In November 2017, the Minister for Territory Families, The Hon Dale Wakefield, introduced the Adoption of Children Legislation Amendment (Equality) Bill in the Legislative Assembly.
The bill will amend the Adoption of Children Act and Adoption of Children Regulations, allowing same-sex couples to apply to adopt a child in the Territory.
There are very few adoptions in the Northern Territory. In 2016–17, there were seven adoptions, six of which were overseas adoptions.
The number of parents wishing to adopt vastly outnumbers the children available for adoption. Territory Families, therefore, have a significant responsibility to choose the best parents for the very few children from a wide selection of prospective parents.
Currently, the selection of adoptive parents is based on the best interests of the child and there is no proposal to change this as the primary consideration. With all other considerations being equal, this principle will place children into the care of a married mum and dad as both provide different but equally indispensable care.
Oddly, whilst the government will allow single-sex couples to adopt, the bill does not propose to allow single people to adopt, continuing to seem to allow discrimination based on relationship/marital status.
ACL has often made the case that naturally every child has only one mother and one father and each provide unique and equally important care. Where tragedy may have deprived a child of their mother or father, possibly both, the government has an obligation to emulate, as closely as possible, what has been lost. Any differentiation between marital arrangements may trigger concern regarding discrimination if the consideration were for equality among adults to access children. This is not the case when approaching adoption as this decision must be made purely in the best interests of the child and as research continues to indicate, children are best raised by a mum and a dad in a stable relationship.
The bill also removes references to gender and biological sex.
The new adoption policy attempts to adhere to the language of the Federal Sex Discrimination Act (2013), which removed biology as an aspect of identity, redefining the human person only in terms of gender identity (a subjective, fluid, socially constructed understanding of gender) and their sexual orientation. The requirement for gender-neutral language that results makes it unreasonably cumbersome to discuss families, where biology and differentiated sex-roles (like ‘mother’ and ‘father’) play a manifestly important role.
In the new world of genderlessness, it has become necessary to spell out what would once have gone without saying ― that mothers are different from fathers and that children, wherever possible, should have one of each.
Public submissions to the inquiry closed on 24 January. Details concerning the inquiry can be found here (https://parliament.nt.gov.au/committees/spsc/ACL).
The Social Policy Scrutiny Committee is expected to deliver its report on 13 March 2018.
Read ACL’s submission here