Senator MOORE (Queensland) (20:45): In our February 2012 Community Affairs References Committee report, former forced adoption policies and practices, we made 20 recommendations. Some of those are moving through the system, as you know, Mr Acting Deputy President Smith. There were two particular recommendations dealing with the harmonisation of records, with those really important things that so many of us take for granted-our certificates: births, deaths, marriages-and our committee heard some gut-wrenching stories about the importance of effective records for people who either have lost children to adoption or were themselves adopted. Those two recommendations were recommendations 13 and 14. Recommendation 13 reads:
The committee recommends that:
- all jurisdictions adopt integrated birth certificates, that these be issued to eligible people upon request, and that they be legal proof of identity of equal status to other birth certificates, and
- jurisdictions investigate harmonisation of births, deaths and marriages register access and the facilitation of a single national access point to those registers.
We also, in recommendation 14, followed up by saying that our committee recommended that:
- all jurisdictions adopt a process for allowing the names of fathers to be added to original birth certificates of children who were subsequently adopted and for whom fathers' identities were not originally recorded; and
- provided that any prescribed conditions are met, the process be administrative and not require an order of a court.
Through the process of consideration of the report we thought it should be relatively straightforward for the offices of Attorneys-General across all the states, led or guided by the federal Attorney, to consider the changes to the registration process called for by the recommendations. We knew that it would take a lot of discussion, because we know how strongly states hold on to their own areas of expertise. But what we did not really understand at the time was that there would be a reluctance to move forward because there was a reluctance to initiate any legislation around the process.
And as you and I know, Mr Acting Deputy President, there cannot be change in something as important as registry without legislation.
If all those Attorneys-General could hear the gut-wrenching stories we heard in our committee, perhaps they would understand how important getting a harmonisation of records is. I want to quote from some of the evidence we received. As you know, this came directly to us in hearings we held across the states. One of the people, who actually had done a lot of work in this records area, came and talked about how the recording of a birth was fundamental to a person's identity:
The naming of a child is so fundamental a concern that it has been recognised by the United Nations in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which states in principle 3:
The child shall be entitled from his birth to a name and a nationality.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Australia in 1996, states in similar terms, in article 24.2:
Every child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have a name.
This witness went on to say:
As an adoptee, it is hard to feel you belong when you do not look like anybody you live with, and your genetic self does not fit. Then on top of that to have certificates full of lies, mistakes and half-truths adds to the confusion of your identity. Even a prisoner of war has a serial number and a rank that define his identity, and that is respected. My son's right to have his original name on his original birth certificate was finally fulfilled last year. He knows the meaning of his original name and how that ties to his family of origin, me.
The committee also heard evidence that birth certificates provided validation of a woman as a child's natural mother. Again in evidence, we heard:
I never got a birth certificate. To me, that is acknowledgement that I have given birth, that this child is mine.
This mother thought she was going mad, and we had to have the counselling team heavily involved. She knew she had a baby but the records-those things that are there to tell us what is recorded about us by our state and by our nation-said she did not have a baby.
It is so important for people to be able to have full knowledge of their identity. And, as I said earlier, to prove that we are who we claim to be when we are wanting to get passports, when we are wanting to run for office in some places, we need to produce our birth certificate. Under the current system, it varies from state to state as to whether someone who has given birth to a child who is then put up for adoption has any permanent record that they had actually gone through that process. Origins Australia has done a lot of work in this area, and the Victorian branch has proposed that two documents be available-they are different, but both can be identifying documents. Origins said:
We talked about birth certificates before. Origins lobbies for the original birth certificate and an adoption certificate, and for the child or the person who was adopted to be able to use either of these documents as legal tender.
We heard from a woman, Miriam Mandryk, who did a thesis which is almost compulsory reading if you are working in this area. It is called Adopted persons access to and use of their original birth certificates: an analysis of Australian policy and legislation-an invaluable document, if you are studying this area, to see exactly what is happening across our country. Miriam said that:
Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her identity.
She reasoned that some of the actions involved enforced adoptions which were, as we found, illegal. Governments then should have a responsibility to help rectify issues with these children's-now adults'-identity documentation; in this case, birth certification.
We know there is complexity when we are looking at changing laws, but something that was identified as being so important-something that had caused so much pain, something about which people have been talking for many years-these are the kind of issues we would expect our governments to respond to. We would expect them to hear what citizens are saying and then to respond.
We continue to ask attorneys-general to consider these issues, and we think it is particularly important now that, once again, issues of adoption are getting some precedence in our nation with current discussions around inter-country adoption.
The right to have identity documents that reflect the reality of your birth is important. A whole segment of our report looked at the particular issues around fathers who were often excluded when children were given up for adoption, and the need for a father who has found their child existed, and they have been able to meet, could then have a birth certificate process adapted that put their name on the process.
This issue causes great pain, and we believe it is something our government should take very seriously. We believe the call for harmonisation of records and easy access should be addressed by governments working effectively together and with the people whose need is so great. It would be important to all of those people, who came to see us throughout 2012 and who continue to raise these concerns with us, to feel a confidence that attorneys-general will take up this challenge. There must be a way to ensure that all kinds of records are true.
Only recently I heard of a case where a woman had found her child and then the young man had died, but her name was not present as his mother on his death certificate. I think we should be able to work together so that that kind of pain is not felt by many more people across our community. We should be able to get this right.