Adoption Legislation Amendment (Integrated Birth Certificates) Bill 2020

15th September 2020

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (15:19:41): I speak in debate on the Adoption Legislation Amendment (Integrated Birth Certificates) Bill 2020 and state from the outset that I will support this important piece of legislation. I acknowledge that the bill is a significant reform and step forward for many adoptees who have lobbied for it. However, other adoptees still will slip through the cracks of what is a highly complex web of laws and regulations that restrict them from owning their true identity. This is, however, an overwhelmingly positive piece of legislation and I am very pleased to see such broad and strong support for it in this House. The bill ensures that adopted people will have access to two birth certificates. The first is what we know as the existing post?adoption birth certificate while the second will be an integrated birth certificate that will include information about an adopted person's birth parents and birth siblings, as well as their adoptive parents and adoptive siblings. I stress that each of those certificates will include the names of birth parents and adoptive parents; I will return to that issue a little later.

It is, without doubt, a huge step forward for the many adoptees who were prevented from knowing who their birth parents were. There is little doubt that secrecy and uncertainty should not form part of modern adoptive practices. I am therefore pleased this bill will go some way towards ensuring that laws that were first enacted in 1965 are updated to reflect modern practices and demands. This is an age when the open exchange of information is paramount. Adoption practices were significantly reformed in 2010 and now reflect a more contemporary framework that better serves the best interests of a child. People must always have access to information about their birth parents, not only for their own knowledge but also for their wellbeing. Things such as hereditary health issues, for example, are extremely important and must be part of our contemporary understanding. The bill will give an adoptee a choice between their post?adoption birth certificate and an integrated birth certificate. I support that concept, but for some adoptees it is a useless and unwanted choice.

There are some who do not want their adoptive parents named on their birth certificate. There are some who believe their birth certificate should be an accurate reflection of whom they were born to—a factual birth certificate in its true form, and not something that is often referred to in this current debate as an identity document. I am aware of those people and have had discussions with some. In most cases, the adoptee might have been abused by an adoptive parent and might have little or no contact with them. They do not want that person's name on their birth certificate, particularly when that abuser was not in any reality the actual birth parent. Under this bill, they do not get a choice to remove that name. They get to choose between two certificates that both carry the names of the person's adoptive parents.

I refer the House to a recent case, albeit in Victoria but reflective of the same situation in New South Wales. I add that any child who is now adopted in Australia at any age is issued with a birth certificate that records the person's adoptive parents as if they were born to them because they retain the legal rights over that child. William Hammersley died in September last year, but not before the Victorian courts granted him an adoption discharge. I will not detail Mr Hammersley's case, but it is fair to say that he suffered extensive abuse and neglect at the hands of an adoptive parent. Understandably, he did not want the name of his adoptive father—the one who regularly beat him with a razor strap—recorded on his birth certificate. He wanted his birth certificate to reflect his true identity. He went to court and spent a lot of money on lawyers but got his dying wish when the court ruled in favour of his application for an adoptive discharge, or adoption reversal. The same situation exists in New South Wales. There must be a mechanism where the likes of William Hammersley do not have to apply to the courts for such a discharge. There are many who want a no-fuss, no?fault, no?fee discharge and they should not have to spend their life savings in court to get it. It is my understanding that under the current laws a person can only get an adoptive discharge by proving there was fraud, duress or a special circumstance, which currently takes a lot of money and lawyers to prove. One person wrote to me and said:

I just want my true identity back. I didn't consent to my adoption because I was a child. I was abused as a child by my adoptive father and I don't want his name recorded on my birth certificate. From the age of 18, I should be allowed to get out of that transaction if I want.

We rightfully have laws that give people the right to know their birth parents. Children of sperm or egg donors now also have the right to know the identity of their donor. We also rightfully have laws that allow those with a change of gender to alter or update their birth certificate. It is my view that we must also find a way to accommodate the William Hammerslys of New South Wales and give them the simple choice of having their birth certificate reflect the accurate, factual names of their birth parents. They should have the choice of removing the names of their adoptive parents if they can show that special circumstances exist. Peter Moore is a constituent who heads Adoptee Rights Australia. Peter put in this way:

It's supposed to be a birth certificate, not an identity certificate. If I don't want my adoptive parents named on my birth certificate I should have that choice.

He should have that choice and not have to fight through the courts to have his birth certificate reflect the names of those to whom he was actually born. I have raised this issue with the Attorney General and I am hopeful that it will be considered in further reforms to this sector. As I have said previously, I know the bill will deliver strong reform for the vast majority of people who need and want it. I know of adoptees who have wonderful relationships with both their birth and their adoptive parents. There are others who have those relationships with just their adoptive parents and siblings. I am happy—as I am sure we all are—that that exists but we still have some way to go before we can say that no-one is falling through the cracks and that we have a truly contemporary system that serves everyone and does not leave behind some adoptees who need to have their true identity confirmed in a courtroom.

This is a complex and emotional area. I am very pleased that the matter has been considered in such a genuine and heartfelt manner by the Attorney General and the Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services and their staff. I also thank all those groups who have participated in the consultative process to bring about this bill. I am very pleased that the Attorney General is in the Chamber. I understand that he will speak in reply. I trust that we will keep open the opportunity to address these issues, particularly those raised by Mr Peter Moore directly to me. I congratulate the Attorney General on bringing this bill to the House. It is an overwhelmingly positive step, and I commend the bill to the House.

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