Adoption Amendment Bill 2013

Mr WYNNE (Richmond) — I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Adoption Amendment Bill 2013. In doing so, I follow the really fine contributions made by my colleagues. They include the member for Yan Yean, who has had carriage of this bill and has been a passionate advocate on these matters. Similarly the member for Pascoe Vale has in a very reasoned but also deeply passionate way outlined what we on this side consider to be some key deficiencies of the bill. My dear friend and colleague the member for Eltham spoke of his personal circumstances, which he does rarely. Tonight he wished to speak about those matters publicly. He indicated what his personal circumstances were and his acute understanding of these issues. I refer also to my colleague the member for Broadmeadows, whom I now follow.

I too come to this debate with some personal knowledge of those matters which are close to my family. Indeed a member of my family has two adopted children. I draw upon that experience to provide my insight into how adopted families are seeking to address some of the questions that have arisen. One of my sisters — I have seven sisters, a significant number — has two adult children. She adopted the children when they were very young. Frankly, no child could have asked for a more loving or nurturing family environment than the one those two children enjoyed and continue to enjoy. From the very outset, from the very time that they were able to understand these matters, my sister made it absolutely clear to those children that they were adopted and indeed that they had natural family, that they had parents. The maturity with which she and her husband were able to articulate those issues to her children was an enormous step forward in the children’s understanding not only of their new life but also that they had another life as well. Her elder child, her son, made contact and a start was made towards some reconciliation with the natural parents.

That did not prove to have any longevity, but nonetheless that opportunity was made available and her elder child took up that opportunity because he sought to do so. Her daughter has chosen at this stage not to do so, but at some time in the future she also may well seek to explore that avenue of making contact with her other family.

This really goes to the essence of why we on this side so strongly object to the notion of contact statements. In the eyes of the public the bill indicates a presumption that adopted children are children. They are not children; they are mature adults. To say to those mature adults and to their parents, ‘You do not have the capacity or the maturity to negotiate a relationship or to at least commence reaching out towards that relationship and see where that relationship may or may not go’, is frankly a fallacy. The great tragedy of the contact statements provided for by clause 6 is that they will doubly victimise parents who for a whole range of reasons have had their children adopted out.

I do not wish to explore what those many reasons are. There would be a myriad reasons that children were adopted out, but what is really clear to me, what is really clear from this debate and what is clear when you talk to people in organisations such as VANISH, is the extraordinary pain and emptiness of the parents. It is palpable. You have to sit with them for only a very short time before you realise that the emotional torment that these people have experienced is truly shocking.

It is just wrong-headed for this Parliament to put in place a further impediment, to doubly victimise these people, to say to them that in some way their most basic needs, their most basic aspirations to be able to reach out and seek a mature adult relationship with their child can be vetoed, and what is worse, that they can be fined, that it is in effect a criminal matter. What an extraordinary thing! Why would the Parliament say to these people, ‘We want to block you’?

Why would it say in relation to what for many women — because it is women of course who are affected in so many of these circumstances — is a deep yearning, a deep maternal urge, that we reject this, that it is not appropriate, that there is some notion that the parents are going to go off and harass these children? That is just not the case. We are not talking about children, we are not talking minors, we are talking about mature adults and of course their parents, who are now 60, 70, 80 years of age — —

Some 90, as my colleague the member for Pascoe Vale says — who have suffered, who have been tormented, who have carried this burden, sometimes privately and secretly, for 40 or 50 years. What a shocking burden to have to carry! But what do we seek to do? We say, ‘No, we do not want to relieve you of this burden, we do not want to open up this opportunity for you, finally’ — because many of these parents are now in their later years, and indeed tragically some of these mothers have died. We say, ‘No, we are going to put another hurdle in your way, and we are going to fine you, because we do not believe that you have the capacity or the maturity to engage in an adult relationship with your own child, with your own flesh and blood’. What does that say? What does that say about this Parliament?

I say to the minister, who is not here now, that she brought this amendment in.

She has done a good job; she did a good job with the apology. We thought that was terrific. It was bipartisan and the federal apology was a beautiful day. But she did not consult any of those key interest groups around this contact statement amendment, and we oppose it. We absolutely oppose it, we fundamentally oppose it, because we believe that surely the final deep and, some would say, primal urge of these women to reach out, to try to seek a reconciliation, to lift that burden from their shoulders ought to be made available to them without impediment. We oppose it.