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Tuesday, 8 March 2005
Page: 28

Senator STOTT DESPOJA (2:27 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Family and Community Services. Is the minister aware that adoptive parents with children older than 26 weeks cannot access the government’s maternity payment even though changes have been made recently to ensure that adoptive parents can access—albeit retrospectively—the baby bonus from the date of the child’s placement? Given these recent efforts by the government in relation to the baby bonus—efforts that the Democrats commend—will the government now make similar changes to the maternity payment to ensure that all adoptive parents are able to access this support?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues) —I have not had the opportunity to welcome Conrad to Parliament House, Senator Stott Despoja. Thank you for the question. It gives me the opportunity to remind people about the Howard government’s contribution to assisting families, particularly with the costs of the birth of a child, with the $3,000 payment, which will increase to $4,000 and then to $5,000 in progressive steps over two-year intervals. This is a benefit to families. I wish I could have come and presented your cheque personally, Senator Stott Despoja, but I was not in a position to do that; I was not in Adelaide. However, I am sure you will have spent it wisely, if you have spent it.

The matter has been brought to my attention. The campaign by the parents of adoptive children must be one of the most concerted campaigns I have seen. It has been brought to my attention, I am reviewing the issue, and I hope to be able to make a statement in due course when that review has been completed. The payment is about the early costs of a newborn child. That was the original intention and that is why the legislation was written in that way, but it is something I have under review.

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for her answer and ask if she would perhaps elaborate on the definition of ‘due course’. While I acknowledge that the main aim behind the maternity payment is for newborns, is she aware of the fact that this unfairly discriminates against people who adopt children from overseas? Is she aware that the majority of babies that are adopted from overseas are more than 26 weeks of age? Is the minister also aware that many adoptive agencies in our states and territories actually encourage adoptive parents to take time off—in fact up to 12 months off—so that they can look after their child and thus entail the same level of financial burden as those who have a biological child of their own?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues) —I am aware of those issues that you raise, Senator Stott Despoja. I have indicated to you that I have the issue under review.