Hansard Transcript from Legislative Council- 11 September 2014
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE
Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders: Order of Business
Ms JAN BARHAM [10.32 a.m.]: I move:
That standing and sessional orders be suspended to allow a motion to be moved forthwith that Private Members’ Business item No. 1391 outside the Order of Precedence, relating to forced adoption practices, be called on forthwith.
This matter deserves urgency. It is only nine days away from the two-year anniversary of the apology in this place. People affected by forced adoption practices are seeking clarity about the Parliament’s support for the future redress and recognition of this wrongdoing.
Question—That the motion be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Order of Business
Motion by the Hon. Jan Barham agreed to:
That Private Members’ Business item No. 1391 outside the Order of Precedence be called on forthwith.
FORCED ADOPTION PRACTICES
Debate resumed from 24 October 2013.
The Hon. PAUL GREEN [10.34 a.m.]: I continue my contribution to debate on this issue. In a report titled “Past and present adoptions in Australia” the Deputy Director of Research at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, Dr Daryl Higgins, stated:
From the 1920s, adoption practice in Australia reflected the concept of secrecy and the ideal of having a “clean break” from the birth parents. Closed adoption is where an adopted child’s original birth certificate is sealed forever and an amended birth certificate issued that establishes the child’s new identity and relationship with their adoptive family. Legislative changes in the 1960s tightened these secrecy provisions, ensuring that neither party saw each others’ names.
The experience of closed adoption included people being subjected to unauthorised separation from their child, which then resulted in what was often called “forced adoption”. From the 1940s, adoption advocates saw it as desirable to relinquish the child as soon as possible, preferably straight after birth.
From the 1970s, advocacy led to legislative reforms that overturned the blanket of secrecy surrounding adoption, though until further changes were made in the 1980s (or 1990s in some Australian jurisdictions), information on birth parents was not made available to adopted children/adults.
Beginning with NSW in 1976, registers were established for both birth parents and adopted children who wished to make contact. In 1984, Victoria implemented legislation granting adopted persons over the age of 18 the right to access their birth certificate (subject to mandatory counselling). Similar changes followed in other states (e.g., NSW introduced the Adoption Information Act in 1990).
Reunion services are now part of the ways in which governments and agencie are trying to address the negative impacts of separation on (birth) parents and children from these past adoption practices.
Under the heading “Impact of past adoption experiences”, Dr Higgins continued:
There is limited research available in Australia on the issue of adoption practices during and following the period of closed adoption in Australia. The available information highlights a number of important issues:
There was a range of people involved, and therefore the impacts and “ripple effects” of adoption reach beyond mothers and the children who were adopted, to include fathers, spouses and other family members.
One issue of particular importance is the trauma of the separation of mother and child, and the resulting experience of grief and loss. Mothers—particularly those who have not had any contact—continue to be traumatised by the thought that their child grew up thinking that they were not wanted:
- An adoptee, after meeting her mother late in life, said of her: “There has hardly been a day in her life that she hasn’t wondered where I was or had (I) ever survived” (cited by Swain & Swain, 1992, p.47).
- In the words of one mother: “It wasn’t the children who were not wanted. Mothers weren’t wanted because they were unmarried” …
There is anecdotal evidence of variability in adoption practices, ranging from women feeling that they were supported in making an informed decision, to reports of unjust, cruel and unlawful behaviours towards young unmarried pregnant women who were giving birth.
Past adoption practices continue to affect the daily lives of many people, including the process of reunion between birth parents and adoptees … and the degree to which reunion is seen as a “success” or not.
From these identified issues, it is evident that there is a need for better information, counselling and support for those affected by past adoption practices. Additionally, more research is needed about the current views of adoptive families and their experiences of closed adoption, as well as the experiences of adoptees (including their perspectives on reunion and their experiences of reunion services).
I note that when speaking to this motion Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile said:
Paragraph (2) of the motion states:
That this House acknowledges that offering apologies for an injustice is an essential step toward reconciliation and reparation, but that apology must be followed by ongoing efforts to recognise the harms caused and to provide support to those affected.
Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile also said:
It is one thing for the House to pass motions of apology or regret, but there also need to be actions to show the individuals who were forced to go through forced adoption—the mothers and children—that the House has gone further than simply rhetoric.
