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Thursday, 25 October 1973
Page: 2679

Mr STALEY (Chisholm) - I seek to raise the question of the adoption of Vietnamese or Cambodian orphans by young Australian couples. There were days when, regrettably, young Australian couples who wished to adopt refugee or orphan babies were fundamentally prevented from doing so by governments in Australia. Happily, that is no longer the case. There are considerable numbers of young Australian couples who wish to adopt orphans from overseas. In many parts of Australia today standard Australian adoptions are taking many months if not years. The pill is, of course, taking its toll of potential adoptees. These days, as we all know, unmarried mothers are considerably more inclined to keep their babies than they were before. This naturally has led some idealistic young Australian couples to look to countries which have been ravaged by war, where thousands of babies, if they are lucky, lie often three or four to a dirty cot in crowded nurseries and orphanages. In effect, the supply is unlimited and young Australians who are balanced and sensible as well as idealistic young people find it the most natural thing in the world to look at this stage to this source, particularly because of the fact that in the case of Vietnam, we have been involved in the war there.

The authorities overseas are happy to have us help even if the numbers affected by anything we can do about adopting the babies represent only a tiny percentage of their problem. As I have said, the Australian authorities no longer make it necessary, fortunately, for the orphans to be smuggled in. It is quite clear that the numbers involved are no threat to Australia's immigration policies. No one is looking for the adoption by Australians of thousands of young babies; all that is being looked for is a number of the order of 100, possibly up to 200, per annum. I do not think that anyone is talking about numbers greater than that. But although these numbers are small it is my view that they oan considerably improve the quality of our migration program because they recognise not only Australia's need for migration but also, however slenderly, what is a real world problem. After all, in the case of South Vietnam, Australian soldiers have left their orphan offspring behind them on enough occasions to make us stop to consider what our moral responsibilities might be in this matter. So, it is more than a simple migration question. Accepting that certain restricted numbers of babies are coming and will come to Australia - young babies have arrived in recent days; a close relative of mine has received a young baby from South Vietnam in the last week or two - I ask the Government to do all in its power to speed up the processes both here and overseas. At the moment, adoptions are taking from 6 months to 12 months whereas they could and should take only about 6 weeks. If there were someone responsible for this matter at the other end, say in Saigon, I understand from authorities and individuals in Vietnam that the whole process could be infinitely speeded up. I do not believe that assistance from the Government would cost much at all. It need not be more than a drop in the bucket of our overseas aid.

Alternative ways in which we could help include the utilisation of our official aid program by the provision of some person to aid this process of adoption who would be appointed on a temporary basis because the need in Saigon will not necessarily last. Alternatively, I believe it could be done by assisting a voluntary agency to become established and to do the work. What I am looking for is something like an Australian halfway house in Saigon where someone could be responsible for undertaking all the organisational details, for finding suitable babies for interested Australian couples and, in particular, for cutting through all the incredible red tape that is inevitably bound up in these procedures. However, adopting parents would of course continue to bear the brunt of the financial responsibility and it is a pretty big brunt too, as I understand it, because they are up for air fares, nursing and legal fees and so on.

Mr Grassby - We pay their air fares.

Mr STALEY - The Minister for Immigration says that the Government now pays their air fares; that is splendid. Other nations are helping in the way that I seek Australian Government help. Other nations are helping a certain small number of halfway houses in, say, Saigon. What one should look for is a house, some nursing staff and in particular, as I say, someone with some administrative skills and drive but not necessarily any particular qualification other than a great interest in the job.

It was brought to my attention when I was in Saigon that someone on the spot can do so much to speed up this process of adoption. Of course, one wants to see the process speeded up in the interests of the babies and also of the adopting parents. This process can so easily get bogged down as it did for instance in a recent series of cases where the parents were told some weeks ago that it would not be possible for them to get their babies before Christmas. They had already been waiting for roughly 6 months and this news was heartbreaking to them because they knew that the babies were not getting the care that they would receive when they reached Australia. Yet the presence in Saigon of a young couple by the name of Robertson, who carried the forms from official to official in our Embassy - I might say to the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) that these officers have been very helpful - and through the bureaucracies in South Vietnam enabled them to cut off the last 2 months and, indeed, if this process were begun very much earlier I think there would be greater joy all round. I look forward to hearing something on this matter from the Minister for Immigration.

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