with her family in her new home country. It is time to get rid of this ridiculous red tape.

Sadly, it is not the first time I have heard about bureaucratic issues when adoption is being discussed. Adoption is a deeply personal and emotional journey, it does not mix well with rules and regulations that only serve to delay and obstruct a happy ending.

Recently, I represented another constituent who was going through the same painful process. Her name is Hayley Hoawerth. I last spoke to Hayley, then known as Hayley Tull, in 1997. At this time Hayley was fighting a battle with Wilms tumour. This affliction required surgery to remove the tumour and then up to 72 weeks of chemotherapy to ensure the cancer was completely cleared. It therefore took a toll on Hayley's body. Hayley was a tower of strength throughout this, and I am happy to report that she is still with us today, happy and healthy.

Now married, Hayley Hoawerth moved to Fiji in October 2012 as her husband Shane had a work opportunity there. During this time, some Fijian friends asked if the Hoawerths would like to adopt their soon-to-be-born baby, as they already had a child and could not afford another. They also did not want to send the unborn child to an orphanage as they knew the Hoawerths could give the child everything she ever needed. The Hoawerths received their daughter, Navaia, when she was two days old, and has been in their permanent care ever since. At 20 months old, they applied to the court and received full guardianship. In May this year they were granted full adoption rights through the court, where she took their surname and was issued a new birth certificate stating the Hoawerths were the official parents of Navaia. They obtained her Fiji passport with the new name and applied for a new Australian tourist visa, as they travel home regularly on holiday. They are now attempting to get permanent residency for Navaia. They received advice from another couple from Australia, who adopted a child four years ago in the same circumstances. This couple said to gain permanent residency for their child they obtained a tourist visa and travelled to Australia and applied for permanent residency under a child visa. Residency was granted within a few months.

The Hoawerths were planning on doing this but after reading her old tourist visa, they discovered there was a new condition denying them another visa whilst in Australia. They asked for my assistance in this matter. All they had done was offer a new life for an unwanted child, and assisted their Fijian friends with an emotional burden. Now they were stuck between the two countries due to the red tape of visa conditions. Thankfully, I can now report that common sense has prevailed. After discussing the situation with immigration officials, Navaia was granted an unconditional tourism visa in July. The family can now come home and lodge a child visa application during their next holiday. It does not make sense that good people who have good hearts are being denied the freedom of moving on with their new lives and the new addition to their family. It is not an easy decision to adopt a child; it is life-changing.

I went through this with one of my own electorate office staff and his wife. They were struggling with a decision to adopt, particularly via the intercountry adoption program. They were considering this option after seven traumatic years of trying to have a baby naturally. They shared with me the frustration and desperation they faced and the heartbreaking decision of having to choose between IVF treatment and going down the adoption process. While they would have loved to have done both, the reality was that the intercountry adoption route was littered with diabolical bureaucracy, an undetermined length of time waiting, and astronomical costs. It meant they had to choose the IVF option.

While they have been blessed recently with the birth of their first son, Ethan, they have expressed their hope to still go down the adoption path in light of the Abbott government's announcement about positive changes to the intercountry adoption program. When I heard about their struggles with the process of adopting both here in Australia and overseas, I found it unfathomable that such couples are finding it so hard to adopt, given their capacity to love and that there are so many children around the world crying out for loving parents. I hope and I pray that these changes will make the processes easier for such loving parents to adopt as many children as they need and they can, because they are parents who want to share their love and provide a stable home. This is not a hard bill to support. It is common sense. Let's support those who want to support the unwanted children of the world. I commend this bill to House.