Where to from here?
The committee has read the accounts of submitters, heard from witnesses,
and conducted its own research in order to ascertain the role of the
Commonwealth in former forced adoption policies and practices. In Chapter 1,
the committee examined adoption in Australia, and summarised how adoptions
generally took place in the 1950s and 1960s. In Chapter 2, the committee traced
the history of attitudes towards adoption in Australia in the early part of the
twentieth century, which led to adoption becoming widespread by the 1960s.
Chapters 3 and 4 have given voice to the often heartbreaking accounts of people
personally affected by former forced adoption policies and practices.
Chapters 5, 6 and 7 have addressed the role of the Commonwealth with
respect to social security and adoption legislation. The committee has found
that the Commonwealth did have a coordinating role in the development of
uniform adoption legislation, but not a direct role in implementing such
legislation. Further, the committee has found that the Commonwealth had little
role in social security payments to unmarried mothers prior to 1973.
The committee identified a role for the Commonwealth in addressing the consequences
of former forced adoption policies and practices in Chapter 8. While recognising
that nothing can negate the pain and suffering of many of the submitters and
witnesses, the committee has recommended that a national framework be developed
by the Commonwealth, states and territories through the Community and
Disability Services Ministers Conference (CDSMC).
Chapters 9 to 12 have recommended that a national framework should be
established that includes the following elements to address the needs of those
- That there should be public acknowledgement that past adoption practices
forced some parents to give up their children for adoption against their will,
including formal statements of apology from the Commonwealth, state governments
and non-government institutions that administered adoptions.
- That all extant organisations involved in past adoptions
establish grievance procedures and appropriate redress where wrongdoing has
- That specialist support services should be available to people
affected by past adoption practices, and that professionals delivering these
services should be appropriately trained.
- That natural parents and their children should, as adults, have
free access to all their personal records, regardless of the state or territory
in which the adopted person was born, the adoption took place, or the parties
subsequently resided, and that no-one's consent be required for such access to
The committee considers that a national framework that adequately
addresses the above issues will in part address the consequences of former
forced adoption policies and practices.
The committee also suggests that the findings of this report be utilised
for the additional purposes explained below.
Public acknowledgement and awareness
The committee has recommended that public apologies be made by governments,
religious organisations, hospitals and others involved in former forced
adoption policies and practices. Such apologies will need to be well-publicised
in order to have benefit.
During the course of this inquiry the committee visited the National Museum
of Australia exhibition commemorating the experiences of the Forgotten
Australians. The Museum's project was not just the exhibition—it includes a
blog which acts as a repository for accounts, experiences and artefacts from
people's lives in institutions. The committee recommends that a similar
project be developed to catalogue people's experiences of forced adoption.
13.9 The committee recommends that the Commonwealth commission an exhibition
documenting the experiences of those affected by former forced adoption
policies and practices.
The committee notes that there are a significant number of untold accounts
of people's experiences of forced adoption and considers that the Commonwealth
government should explore ways that these accounts could be heard. In this
respect the committee welcomes the funding for the Australian Institute of
Family Studies (AIFS) National Research Study on the Service Response to
Past Adoption Experiences. The committee is keen to see an ongoing
commitment by the Commonwealth government to ensuring that information and data
collection continues in this area.
The committee has recommended that funding for counselling be restricted
to those with relevant professional qualifications. However, in recognition of
the role of peer-support groups in supporting people affected by former forced
adoption policies and practices, the government should consider engaging such
groups to assist with public awareness strategies. Peer-support groups could
play a role in information-sharing, the documenting of experiences or providing
assistance to organise memorial events.
Intercountry adoption in Australia
Although it was beyond the terms of reference for this inquiry, the
committee received some evidence on intercountry adoptions, and the scope for the
issues raised during this inquiry to recur. VANISH stressed their concerns:
We see the same mistakes being made with intercountry
adoptions that were made back in the sixties and seventies with local
adoptions. That is an issue for us, and the Commonwealth has a real role to
play there because it obviously has the primary responsibility for conventions
and dealing with other countries in relation to adoptions, even if the
adoptions are under a state’s legislation. There are things like Australian aid
and the way that is used to help countries deal with issues around separation
from family and reconnection with family—or indeed helping intercountry
adoptees reconnect with their families in the future, which is a role that the
Commonwealth can look at.