I wholeheartedly endorse the words of Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile. I note that Ms Jan Barham recommends that the State take other steps to address this matter, such as, a day of recognition of the outcomes of the practice or the establishment of a place in Sydney where people can grieve or pay their respects, which will assist them in the healing process. I commend Ms Jan Barham for her efforts in this regard and her compassionate approach to this matter. The Christian Democratic Party supports her motion 100 per cent. Minister Upton has been very attentive to these issues and I am sure that in due course she will have the dubious honour of being able to appropriately address this matter.
The Hon. LYNDA VOLTZ [10.41 a.m.]: I support the motion moved by Ms Jan Barham and the principles that are held within it. The Federal Parliament apologised to mothers who were subjected to forced adoptions. Julia Gillard delivered a moving apology to those women and Barry O’Farrell as Premier of New South Wales also made an apology. Having attended school in Western Sydney in the 1960s through to the 1970s, I am acutely aware of the attitudes and practices of society at the time. It was fortuitous that there was a great enlightenment during the 1960s, when medical science moved ahead, which prevented many women who lived in suburban Australia from being treated so badly.
During my time at Birrong Girls High School, I knew of girls at the school who during the holiday breaks would spend their time in Minda, a juvenile detention centre. At the time children who were considered abandoned were not fostered by families but were kept in these facilities. Some girls I went to school with had their babies taken away from them and they were given little choice about what would happen to their child. I grew up in an area where religion did not play a major role, but probably the dominant religion in Birrong was Catholicism. I started off at a Catholic school in Sefton until the age of six, when my father became wary of some of the practices at that school and enrolled me at the local public school.
As children, we were forced to go to confession on a Friday night and to church religiously on Sunday. I distinctly recall attending confession as a young child and confessing to the priest, “Forgive me
Father for I have sinned.” Then I pointed out to the priest, “Actually, Father, I haven’t done anything wrong this week.” Of course, I was told to recite two “Hail Marys” and an “Our Father” for lying to the priest because the idea of original sin was very acute. We were taught from a very young age that no matter what we did we were sinners.
The Hon. Marie Ficarra: He was probably right, though, Linda.
The Hon. LYNDA VOLTZ: He wasn’t right at all. But that is the doctrine that was taught to us at school. The Hon. Helen Westwood, who is in the Chamber, probably had similar experiences at the Catholic school at Sefton, which she also attended. The attitude was that we were not good children or good people and, basically, if they beat us enough they would be able to beat it out of us. It is not surprising then that women had their children taken away from them because they had committed a gross sin; they were an embarrassment to society and their children should be taken from them; they should be prohibited from leading a happy life. The apology by our governments was very important. The treatment of women during the 1960s and 1970s in Western Sydney and country areas was appalling and it is difficult for me to believe that it happened in my lifetime. The world is a much better place now that the practice does not occur.
The Hon. ROBERT BROWN [10.45 a.m.]: I also was raised as a strict Catholic but I cannot comment on what it was like to be a girl growing up at that time. Members of this House well know that The Greens and the Shooters and Fishers Party seldom agree on anything but the motion moved by Ms Jan Barham makes me feel proud to be a parliamentarian. The Shooters and Fishers Party supports the motion.
The Hon. HELEN WESTWOOD [10.46 a.m.]: I too support the motion moved by Ms Jan Barham. I particularly acknowledge her deep commitment to this very serious social issue, which has had a sad history in our country and is a painful legacy for the many people who have been affected by forced adoptions. From the time Ms Jan Barham became a member of this House, and probably well before that, she has shown great concern that those affected by forced adoption be supported. I hope that the activities that she has been involved in will lessen the pain that many people have experienced.
As other members have noted, as a society we have come a long way on the issue of single parenthood and particularly in our attitude towards sex and sex education. The history of forced adoptions is that it was overwhelmingly young women who bore the emotional, physical and psychological costs of forced adoptions; it often led to a lifetime of pain. These young women, who did not have the means to support themselves, would be sent away so that they did not bring shame upon their community, family and friends. Only those closest to them knew of their circumstances. They would remain there during their pregnancy and to give birth.
