It is now over three months since I had the privilege of attending the Australian Senate and witnessed the historic handing down by the chairperson of the senate reference committee report into the Former Forced adoption policies and practises. It was a very emotional time for myself and so many others gathered only marred by the inability of opposing parties to come together as a common group of people with the shared pain and suffering that has resulted by the actions of the past. I ,when after the press conference and whilst reporters and those affected were seeking out each other, took time out to sit by myself, put my feet up and had a cry for the fact that for the first time someone in a position of authority had said that my mother and i did not ever have a hope in hell of having a life together because of the conspiracy of others to ensure that the letter of the law was never complied with. The period from the 1940's to the 1980's was littered with illegal actions of hospital's , privately run religious maternity homes, state government organisations in that the processes they used for consent taking often breached the laws of the applicable state. Does that mean all these adoptions were illegal. it does not. It means mothers were not afforded full protection of the laws then in place thus removing the chance of them raising their own children.
The Committee handed down twenty recommendations in relation to their very thorough and complex report. As these recommendation are currently being looked at by various federal, State and territory authorities as well as many various religious and private institutions, I won't comment here on merit of the recommendation other than to say I hope that they are considered in depth by all in positions of responsibility. Whilst it is unrealistic to expect all recommendations to be accepted, one can but hope. The Committee is to be commended for their report. but i can make note of various areas of the report.
Page 6 of the report gives the committee's description of what, for the purposes of the inquiry, a forced adoption was. It describes it to mean an adoption where the natural parent/s were compelled to relinquish a child for adoption. later chapters describe the nature of the force. But basically this can be interpreted to mean any parent who believed they had no choice but to relinquish or in some cases removed without proper consent. This could cover economic coercion, parental coercion, religious coercion, abuse of power by those in a position of authority at the medical facility where the birth had taken. many natural parents may have believed that they had decided in good faith on their own only to become aware later that they really had no choice because of the biased advice they were receiving.
However, when some of us sought guidance from the committee 12 months ago as to what they believed was the definition of " forced adoption" all we received in reply was really just general feel good statements like " your submission was accepted" etc which failed to really address the issue. This issue was to become a major conflict between this author and those who opposed his general all encompassing view on forced adoptions. and attempts to use the legal term possibly discouraged many natural parents from making their submission and having their personal story placed on the public record. but for all adoptees the definition of what constituted a Forced adoption was irrelevant as adoptions were forced upon all adopted persons.
It was heartening to see in the final report a separate chapter on adopted persons or adoptee's. This was most gratifying but in the early stages it had appeared that the effects of adoption on the adoptee's was going to be ignored. In fact right up to the handing down of the report a few natural parents were adamant that this inquiry was not about the adopted person so cruelly removed from them but was about their pain and what happened to them. This was further exacerbated by the constant referral to adopted persons as a baby and child or children, which none of us had been for many many years. When adoptee's highlighted this they were initially castigated by many as there appeared to be a desire to retain the myth of perpetual childhood. This also rolled over into the media where there were only minute reporting on the needs and history of adoptee's, the main concentration on the plight of the mothers. And even if an adoptee did get in the media it was only because of horrific nature of their upbringing by adoptive parents. In fact some actually believed that those adoptee's who had good adoptive parents (and that would have been the majority of cases) they should not be involved in the inquiry (again an attempt to marginalise). But the inquiry did listen to adoptee's and for that we are most grateful and whilst much more needs to be done their description of us as adopted persons is so gratifying.
A couple of chapters were also dedicated to the model legislation as agreed to by the Commonwealth and States in the early 1960's. This has been described as the main reason adoptions peaked in 1969/70. Whilst the report does give the dates that the various states passed their legislation which broadly brought all legislation into sync the fact is that the states enacted such legislation (or proclaimed) into law at much later dates. An example is that the NSW Adoption of children Act 1965 was not proclaimed until 1967. So all births prior to the enactment came under the previous antiquated laws. One side benefit for adoptees with the model laws was that most states then appeared to have cleaned up it record keeping so that by the time the Tasmanian act was proclaimed in October 1968, there was a nationwide record keeping system in place. However when anyone looks at the 18 years prior to the last state enactment and 18 years after the overall adoption rate seems to be on par especially when compared to the total population for each year. so I do not generally agree with the thesis that their was a peak of adoptions after the model legislation whilst agreeing that for a short three year period , adoptions did exceed the average and there may have been other reasons for that.
