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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 9939

Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (12:53): I rise today, following the very eloquent words of my colleague Mr Baldwin, to also speak in support of the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Intercountry Adoption) Bill 2014. A fundamental duty of government is to reduce the burdens and bureaucracy on individuals as they go about trying to live their lives. This government is continuing that important task of making life simpler for the people of this country through reducing red tape, and I welcome this bill as another example of how we are trying to make life simpler through reducing that red tape when it comes to intercountry adoption.

Adoption is a wonderful gift because it allows couples to become parents for the very first time, or it allows couples to complete their family through adoption. It is also a wonderful gift for those children who are being adopted. It provides them with a stable family. It provides them with a new life of opportunity ahead of them, a life in Australia with all of the wonderful things that that involves. So when members of our community are trying to map their way through a complicated maze of government regulation both here in Australia and overseas, it is even more important for us as legislators to look to simplify matters as far as possible. We all know the emotional cost that those who are seeking to adopt go through, but the added burden of red tape and regulation makes that so much more difficult.

Like members across the chamber, I receive correspondence from our community and from those people who have embarked upon the journey to adopt and so fulfil their life's goal to become parents. Less and less are those people able to adopt domestically. We have seen a rapid decline in the number of children available. In part, this is a good thing because this means that there are fewer parents who feel unable to care for those children. However, for those yearning to be parents and yearning to take care of children this does diminish their options. So some couples choose to look overseas. This is continuing a strong and proud tradition here in Australia of helping those less fortunate than ourselves and of looking around the world in order to do that. In choosing to adopt a child from a less fortunate place around the world and bring them to our lucky country, our strong and prosperous nation, they are making a significant investment not only in that child but also in the future potential of our great nation.

The bill before us today will help to reduce some of the bureaucratic hurdles that make it more difficult for Australian citizens wishing to adopt children from abroad. This bill acknowledges a fundamental tenet that, no matter where a child is born, a child of Australian parents should be an Australian citizen. When an Australian couple is blessed with the opportunity to have a baby, they welcome that baby into their family and also into our wider Australian family as an Australian citizen. Likewise, through our adoption of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, Australian citizens who adopt children from countries that are signatories of the convention are also able to welcome their children as full citizens of our country. However, this is not the case for intercountry adoption, and it is certainly not the case where Australia has a bilateral agreement with a particular country but they are not a signatory to the Hague Convention.

Intercountry adoption has been undergoing a global decline. In fact, we have seen a decline of more than 50 per cent since the global peak in 2004, with adoptions to Australia falling from 434 in 2004-05 to 129 in 2012-13. Thankfully, this decline is partly for positive reasons, as with global development—often supported by Australian aid and trade agreements—families in some countries have been less in need of giving up their children for adoption. Yet the decline in intercountry adoptions has also surely been influenced by the complex processes, high fees and extended waiting times for families who wish to adopt.

Through this bill, adoption of children from countries that are not party to the Hague Convention but with which Australia has a bilateral agreement should become a little bit easier by granting Australian citizenship to children adopted from these countries. To date, this will benefit citizens and adopted children from three countries: Ethiopian, South Korea and Taiwan. I encourage the honourable Attorney-General to continue discussions with further suitable partner countries around the world so that this might be available with other countries as well.

Once the adoption process for a child from Ethiopia, South Korea or Taiwan has been successfully completed, these adopted children can only receive a passport from their birth country and have to apply for an Australian migration visa to enter Australia under the previous law. This bill, though, will allow children to be granted Australian citizenship on adoption and they will be able to fly to Australia for the first time with an Australian passport when they come with their new family. In delivering these changes to make it easier for children from overseas to be adopted and to grow up here in Australia, the best interests of children must be paramount. This legislation, though, will continue to ensure that all proper and probative standards and safeguards continue to be in place to protect children.

I am sure the Attorney-General will continue to work with COAG partners to develop a new, improved national system for intercountry adoption. Any future bilateral arrangements that Australia enters into must also ensure the requirements of the Hague convention are met. However, to make the process as easy as possible for parents, there is no reason why adoptions from countries with which we have bilateral agreements should not be recognised in the same way as adoptions in Hague convention countries.

I, therefore, commend this bill to the House because I believe that it is our responsibility to streamline the adoption process as much as possible for families adopting a child and bringing them to a new life in Australia. This small but very important change to the intercountry adoption program will be an important part of the wider government strategy for helping our citizens wishing to adopt while continuing to protect the rights and interests of children, in accordance with our international obligations. I commend the bill to the House and thank those in the House, both on this side of the chamber and those opposite, for their support of this bill.