Tony Abbott disbanded expert adopt advisory group weeks before pledging action on the issue
December 20, 2013 - 11:59AM Judith Ireland
An adoption expert has questioned why Prime Minister Tony Abbott has set up a new group to report on intercountry adoptions just weeks after he disbanded another advisory body on the issue.
On Thursday, Mr Abbott announced that he had ordered his department to set up an interdepartmental working group on overseas adoption, as part of his push to make it ''much easier'' for Australian couples to adopt from overseas.
But Marilyn Nagesh, who became heavily involved in the intercountry adoptions community after adopting her 30-year-old daughter from India 29 years ago, on Friday called the move ''interesting''.
Until March this year, Ms Nagesh sat on the National Intercountry Adoption Advisory Group – a body that was set up to advise the Attorney-General in the wake of a Howard government review completed in 2005.
The group was disbanded on November 8 as part of a new Coalition government move to abolish or rationalise non-statutory bodies.
''The closure of this group is a whole-of-government decision that was taken to simplify and streamline the business of government,'' a statement on the Attorney-General's Department website says.
Ms Nagesh said that Mr Abbott's announcement on Thursday was a ''bit of a surprise''.
''When you disband a group that had really experienced people on it . . . you would have really thought you would have kept that group going if you were going to make an announcement like yesterday,'' she told ABC 24.
Ms Nagesh also expressed concern that people might have the wrong impression about how many children are available for adoption overseas.
''I think we really have to think about that very clearly,'' she said, adding that the Prime Minister may be raising false hope.
Ms Nagesh said agencies overseas and not the Australian government decided how many children would be able to be adopted.
She pointed to South Korea, which now encourages local adoptions rather than overseas adoptions.
''We've got to be very careful that if we're bringing in children from overseas that they're ethically available for adoption,'' Ms Nagesh.
On Thursday, Mr Abbott made his adoption announcement at Kirribilli House, with well-known adoption advocate and actor Deborra-Lee Furness and her husband Hugh Jackman.
On Friday, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said that the group announced by Mr Abbott on Thursday was an internal departmental body, rather than an external committee.
She said the group was looking at very specific questions - regarding impediments to overseas adoptions - and had a short-term mission.
Mr Abbott's group will report back by March ahead of the next Council of Australian Governments Meeting in April.
The Prime Minister would like the review to result in change within the next 12 months.
Yet despite the Prime Minister's enthusiasm, a leading adoption advocate said the last thing Australia needed was another review into the adoption system when the federal and state governments had not ''implemented the recommendations from the last one''.
Ricky Brisson, the national co-ordinator for the Australian InterCountry Adoption Network, said the Abbott government should already know what it needed to do to fix the broken adoption system.
A 2005 review of the adoption system launched by Bronwyn Bishop, had identified the problems being spoken about today, she said.
''Each state has different legislation, policies and criteria,'' Mrs Brisson said, adding that varying requirements around factors such as age and length of marriage meant that people who started their assessment in one state would be forced to reapply when they moved states.
Steve Nielsen, an adoption advocate from Queensland who gave evidence to the 2005 committee, said he was grateful for the spotlight given to the adoption issue at Thursday's high-profile announcement, but added that there was much unfinished business from 2005 recommendations.
''If it was really about change, Tony Abbott could very quickly go back and look at that report and get some quick wins rather than give back to the same bureaucrats that have squashed it for the last eight years,'' Mr Nielsen said.
With Jonathan Swan, Lisa Visentin
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