Under the States Grants (deserted Wive) Act of 1968, the commonwealth jointly with the states were responsible for providing support after 6 months qualifying period. in the interim it would appear that the states were responsible solely for that first six months. So it could be logical to assume that the ideal situation would have been for the states to reduce their welfare budgets by pushing adoption as the prime response. this was a new thing to them and most states being conservative have a ready history of wanting to reduce welfare spending to boost other so called private enterprise projects. And as the federal single mothers benefits kicked in slowly from 1973 the need for states to foot this increasing welfare bill diminished hence the need to contain that cost. In fact the states jacked up and refused to cover the six month period in place prior to the single mothers benefit, thus resulting in the Commonwealth assuming full responsibility. Pure economics. This is just one possible explanation why there was a short three year increase. But the rate of adoption was reasonably consistent based upon averages from 1944 until mid 1980's.
One thing that the report touched on lightly was the eugenics debate. basically the report said that from the end of World war 2 the eugenics movements had all but run it race in this country. No doubt this was the result of the horrors seen in the death camps of Europe. it basically excluded the idea that eugenics was a government/s policy in relation to the adoption policies of the non indigenous peoples. Do i think there was a leftover of people in positions of authority who harboured these obscene ideas. i have no doubt but by the mid 1960's most of those people would have been retired from the system. So any eugenics practises would have been in a adhoc manner depending upon the institution a person was sent to give birth. The report made no mention of genocide as under any human rights charter and the strict definition of genocide no such thing occurred to the non indigenous population. Whilst many believe that the whole process was a eugenics and genocide conspiracy I respect your views but politely disagree with them. This article is not here to convince anyone but rather express one persons opinion. Sadly during the period of the inquiry attempts were made to ram one set of opinions into the forefront regardless of fact or fiction and failing that attempts were made to isolate and emotionally destroy malcontents.
Sadly the report did highlight the high degree of bullying and abuse levelled at people. A common scenario was to gang attack a persons views on Facebook and then remove the posts leaving the poor soul out there vulnerable, psychologically abused and completely shattered. Many withdrew completely from the process and thus did not have their voices heard. This Marxist attitude was in the end self defeating for those with a non negotiable fixed agenda and full marks to the the senators for highlighting this major problem. Now that they are aware of the dangers of single purpose minority groups trying to hijack the debate no doubt stricter guidelines will be issued in future inquiries of an emotional nature to prevent similar recurrences. it is vital that all person be given an opportunity to express their truth and the continual degrading of person who have differing viewpoints even implying they are uneducated about the topic must cease. No one can say that a natural parent or adopted person does not have experience in relation to adoption. They have lived it .
In conclusion, I was very thrilled that the report tried to acknowledge all stakeholders in this tragedy called adoption, have tried to show the way forward for governments and institutions to assist those who have needs as a result of this period of Australian History and they are all to be praised for their diligence , patience and integrity. Midway through the Inquiry process, i had lost faith in the ability of the senators to withstand the pressures from noisy and belligerent parties who were only interested in their own organisation agenda not the needs and desires of the multitude of those affected. Even the statement like " they can have their apology and get out of the way" shows the level of contempt that is directed at the malcontents. but my faith was restored by one simple three minute phone call just before question time one afternoon, when the chair of the committee, senator Siewert called me to reassure me that adoptee's viewpoints were being heard loud and clear and were being noticed. This is all I and others ever wanted. To be fairly heard as equals not as a child supporting a mother but a adult supporting themselves, fellow adoptee's and their families. She alone restored my faith in the political system which in the current climate is a hard task.
The future however is less certain. it was not in the terms of reference so no debate was conducted in relation to the future needs of those who are donor conceived, those born via surrogacy and the rising level of overseas adoptions. as these people mature their emotional well being will come under stress just as it has with adoptee's and systems should now be put in place to ensure prompt and efficient care so sadly lacking for us. on top of this we will collectively have to fight to ensure the governments and institutions come to the party in relation to a national response to our future well being and honour their commitments. For example Catholic health committed themselves to participating in the national response. But if they are also negotiating private settlements with some other parties what guarantees do we have that they wont reduce the funds for the national response to cover those costs. That is why unity is vital. And for the future well we will have to wait and see whilst attempting to continue the good struggle