Page 1605 - Week 06 - Thursday, 23 July 2020

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This bill responds to what we heard from the community, shifting the focus away from adult behaviour and on to the child’s best interests. It moves away from revisiting child protection matters to prioritising the needs and interests of children and young people in decisions about dispensing with consent.

Importantly, the bill also enhances the existing framework for determining the best interests of a child or young person which applies to the whole of the Adoption Act. This means that the court will consider broader aspects of child wellbeing, such as cultural inheritance, personal identity and sense of belonging.

The bill also strengthens the guidance for the court about considering the views of the child or young person about a decision that affects their life in the most fundamental way. This reflects feedback we received from many people about supporting children and young people to participate in decision-making.

Another important feature of the bill is enhanced guidance regarding a person’s capacity to make an informed decision about consenting to an adoption. This is a safeguard to protect the rights of parents with disability or mental health issues who can make an informed decision if they are appropriately supported to do so—for example, through supported decision-making.

In response to an issue raised by the ACT Supreme Court, the bill also amends the requirement that both the applicant and the person being adopted must live in the ACT. The bill retains the condition that both parties must live in the territory when a child is adopted but removes this requirement for an adult adoption to better reflect the circumstances of modern adult adoptions.

I recognise that this bill does not do everything that everyone wanted. Indeed, it would be impossible to reconcile some of the diverse views that we heard through the extensive consultation on this matter.

It is important to emphasise that this bill is not aimed at making domestic adoption in the ACT either easier or harder. It is about placing the child at the centre of the very difficult decisions that the courts are asked to make in dispensing with parental consent. It is about recognising all facets of a child’s best interests and strengthening children’s and young people’s own voices in the process. By doing so, we hope to move the focus of all parties on to the child and away from an analysis and defence of a birth parent’s past behaviour. We recognise that this latter, current focus can have the detrimental effect of creating unnecessary friction between the people who are ultimately most important in the child’s life.

I am confident that this bill supports a fair and transparent approach to dispensing with parental consent for adoption, while upholding the best interests of children and young people. It reflects best practice and aligns with what we have heard from the community. The legislative changes contained in the bill will commence on 1 September 2020, enabling the court to prioritise the best interests of children and young people in decisions about dispensing with parental consent for adoption. This time frame is possible because the bill has no resourcing or transition implications.

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