Australian Adult Adoptees Silenced by Commonwealth Parliamentary Inquiry into Local Adoption

by Elizabeth Russell

On Tuesday 27th November 2018, the Federal Liberal MP for Chisolm, Ms Julia Banks, resigned from the Liberal party and announced her intention to continue serving the Australian people as an Independent member of the House of Representatives.

In her speech, Ms Banks said that the ‘gift of time and reflection’ had provided her with clarity regarding ‘the coup’, as she defined it, that resulted in the Liberal party’s leadership change in August. She said, the coup had been aided by many who ‘traded their vote for personal gain – individual promotion, pre-selection endorsements… or silence’.

The position of women in politics, said Banks, ‘is years behind the business world’ and emphasising the need for a whistle-blower’ system… ‘to enable reporting of misconduct’. She said, ‘Often, when good women call out or are subjected to bad behaviour, the reprisals, backlash and commentary, portrays them as the bad ones – the liar, the trouble maker, the emotionally unstable or weak or someone who should be silenced’.

In conclusion, Ms Banks articulated, ‘…the hallmark characteristics of the Australian woman… are resilience and a strong authentic independent spirit’, clarifying her decision was motivated by the actions of ‘the reactionary and regressive right wing…. (who) talk about and to themselves, rather than listening to the people’.

Adoptee Rights Australia Inc. (ARA Inc.) acknowledge Ms Banks’ passionate words of commitment to democratic process, ‘sensible centre values’ and for reminding us all that our politicians’ chief task is to listen and respond to the voices and concerns of the Australian people.

However, from May this year, while heading the Parliament of Australia’s Committee Inquiry into Local Adoption, Ms Banks effectively silenced Australian adult adoptees by refusing members of ARA Inc. the benefit of a public hearing.

Ms Banks’ committee determined, without providing adult adoptees their democratic right to a public platform from which to speak. The lived experience of people who were adopted under ‘closed-records’ aka ‘forced’ adoption policy and practices was stated to have no relevance to the proposed development of ‘new’ adoption policies for Australia in the 21st century.

Adult adoptees’ who provided written submissions to the Inquiry were given this ‘option’: content of their submissions would be censored or their name withheld (see report submissions).

Justification for this centred around policies of secrecy and concerns that were obviously related to the pervasive familial, social and political silence in adoption of ‘the past’. Therefore, Ms Banks’ committee effectively silenced and suppressed the political concerns of Australian adult adoptees and constituents of our democracy, who due to the very nature of ‘closed-record’ adoption policy, have not, to date, had any social or political voice.

Thus, the resilient and authentic spirit of Australian adult adoptees were denied opportunity to provide insight into what ‘being adopted’ means and to debate their concerns about the potential impact of so-called ‘new’ Australian adoption policies. Repeatedly, adult adoptees were told that adoption isn’t ‘like that’ anymore (though sympathy regarding past policy and practice was relayed).

Yet, just last week, on Thursday 22nd November, the NSW Minister for Family and Community Services, Ms Pru Goward, despite adoptee community and aboriginal protests and the valiant attempt to prevent repetition of past adoption policy, Goward’s ‘new local adoption’ bill was passed into legislation.

This ‘new’ adoption policy provides NSW government adoption authorities and private agencies with the power to impose adoption on infants and young children, after or within 2 years of being placed in Out of Home Care, ‘without parental consent’.

Prophetically, this new adoption bill was passed after FACS NSW had already begun advertising ‘local adoption’.

In a new advertising campaign, a very young adopted child is presented to viewers through only the perspective of her adoptive parents. Entitled ‘A Perfect Match’, the ad’s language harks back to past practices when babies and children were ‘matched’ to their adopters.

Adoption was sold as the ‘one size fits all’ solution to social problems of poverty, single motherhood, the ‘unwanted’ child, illegitimacy and infertility, in one fell swoop.

In this ad, the adopted child’s adoptive parents ‘talk about’ her – she is too young to grasp the intent of the advertisement. Her adoptive mother says the little girl has ‘completed me’ and again, the notion that the grief of infertility is resolved by adopting someone else’s baby harks back to past narratives and false claims that adoption completes life for people who are unable to have their own children.

What adult adoptees hear in this distinctly familiar adoption narrative, is the political, social and familial construction and silencing of the adoptee. This little girl is being inappropriately used, commodified by FACS NSW, in the language of adults in power. The child’s family’s story is silenced – her legal rights are silenced and ignored – and the NSW government is presenting adoption as ‘open’ and ‘different’ to the past.

To date there have been no comprehensive studies of ‘open’ or ‘closed-record’ adoption outcomes in Australia to justify such claims of difference.

Government apology for policies and practices of the past, connects the failures of legal adoption to each of Australia’s four national government apologies – that is, apologies to: The Indigenous Stolen Generations; The Forgotten Australians; mothers and adult adoptees of ‘Forced Adoption’; and, most recently, the Commonwealth Liberal government’s apology to victims of ‘Institutional Abuse’.

Missing from this list is the yet to be acknowledged lifelong impact of separation ‘at or soon after birth’ on the adoptee, and the evident physical, sexual and emotional abuse and/or neglect of adopted children inside their adoptive homes.

No-one, least of all adult adoptees, argues that children should not be ‘bounced around’ or ‘languish’ in foster care or that they should be subjected to ongoing abuse or neglect by their families of origin. Australian adult adoptees argue that of course, all children deserve continuity of care, love and security – but, we argue, love and security does not require legal adoption.

Legal guardianship, permanent care orders and Family Stewardship programming offer children protection while preserving their rights to their identity (original birth certificates) and ongoing legal and physical connection to their biological families.

By silencing Australian adult adoptees, Ms Banks’ committee has robbed the Australian public of accurate information through democratic process – that is, through ‘listening’ to our authentic knowledge. In silencing adult adoptees, talking about us but not to us, the Commonwealth government is now perpetuating the myth that adoption is a ‘risk free’ child protection system and that a fairy tale ‘forever family’ will be provided through ‘forced adoption’.

On Monday the 26th November, the report from Committee Inquiry into Local Adoption was published, entitled, ‘Breaking barriers: a national adoption framework for Australian children’.

The Committees’ recommendations include: –

  • that the Commonwealth work with state and territory governments to achieve agreement, through the Council of Australian Governments, to develop and enact a national law for adoption;
  • adoption should be considered before long term fostering or residential care;
  • and, decisions on whether a child may be able to safely return to their birth parent(s) must be made within a legislated timeframe, such as six months of an interim care order for children under two years old, or within 12 months for older children’.

These recommendations make ‘forced’ adoption legal.

Implementation of such policies will place many disadvantaged mothers, fathers and families of children in Out of Home Care, and also young unsupported mothers, in exactly the same legal position as those who lost their children to the adoption system of the 20th century.

Just as unmarried mothers were labelled ‘unfit’, all who struggle to meet constraints of the ‘new’ adoption policy, are at risk of being labelled ‘deadbeat’, ‘emotionally unstable’, ‘weak’ and of course their stories will be ‘silenced’.

The proposal that Commonwealth adoption laws be enacted for all states and territories, presents the potential for abuse of power from within government and private adoption agencies and alarmingly, the potential for familial abuse of voiceless adopted children who will disappear from government oversight through legal adoption.

Adoptee Rights Australia Inc. suggests the Australian government is ‘years behind’ in adoption research and are ignoring successful alternatives to adoption.

ARA welcomes your interest and invites discussion of both past and potential future impact of ‘new’ and legal ‘forced’ adoption policies and practices in Australia. option/Report