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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2009 Week 12 Hansard (Tuesday, 13 October 2009) . . Page.. 4298 ..

over the years. We see at the moment in the ACT probably in the area of 15 to 25 adoptions taking place each year, most of those being adoptions from overseas and step-parent type adoptions. There are very few adoptions of Australian or Canberra children as infants who are given up for adoption, as may have been the case 30 or 40 years ago.

The laws that we make in relation to adoption are very important and they have huge and long-term effects on the people who are subject to adoptions, who participate either as adoptive parents or relinquishing parents, or most importantly as the adoptee themselves. This bill ensures consistency with the Human Rights Act 2004 and the Children and Young People Act 2008 and it brings into play Australia’s acceptance of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption and the UN conventions on children’s rights, and the ACT’s commitment to an agreed national approach on intercountry adoption. Australia signed up to the Hague Convention in 1993 and some 100 other countries are now also signatories. In addition, Australia has a number of bilateral agreements with other countries who are not signatories to the Hague convention.

The bill incorporates a structural or language clarification and removes anomalies identified by the drafters. The objects and principles of the existing Adoption Act have been expanded significantly, providing a comprehensive outline of the extent, import and purpose of the act as amended. It includes recognising the role of birth parents in decision making about a child or young person’s future and opening up the rights of an adopted child or a young person to their family background and culture.

It makes clear several times in the bill that the interests and welfare of the child or young person is of paramount importance and takes into account a range of factors relating to the child or young person.

It also sets out special requirements for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people, given that adoption outside traditional approaches using extended families is often considered unsuitable for Indigenous people. The scrutiny of bills committee considered this matter, drawing the attention of the Assembly to the question of whether this engages the antidiscrimination elements of the Human Rights Act, and the explanatory statement also addresses this issue.

The bill opens up the ease with which overseas adoptions can be concluded, primarily focusing on convention countries, or countries who are not signed up to the convention but who have pre-existing bilateral agreements with Australia. Even countries outside those arrangements are not excluded, provided that adoptions are done in a way which satisfies the Hague convention. It also broadens the already extensive access to information about adoption and access by birth relatives, including those who were born after adoption orders were made, for example birth siblings.

In the period since the current act came into being in 1993, the ACT’s adoption profile has changed significantly. Today, some 80 per cent of adoptions in the ACT are from overseas or are step-parent adoptions. There is also an increasing trend for long-term carers seeking adoption orders for children in their care. That said, adoption numbers in the ACT are relatively small, as I have already said, with no more than 25 young people each year and a handful of adults seeking adoption.

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