Adoption Amendment Bill 2015

Written on the 16 September 2015

18 August 2015

COUNCIL  Second reading 

GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB - Southern Metropolitan)

 

It is an important piece of legislation that we are debating today. At the outset I acknowledge the mothers, fathers and adopted persons who will be impacted by this bill. For some, it will not be and has not been an easy debate. I have been fortunate enough to speak with many people who hold views, sometimes very strong views, about the two areas which this legislation seeks to address namely, contact statements and penalties applied to breaches of contact vetoes. I thank each and every one of those who have made an effort to contact me. They have given me their time to allow me to understand the reasons for either their support for this piece of legislation or their strong opposition to it. I understand that many affected people may have also made contact with my colleagues since this legislation was introduced and debated in the other house. While it is difficult for some to understand or support the coalition's position, I thank all those concerned for the respect they have shown during this debate.

While the government made repealing certain aspects of the legislation an election commitment, I think we need to fully understand the position of all those affected by what the government is proposing. The bill effectively repeals provisions which relate to contact statements made by adult persons and repeals the associated defence provision should a contact statement be breached.

Let us reflect on the events of just a few years ago and the circumstances around why we are debating this legislation today. It was only a few years ago that the Senate Community Affairs References Committee undertook an inquiry into past adoption practices. Its report highlighted to the Australian community the forced adoption policies and practices that were undertaken from the 1950s to the 1970s. It was a heartfelt inquiry. The recommendations and the testimony of all those people who came before the committee were heartfelt.

In its response to the Senate inquiry the commonwealth government made 20 recommendations. One of the recommendations was for the commonwealth government to issue a formal statement of apology. Another was for the state and territory governments and non-government institutions that administered adoptions to issue formal statements of apology. In 2012 the Victorian Parliament made a historic apology for past adoption practices. I am pleased that Ms Wooldridge, the former Minister for Community Services, is in the house today, because along with the Premier of the time she led that important apology on behalf of the Victorian Parliament.

Those of us who were in the 57th Parliament witnessed an extremely moving event, as was highlighted by Ms Tierney. Hundreds of people came to Parliament to witness the apology. They sat in the gallery in the Legislative Assembly, they sat in Queen's Hall and, because there were so many people, the overflow went to the Windsor hotel. Like Ms Tierney, that is where I witnessed the apology. Despite my not being in the chamber or even Parliament, the emotion was still evident in the Windsor. The relief after years of action to ensure that an apology was forthcoming was met with many emotions for so many people. Tears quite literally flowed from men and women of all ages. It was one of those moments of the previous Parliament that I remember well. I was proud to be a member of the government that led the way to give such an apology.

It was then Premier Ted Baillieu who moved the motion:

That this Parliament expresses our formal and sincere apology to the mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who were profoundly harmed by past adoption practices in Victoria.

We acknowledge that many thousands of Victorian babies were taken from their mothers, without informed consent, and that this loss caused immense grief.

We express our sincere sorrow and regret for the health and welfare policies that condoned the practice of forced separations.

These were misguided and unwarranted, and they caused immeasurable pain.

To the mothers and fathers who were denied the opportunity to love and care for your children, and the pain and trauma you experienced, we are deeply sorry.

To the sons and daughters for whom adoption meant continual anxiety, uncertainty and the deprivation of a natural family connection we offer our sincere apology.

Today, with all members of the Parliament of Victoria gathered in this house, we acknowledge the devastating and ongoing impacts of these practices of the past.

To all those harmed we offer our heartfelt sympathy and apologise unreservedly.

We undertake to never forget what happened and to never repeat these practices.

Those words from three years ago are still so strong and profound today.

As I said, it was a moving moment, but the action of the government did not stop with the apology, and what followed from the apology was further reform through the Adoption Amendment Act 2013, led by Minister Wooldridge. The coalition's bill amended the Adoption Act 1984 to allow for natural parents of an adopted child to receive identifying information about their adopted adult sons and daughters. It was for the very first time something that would allow that identifying information to be made available to natural parents. It was a very significant part of the legislation and a huge part of the reform. Men and women who relinquished their children were allowed to receive that information for the very first time. For some it had been a process they had been working on for their entire lives.

Forced adoptions and I know that some people do not like that term are a practice of a past era. As a community and as members of this chamber I think we all agree that we have acknowledged the harsh wrongs of past forced adoptions. The loss felt by so many of those affected can never be underestimated. I acknowledge the heartfelt grief and lifelong guilt felt by many. I also acknowledge the women who felt they had been violated or abused and felt stigmatised and disempowered. I cannot possibly understand the pain they experienced at the time or that which they have carried throughout their entire lives.