After they gave birth, their babies were taken away from them, for the rest of their life. Often, they did not have the opportunity to hold or smell their babies. I can only imagine how painful that would have been. I know women who lost their babies as a result of the practice of forced adoption and I know that the pain has stayed with them for the rest of their lives. They still hurt today. For many, the pregnancy was a result of sex they did not want. Of course, the men who fathered those children generally faced no repercussions; their lives went on as though nothing had happened.
I also know of couples who were expecting a child before they were married and were forced by their families to adopt their child out. Later those couples married and had more children. Every year on the birthday of their first child or as they watched their children within the marriage grow up and mature, they experienced the loss of their first child and they felt that their family was never complete. They lost their first child because of the attitudes of society towards sex and sex outside marriage.
I am delighted to have lived long enough to see our attitudes towards sex and birth change so much. Now the birth of a baby is cause for celebration, regardless of the marital status of the mother and the father or, as the case may be, two mums or two dads. I am delighted to have lived through that change. The practices and policies that led to forced adoption caused a great deal of pain for many in our community and continue to cause pain for both the adopted children and the women who had to give up their babies. Many never got to know their babies and have spent their lives wondering about the little ones they gave birth to.
Every time I think about those women being forced to leave families and loved ones, being sent away to give birth alone in a strange place amongst strangers and then having their babies removed from them, it fills me with deep pain. I am so glad that I was fortunate enough not to have lived through that experience. I strongly believe that anything we can do as a society, as a government and as legislators to alleviate some of that pain and bring some justice to these women and the children who have now grown into men and women without knowing their families, as well as the dads who had to give up their children, will make us all the better for it. Again I commend Ms Jan Barham for moving the motion and I am pleased to support it.
The Hon. MELINDA PAVEY (Parliamentary Secretary) [10.52 a.m.]: I join my colleagues in this Chamber in congratulating Ms Jan Barham on moving the motion, which I welcome. The stories I have just heard are stories that I have lived and breathed with family and friends I grew up with who were adopted. I am pleased that those friends, who are now in their thirties and forties, have reconnected with their birth mothers. Although I am not sure whether they were forced adoptions or adoptions, a reconnection has taken place. I note the wording of the motion relates to “forced adoption”. I know people who unexpectedly fell pregnant and decided it was not the right time in their lives so they gave the child up for adoption. It was a choice that they made. Maybe it was due to societal pressure or financial pressures but it is important that adoption remains on the table so that people have that option.
We know that an enormous number of children within our communities could be in a better place if the option of adoption was available, rather than just fostering. I welcome this motion on forced adoption. We as a society have moved on enormously. However, we should not close the door to the option of adoption in Australia and New South Wales because children and families have benefited through that process. When adoption is forced it is wrong. When adoption is conducted in an open environment, when it is not hidden or secret, and where the birth parents can be part of the child’s life, adoption can be a positive thing.
Mr JEREMY BUCKINGHAM [10.54 a.m.]: This morning I make a brief contribution in support of my colleague Ms Jan Barham and her excellent motion on forced adoption practices. I commend her for the excellent work she has done on this issue since coming to this place. We certainly have different styles. One can characterise Ms Jan Barham and her work as having a nurturing style. She has worked collaboratively with the Government to build consensus and she should be commended for that. This is a timely and excellent motion and I support her wholeheartedly in bringing it forward.
The motion has many admirable elements but the particular element that I hope the Government notes and acts upon is the establishment of a public memorial. Some people in the community may think that memorials do not serve any purpose, that they are simply a bauble of public works. In fact, they are incredibly important. As a former monumental mason, I understand the importance of places of reflection, especially when there is uncertainty to a person’s grieving; they do not know what happened to someone and there is no place or thing that they can point to which characterises their pain and suffering. In this case a public memorial is incredibly significant because this issue has touched so many people in so many ways.
My party deliberated on how to deal with this issue and it was only then that I spoke to my mother about forced adoptions. To my surprise, I discovered that my mother had had a child who had been adopted out. I discovered only quite recently that I have a brother somewhere in the world; I did not know that. I discovered that somewhere in the world I have a brother; I discovered that as a 17-year-old my mother was put under a lot of pressure to have her child adopted out. All I have been able to find out—and it is a matter of some difficulty for my family—is that somewhere in the world is a child who was called Alistair, who is my brother. Forced adoption is a matter of pain for a lot of families, mine being one of them. I commend the motion to the House.