Professor Cuthbert from Monash University commented 'that we are just
setting up precisely the same circumstances for the future.'
Professor Cuthbert also discussed the central role for the Commonwealth
The Commonwealth is not in the situation that it is with
respect to domestic adoption and being able to stand back and say, ‘Well, this
is a state and territory matter’, because from day one the Commonwealth was
involved in brokering arrangements because intercountry adoption is a mode of
family formation but it is also a mode of migration.
In 2009–2010, there were 222 intercountry adoptions in Australia,
representing 54 per cent of all Australian adoptions. In Australia, intercountry
adoption is conducted in accordance with the Hague Convention on Protection
of Children and Co–operation in respect of Intercountry Adoption (the
Australia ratified the Convention on 25 August 1998 and it came into force on 1
December 1998. The Convention is implemented by the Family Law Act 1975 and
the Family Law (Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption) Regulations 1988.
As explained in Chapter 8, the Attorney-General's Department chairs two
working groups of the Community and Disability Services Advisory Council with
respect to intercountry adoption in Australia, the Harmonisation Working
Group and the Alternative Models Working Group. While it is outside
of the scope of this inquiry, the committee recommends that the relevant
Ministers bring the findings of this report to the attention of the Advisory
Council, and ensure that such findings are taken into consideration during deliberations
of the working groups.
In addition, the committee considers that the findings of this report
should also contribute to discussions about local adoptions.
National Principles of Adoption
The committee sought information about current reforms being undertaken
around adoption. FAHCSIA explained that the Community and Disability Services
Ministers Conference (CDSMC) agreed to establish the Enhancing Adoption as a
Service for Children Working Group with the following terms of reference:
- to examine research and best practice evidence to explore the
future role of adoptions in meeting the needs of children and families;
- to review the National Principles in Adoption with a view to
reaching agreement on a set of principles to guide adoption practice which
achieves the best possible outcomes for children and families;
- within the context of a reviewed set of National Principles in
Adoption and to achieve better outcomes for children, to achieve a more
consistent approach to adoption matters across jurisdictions; and
- to report back to the Community and Disability Services Ministers
Conference about the outcomes of the group.
FaHCSIA also stated that the Working Group were planning to review the
'National Principles of Adoption' that have been in place since 1997. New
Principles are expected to be considered by Ministers in the first half of
2012. According to FaHCSIA, the Principles are being reviewed because:
Significant changes have occurred in adoption regulation and
practice in Australia since 1997 and a number of national forums have
identified the need to review and redraft the Principles.
All aspects of adoption policy are being discussed by appropriate ministers
at both Commonwealth and state level. As has been done in the past, the committee
maintains an ongoing interest in the subjects of its inquiries. The committee
would expect to be updated on the development of the Principles.
Learning from the past
More than 400 submitters and witnesses wrote to or appeared before the committee,
expressing a range of hopes about what the inquiry could achieve. Many implored
the committee to ensure that the painful experiences they had endured would not
happen again, and that circumstances leading to a need for a similar inquiry in
the future would not eventuate.
The committee recommends a number of possible measures to ensure that
the experiences of forced adoptions are not repeated. Firstly, a public
awareness campaign would help to increase knowledge of this past injustice.
Secondly, the committee suggests that relevant Ministers provide this inquiry's
results to the Community and Disability Services Ministers' Advisory Council
intercountry adoption Harmonisation Working Group and the Alternative
Models Working Group for their consideration. As intercountry adoption is
now the most common form of adoption in Australia, it would be appropriate that
these working groups, as part of their current deliberations, take the results
of this inquiry into account in their deliberations. Thirdly, the committee
considers that its recommendations should be taken into consideration in the
development of the new Principles of Adoption being undertaken under the
auspices of the CDSMC.
The committee has found that the Commonwealth had a limited role in the
former forced adoption policies and practices. However, the committee considers
that the Commonwealth should take a lead role in addressing their consequences.
As part of its lead role, the Commonwealth should take the earliest opportunity
to apologise publicly to those affected by former forced adoption policies and
Finally, the committee urges all those involved in current adoption
practices to take the findings of this report into account to ensure that the
mistakes of the past are never repeated.
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