Adoption Amendment Bill 2015

I rise to speak on the Adoption Amendment Bill 2015 on behalf of the Greens. The Greens will be supporting the bill, which moves to get rid of contact statements in relation to adoption, and the associated criminal penalties for breaching the contact statement. I will go into a bit of background in regard to this bill and the bill passed by the previous Parliament.

In the last century we had a history of forced adoption. Children of unmarried mothers were removed, often against the will of the mother, and put up for adoption. This practice, thankfully, was phased out during the 1970s, and the Adoption Act 1984 gave legal authority to children who had been adopted to contact their natural parents. Much later, in 2012, recommendation 15 of a Senate report into former forced adoption policies and practices suggested in part that all parties have an ability to regulate contact, but that there be an upper limit on how long restrictions can be in place without renewal. Following the report and later that year Victoria became the fifth state to apologise for forced adoption.

Following this the Adoption Amendment Act 2013 came into place. This gave effect to recommendation 15, but it went much further than the recommendation in the Senate report. It provided for an instrument that could be used by adopted children who had reached the age of 15 to create a contact statement that said they did not wish to be contacted by their natural parent or that the contact between them could occur only in a specified way. It also provided for penalties for any natural parent who breached a contact statement.

For various reasons these changes concerned many people. Many stakeholders, including individuals who might have been affected by the changes, were not consulted at the time. When those amendments were put through, the Greens, along with the Labor Party, voted against those amendments. Sue Pennicuik, a member for Southern Metropolitan Region in the other place and our spokesperson at the time on these issues, moved that the bill be sent to a committee, but unfortunately that vote was also lost. We will be supporting this bill. It is in line with the way we voted in 2013, and we believe it is in line with the vast majority of stakeholders' wishes, including adoptees and natural parents.

The apology in 2012 acknowledged that this is often an incredibly difficult area for parents and children. In regard to the contact statements, we are concerned that, as they are legislated currently, if one side vetos contact and criminal penalties result, that is not in keeping with the spirit of that apology. It sets up yet another barrier to contact between natural parents and adopted children being re-established. It is not appropriate when we are dealing with two adults who want to regulate contact with each other. If there are issues surrounding unwanted contact or other areas, there are existing laws that can be used to address that and prevent it from continuing.

There are some circumstances where a child was given misinformation about the circumstances of their adoption. This often happened when children were forcibly removed. There is a danger that a contact statement made by an adult adoptee will prevent those children from discovering the truth of the situation. In our view, the risks of keeping the contact statements outweigh the potential risks associated with removing them. We should revert to the framework we had in place for 29 years after the passing of the Adoption Act 1984 where Victorian adults regulated contact between each other.

Having said that, I understand that the government is looking at making further changes to the Adoption Act relating to same-sex adoption, and I look forward to those laws being brought before this Parliament. We will be supporting this bill and the repeal of the contact statements, which is consistent with our approach in 2013.