Tony Abbot, the Australian Prime Minister, has just announced his intention to make adoptions easier and faster under the guidance of Deborah-Lee Furness (actor Hugh Jackman’s wife for those who have not heard of her) and the personal experience of a friend. If lobbyists have their way, pretty soon we will have lobbyist-led, private agencies facilitating court-mandated, domestic adoptions and overseas adoptions in one-stop shops. Many people in the adoption community are very concerned. How this unfolds will be interesting given the struggle between two factions to lead this charge and take credit as social change agents in Australia, albeit a retrograde step.
The UK is feeling the brunt of criticism over speedy, forced adoptions. The US is still reeling from the rehoming scandals made possible in a private system and the churches are dealing with the consequences of their involvement in past adoption practices. Court ordered, forced adoptions are happening so quickly in the UK there is no time or resources to adequately assess or resolve problems and big mistakes are being made. Do we really want more stolen generations in Australia and how can we so quickly dismiss the mistakes of the past? Do we really want to follow the practices of other countries when they are trying to correct them? Our experience will be no different if we go down this road. Perhaps we should also hear more from spokespersons about their own adoptive experiences – their role in the relinquishment of the child, whether they engaged with private or government facilitated adoptions, their opinions on open/ or semi-open adoptions and first family contact, the rights of children to information, maintaining a sense of culture, identity and post adoption support for families and adults. After all these are the issues Australian adoptive parents prepare for and deal with and their children experience.
Generally speaking, anyone serving on official committees or claiming spokesperson status for whole communities should be above criticism and declare all personal and financial interests. A capacity for ethical decision making and ethical behaviour, truthfulness, a commitment to do no harm, disclosure of conflicts of interests, transparency in financial matters, an obligation not to misuse power and influence, self-awareness of the limitations of their expertise and valuing knowledge are essential qualities. Perhaps I am expecting too much? Likewise those appointing people to committees should also be aware of their own ethical obligations regarding the character of the persons they appoint.
Tony Abbot cannot assume community support and cannot afford to dismiss the concerns of a community. It is not wise to ignore what we do actually know about ‘speedy’ and ‘easier’ adoptions. Australia has always been viewed as having a well-functioning and ethical adoption system. Parents generally understand the waiting times are mostly related to countries of origin and that countries open and close for good reasons. It will not help children, families or Australians to naively consider introducing systems known to be fraught with human rights issues and poor practices from our past and in present practice overseas. Not only will such decisions not improve popularity but it will cost governments more in the medium and long term.