Those adopted persons also have many strong feelings and emotions. For some it is loss, abandonment, guilt and anger, while others question why. Many have suffered pain and suffering, with consequential lifelong implications. Some adopted persons seek to find their natural parents. For them it is important that they make contact to understand where they come from, who their parents are, whether they have siblings and all the inevitable questions that will follow. However, others simply do not want to have contact with their natural parents. One must take into consideration the issues raised by everybody: the relinquishing mothers, the natural parents, the children who want to seek out their natural parents and the children who do not want to make contact.

I know a number of adopted children; all are wonderful contributors to our community and are in loving relationships with families of their own. They feel deeply about this debate too. Some, for reasons of their own, just want to get on with their lives. They are happy, they have been brought up in loving adopted families and their families have given them unconditional love and support. Whatever reasons they have to seek their natural parents or to not make contact, it is their choice, and I think it is one that must be respected. If they have expressed the wish to not be contacted by their natural parents, I think it is a wish that must be respected. I will not judge them for that wish, and I respect their right to make that choice.

When the previous government formulated its legislation it based its bill partly on the recommendations of the Senate inquiry, as I have mentioned, and also took into consideration the views of natural parents of adopted persons and others. One part of that legislation that is now being repealed by the bill before the house relates to contact statements. The contact statements allow adopted persons to regulate contact if that is what they want, allowing those persons to have a choice. Those people may not necessarily have put in vetoes, and they may never need to, but they certainly want the right to choose to not have contact from their natural parents. Surely we must respect their rights, just as we must respect the rights of those natural parents who are seeking to find identifying information about the children they gave up.

People have put in contact vetoes I understand nine statements of no contact have been lodged. The coalition provided a mechanism that gives people that ability, just as there is a mechanism for natural parents to find identifying information about those children they gave up. It was the coalition government that enabled that to occur through the previous legislation. I know it is difficult for some to understand the coalition's position I can see that but it is a difficult balance to strike when we are considering the interests of all the people who are affected by this legislation. As I said, I believe we must respect the views of adopted persons who want to have the right to not be contacted. We should allow them to feel secure that they will not be contacted once a decision has been made, knowing that there will be consequences should that veto be breached.

I want to mention this next point because it was brought up by Ms Tierney. If you look at the various vetoes in place in other jurisdictions, there are varying positions on how they are managed. There are some very severe penalties for breaching vetoes, including fines and jail terms, and I think that needs to be acknowledged in this debate. I know she also referred to stalking provisions, but stalking is a criminal act, and to put to a natural parent or mother that they are committing a criminal act by breaching a veto is surely worse than a fine or other deterrent.

The contact statements introduced by the coalition's bill were similar to those being used in other parts of the country, allowing adopted persons to regulate contact by their natural parents. They did not allow adopted persons to prevent the release of identifying information to the natural parent, but there was an ability for the adopted person to indicate whether or not they wanted to be contacted. In addition, those contact statements needed to be renewed every five years should changing circumstances be applied to the adopted person. While I acknowledge the rights of natural parents to make contact with their sons or daughters, even if just to know that their child is safe, how they are and whether they have a family, and while I could never imagine the circumstances they were put through all those years ago when they were subjected to the forced adoption of their child, I do think we need to be looking at all persons who are affected by this legislation.

It is important that in a very respectful way and I think this debate has been very respectful in understanding these issues we understand from the perspective of the natural parents and the perspective of the adopted persons whether they want contact or not. As I said, these are difficult and complex issues. For many people there have been lifelong implications as a result of what was forced upon them, whether they were the child or the parent.

In the time I have remaining I express my gratitude to my colleague who took the lead in this debate. Other colleagues will agree that this is a difficult but important debate and one in which we need to consider all affected parties. I would like to thank all the people I have met with and those who have emailed me, written to me or spoken to me and given me their perspective on this legislation. It has given me a much greater understanding, and I really appreciate their doing that. There are varying views and positions in this debate. There are genuine and deep concerns, and we have teased them out during this and the previous debates.

All the positions that have been put to me are important, but for the reasons highlighted in previous debates the coalition believes the right balance was struck with the previous legislation. Having taken into account all affected parties, the coalition opposes the bill before us. I know this is a sensitive subject for many people, and I thank them for the respect they have shown all of us.

 

 


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