Mrs ARMITAGE ( Launceston ) - Mr President, I thank the leader for the briefings this morning. I now have a much better understanding of the bill. I will start with the word 'discrimination'. This word is bandied around so much, particularly with regard to this bill. Only yesterday we wasted one whole sitting day - we went through briefings, and second reading speeches and we were told we would stay until the bill was finished, to then have it pulled. Obviously the government felt it was not going the way they wanted. This is not democracy. Democracy is putting up your argument and accepting the umpire's decision. This was not being prepared to accept the umpire's decision - the packing up and going home, to perhaps play another day when the circumstances might be more favourable.
Now, to the bill. Much has been made of the words 'known' and 'unknown'. I can accept that there are many couples fostering children who would like to adopt those children, but are currently prevented from doing so because the children are neither biological nor otherwise related. I have no problem with including a definition or clause in the current act allowing these couples in significant relationships, irrespective of their age, gender or sexual orientation, to adopt known children. To take a foster child into your home and care for them as your own is an amazing gift, and these people need to be commended. It would not be easy, as many of the children have come from difficult family circumstances.
Having said that, to change this act to allow 'unknown' adoptions by people who currently do not meet the criteria is in my opinion a radical social initiative. I thank Rodney Croome for his briefing on behalf of the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group. I note that although there are 354 significant relationships registered in Tasmania, with 181 heterosexual couples and 173 same-sex couples, not one of the 181 heterosexual couples was here to brief us on this issue this morning.
I believe this bill is adult-focused and in my opinion the rights and welfare of the child must be paramount and should never be overlooked. Every child deserves a mother and a father and a child relinquished should have those same equal rights. There are so many infertile married couples waiting for the chance to adopt so few children, ready to give them a loving family environment with a mother and a father.
In life, discrimination can take many forms. In everyday life, we could all find examples where we have been discriminated against. I am sure the couples who first entered the adoption list within the age limit but then while waiting for a child to become available moved outside the age limit, feel discriminated against. They might only be one year outside the cut-off and excellent candidates to be loving and caring parents but they cannot adopt. As we all know, there have to be rules but they do not always seem fair.
It is often said hard cases do not make good laws. Unfortunately, it is a lesson in life that we cannot always have everything we want and that the demands of the adults must end where the rights and needs of a child begin. Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, said: 'There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children'. Children are our most valuable resource and if we as legislators do not defend a child's rights, then who will?
This is a significant policy change. The Adoption Act is guided by the principle that the best interests of the child are paramount and if we are to alter the status quo, we as legislators must be certain there will be no negative consequences to the wellbeing or welfare of these children under its care by the proposed changes to this act.
I believe a high level of caution is required. Because of the duty of care the state owes children for whom it chooses adoptive parents and because of the potential of lifelong effects upon individuals, we now say sorry to what we call the Stolen Generation. But I am sure at that time, when those children were adopted, it was felt it was for the very best of reasons and in their best interests. I believe there is inadequate research for me to support these changes and as I cannot be certain there will be no negative consequences to the wellbeing or welfare of these vulnerable children under the care of the state by the proposed changes to the act, I therefore cannot support this bill.