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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 9976

Mr WHITELEY (Braddon) (15:15): Given I had only a short amount of time earlier, I will recommence my speech. Of all the many policies that governments are called to deal with, those dealing with the lives and the welfare of children, as the most vulnerable group in our society, must surely be the most important. Children everywhere deserve a safe and secure home environment. However, it is the sad reality that in some countries, for a range of complex social, cultural or economic reasons, there are children unable to be cared for by their parents, extended families or anyone else and who have no possibility of growing up in a family environment in their country of birth. For some of these children, intercountry adoption might be the only way in which they can have the opportunity to be part of a secure and loving family and to have a chance at a better life.

Intercountry adoption is a complex and sensitive matter for all parties concerned, and a decision to remove a child from its country of birth and possibly, in some instances, from its birth parents is not one that the Australian government believes should ever be taken lightly. Nevertheless, we support international adoption arrangements made under the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, which have established safeguards to ensure that intercountry adoptions take place in the best interests of the child and also that eligible, caring families in Australia and elsewhere have the opportunity to adopt an overseas born child and provide that child with a family, a home and a future that he or she might never otherwise have had.

Unfortunately, for too long now significant barriers have faced Australian families wanting to adopt from overseas. Inconsistent rules, high costs and lengthy waiting periods are common—so much so that they have been found to deter many people who would have liked to adopt a child from even starting the adoption process. In recognising that the processes required in bringing together those children from overseas who legitimately need a safe and loving home with those Australians who dream of providing one have been overburdened with inconsistency and complex red tape, the Prime Minister announced in December of last year that the government would simplify overseas adoption by the end of this year. At this point, I want to recognise the personal commitment to this issue made by our Prime Minister. By removing those bureaucratic requirements and delays which serve little real purpose and benefit no-one but simply add to the complexity and cost faced by adopting families, the government wants to make it easier to adopt when such action is clearly agreed by all parties to be in the best interests of the child.

Australia's overarching requirement for any potential partner-country willing to participate in intercountry adoption arrangements with us is that the country essentially meet ethical and legal framework standards and safeguards equivalent to those required under the Hague convention to ensure that intercountry adoptions take place in the best interests of the child. In those cases where a country is not a signatory to the convention but is seen to satisfactorily meet convention standards, we see no reason why adoptions in that country should not be recognised in the same way as adoptions in convention countries. The changes proposed in this bill will, therefore, place children adopted by Australian citizens under bilateral arrangements in the same position as those adopted under Hague convention arrangements—that is, they will be able to travel to Australia with their new families as Australian citizens on an Australian passport.

Seeking as it does to reform the current procedural requirements and reduce unnecessary red tape, the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Intercountry Adoption) Bill 2014 is a positive step forward in delivering the government's promise. The key feature of the bill is an amendment which expands the scope of the existing Hague convention provisions so as to include adoptions in accordance with bilateral arrangements. The decision-making framework remains the same. 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 the amendments come into force.

The government has clearly been delivering on its commitment to improve adoption procedures in other ways. A report by senior officials on options to reform overseas adoption, which was informed by public submissions, has been considered. Improvements have already been announced to the process for families adopting children from Taiwan and South Korea, and a new overseas adoption program with South Africa has commenced—and there are a further seven new programs in the pipeline. COAG has agreed in principle to a new national overseas adoption service from 2015, and options to reduce waiting times for visas for adoptive children from overseas are being developed. In addition, the government will introduce amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act so that obtaining Australian citizenship can happen in a child's country of origin as well as to address processing problems associated with the visa system.

The Abbott government is clearly committed to adoption reform to enable more Australians who wish to adopt a child from overseas to achieve this wonderful outcome. Bringing together a child in need of a home, particularly a special needs child, as children of intercountry adoption so frequently are, with those who wish to offer a safe and loving family is something that should be managed as sensitively and with as little unnecessary red tape as possible. Potential adopting parents are required to go through an extremely complex and robust vetting process—and rightly so—but should not have to deal with any more red tape than is absolutely necessary. I strongly support this bill and commend it to the House.