The Hon. SARAH MITCHELL [10.57 a.m.]: I make a brief contribution to the debate. I had not intended to contribute but having listened to the contributions of other members I felt it was important to also support the motion moved by Ms Jan Barham. It is important and appropriate for governments to make apologies on issues such as this. It is necessary that we look at the establishment of a public memorial and a day of recognition. It was an incredible contribution from Mr Jeremy Buckingham; it was very brave of him to tell his personal story. I come from a regional area and, interestingly, not long ago I had a conversation about this issue with my mother. She said to me that frequently girls she went to Gunnedah High with would come to school with a slightly looser school uniform, disappear to stay with a family member for six months and then return home. She said it happened all the time.
My mother’s very good friend, whom I did not know, came down to Sydney, gave birth to a boy and returned home. The father of that child is now her husband. This is similar to the stories told by the Hon. Helen Westwood. He was her high school sweetheart; they later married and had three children. The first son found his family again, so for them it has been a very happy ending. However, I know in most cases that is the exception, not the rule. As a family it was traumatic for them to know they had another child but did not know where he was. As a parent I cannot imagine how horrific that must have been. This is an excellent motion. The Hon. Jan Barham should be congratulated wholeheartedly for moving it. All members, particularly the Hon. Jeremy Buckingham, are to be acknowledged for their contributions.
Ms JAN BARHAM [11.00 a.m.], in reply: I thank all members who spoke on the forced adoptions redress motion. It is a proud moment that we can all be here with tears in our eyes knowing that this is an important issue that affects all of us and the people of New South Wales. I thank the Hon. Paul Green, the Hon. Marie Ficarra, Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile, the Hon. Lynda Voltz, the Hon. Helen Westwood, the Hon. Robert Brown, the Hon. Melinda Pavey and the Hon. Sarah Mitchell for their kind words. I extend special thanks to my colleague Mr Jeremy Buckingham. I did not expect him to tell his story, but it has obviously moved everyone in the House.
This motion reflects on the mistakes of the past and highlights that we can and must do more to ensure that it is not forgotten. We must ensure that those who are wronged know that society will not forget the pain, trauma and suffering that was inflicted upon them and that changed their lives. The words that have been spoken mean so much to so many and are a step forward in the fulfilment of the apology given in this place. When I stood and delivered the apology on 20 September 2012 I gave a commitment that I would continue to work on this issue to ensure that the apology was meaningful. Other members have stated that there have been many stories told and inquiries held.
This Chamber was the first to look at this issue. In 1998 the Social Issues Committee undertook an inquiry and it released a report in 2000 entitled “Releasing the past adoption practices 1950-1998: Final report”. As the first Parliament to consider this issue I urge that we be the first to support a day of recognition, a memorial, and redress that has meaning. Many members mentioned the Senate inquiry and the ground-breaking report that was released recommending that all governments and institutions make an apology, and they have done so. I am proud that the chair of that Senate Community Affairs References Committee was my colleague Rachel Siewert. She now sits as a member of the Forced Adoption Implementation Working Group. Rachel Siewert stated:
We have made some significant progress in acknowledging and raising awareness of the pain and suffering of people affected by the trauma of forced adoption, but there is still more to do and we must never forget that this happened or that that pain caused continues today. A day of recognition and a memorial are important for a continuing journey to address the hurt caused. Commemorating the day and a memorial will help make sure this dark part of our history is acknowledged and that we continue to help those affected.
I acknowledge Christine Cole, a woman who was a mother directly affected by the forced adoption practice and who is also a member of the working group. She has completed a thesis on this issue and devoted her life to keeping the awareness of forced adoption practices alive. I am in awe of the courage she has displayed. She has been an inspiration. During the forced adoption inquiry it was stated:
We hear you, we believe you and acknowledge what happened to you. You are respected members of the community.
Those words are meaningful. I am proud to be wearing the ribbon that has been designed to commemorate the forced adoption apology. The purple is for remembrance and the red rose is for love and the heart. I thank all members who spoke emotionally and openly about this issue. I am proud that we are the first Parliament to deliver a rightful redress to wrong-doing of the past. I commend the motion to the House.
Question—That the motion be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.