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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 9978

Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (15:22): Children are such a natural part of marriage and life partnerships. They are such a natural function of the biology of life and, for most, a natural and fairly easy process. There is no slight intended to women who face the not insignificant challenges of pregnancy and childbirth meant there. The basis of the family is the key pillar of our society and cannot be overstated. But for some, it is just not easy. Having children is not a straightforward affair and it can be a heartbreaking and demoralising experience when close friends and family start and complete their families and couples are left behind, because—despite every effort—they cannot have children.

This bill is about inter-country adoption, but I would briefly like to touch on local adoption. Australia is undoubtedly scarred by the experience of the Stolen Generation. I will not go back over the history of that experience, the motivations behind it and mixed outcomes it provided. The long-term result is that local adoption has fallen well out of favour. However, with the tragedy of totally dysfunctional parents and the revolving door of foster placements—and God bless those wonderful people who selflessly devote themselves to foster parenting—I fear Australian family law courts are not making the best long-term decisions for at least some of the children.

Is it not possible, even highly likely, that a child removed from serial parental failure and moved in and out of foster homes would not have a far greater chance at life if the responsible agencies and courts were simply to make the decision that—where the child's current circumstances are intolerable and the likelihood of that situation improving substantially are remote—they would be far better off with parents that will love, cherish and nurture the individual? It seems to me our family court system and agencies are haunted by the past and that collectively we are not bold enough to make the right long-term decisions.

It is also worthwhile reflecting also that in the 2012-13 financial year, Australia spent $237 million on assisted reproductive technology through the Medicare system. There is no cap on the number of treatments nor is there any age restriction. I am not suggesting for one minute that couples with fertility issues should not avail themselves of this service, but we do know as each cycle fails the chances of a successful pregnancy with further treatment reduces. Perhaps if more viable alternatives existed—and in this case we are talking about adoption—and perhaps if it were easier to adopt, couples who are desperate to have families may well choose to abandon the IVF programs earlier and follow the path of adoption.

To return to this bill, which refers to international adoption: I was recently contacted by Tanya Fry, a 39-year-old teacher. It is so typical, really. Her and her husband have run the full gauntlet, first from the decisions to have a family, to the initial disappointment of not easily getting pregnant, to the long-term sadness of that failure, to the seeking of help and to the fertility and IVF roller coaster. Nothing is easy, personal or particularly private about the process. Then in their late 30s, Tanya and her husband realised that they would not be able to have their own biological baby and decided that perhaps adoption would be the best option.

I would like to read a few paragraphs from a letter that Tanya has penned for me. This starts in the middle of the letter:

Our main concern is the time it may now take to adopt from overseas (as it is near impossible to adopt within Australia). My husband and I are approaching our 40s and are concerned that the process is going to take so long that we will run out of time. There are significant amounts of people in the same situation as us and it is Important to note how stressful this process is. Couples including ourselves have generally been through significant infertility challenges before making the decision to adopt (in our case recurrent miscarriage). It is really important to us that the timeline suggested for this restructuring is followed so that we are not put through additional stress.

The application is quite a difficult one to fill out.

That is, the application for inter-country adoption.

My main concerns are with the BMI question, my husband has a very muscular build and is not overweight yet his BMI is over what is required (only slightly). It seems ridiculous that someone so fit and healthy could be rejected because of his build.

While watching television I become increasingly upset seeing adverts asking for money to help children/orphans overseas who have nothing. I don't understand how there can be so many children in the world who need parents and why it is so hard to adopt a child. My husband and I are both on good incomes and have the means and ability to raise a child without any assistance. We would be outstanding parents so why is it all so hard!

That is not the end of the letter, but I will end that quote there.

I do not know the prospective parents that well, but I did meet Tanya for the first time the week before last. I am pretty confident that a couple who have tried so hard are likely to be good parents. They have good jobs, a home and commitment. They have already proved far more than most of us are ever asked to do. When we are people who are lucky to be able to raise our own children, we do not get asked how heavy we are. We do not get asked intrusive questions. We just start families. Most of us do a pretty fair fist of actually becoming good parents. What criteria is that to judge people on? We are not even counselled before we start a biological family. It just makes me wonder what we are doing and why we make it so difficult to adopt from overseas.

Then there was the news for Tanya and her husband that the application going okay, but they might have to wait five to seven years. I know adoption is not for all parents and its main emphasis should be on the children, but it is hard to believe—with all the children in the world living in poverty with no family or at least no functioning family and living without education—that we cannot find a way to bring these two needy parties together and that we cannot find a way so that a needy child can live a life of relative privilege in Australia with successful people who could be their loving and compassionate parents if they were only given the chance.

While I recognise that for a number of reasons inter-country adoptions have declined across the globe, it is very concerning to me that Australians were able to adopt just 129 children last year. That is a very small number. It is a small number of the tens of thousands of available children in the world who could have a life of comparative privilege and it is a very small number of the desperate potential parents who are given the opportunity to have what so many of us take for granted—a family.

I know the world is not a perfect place and there will always be those who take advantage of others. We must be ever vigilant so Australian adoptions are never associated with events that could possibly be construed as trafficking. That is why Australia should form adoption programs only with countries or third parties that meet the criteria of the Hague convention. I congratulate the government on taking the initiative of opening a new program with South Africa and making improvements to the process with South Korea and Taiwan. I am also very pleased that COAG have endorsed the move to a national agency to facilitate international adoption to help speed up the granting of suitable visas. It makes sense to have a national desk—after all, migration is a national responsibility and our government-to-government relationships are at this level.

This bill will allow the granting of citizenship as soon as adoption is verified, enabling the newly adopted children to travel with their parents on an Australian passport. It will not suddenly make overseas adoption easy—and I hope there is more we can do in that space—but it is a significant step in the right direction. I hope we can do more in this area and complete the lives of Tanya and her husband and many others like them around Australia and really improve the opportunities of the children that they might adopt.