I rise to support this bill.
It is legislation that is designed to enshrine equality in our adoption laws.
A number of other state Parliaments have already done this.
I understand that this is the last piece of legislation in Victoria that actually discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.
Adoption occurs very infrequently in this state, and whether the passage of this legislation will change that I am not sure, but in all my years as a family law specialist I recall only doing one adoption, and that was in very exceptional circumstances. That is really because there are three avenues in this state whereby parental responsibility is given to people. The first is under the Adoption Act 1984, the second is through the permanent care orders that are made pursuant to the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005, and the third is through a parenting order under the Family Law Act 1975.
The commonality of those three pieces of legislation is that the requirement always is for the court to consider what is in the best interests of the children. But the difference between those three pieces of legislation is that the Adoption Act is the only piece of legislation of those three that discriminates by not allowing same-sex parties to be engaged in the process and, in this case, to adopt. The legislation in those three options arises in different circumstances. While I was going to go into them, I will not, because I am aware that many speakers want to speak, and that we need to be brief today.
The reality is that most orders in relation to the parenting of children occur under the Family Law Act. As I said earlier, adoption has been very infrequent. The Adoption Act requires that a court will only make an order for adoption if the making of an order in relation to guardianship and custody of children cannot be made under the Family Law Act, because it would not necessarily be the appropriate avenue to do it. The legislation that has been used for many years in that context of family law relates only to children under the age of 18 years, and similarly that is the case with the Adoption Act.
The reason I raise these various methods is really to point out that there are a number of mechanisms whereby the state enables parents to be responsible and to care for their children in a legal sense. By providing equality within this legislation, we are opening it up to all families in our community to enjoy the benefits of this legislation in this state. With that comes the rights and responsibilities in relation to children that all families know so well.
There is a process in relation to adoption, and it is a rigorous process. It puts the interests of the children at the heart of the considerations of the court, and it requires that a court is satisfied that the adoptive parents are fit and proper people. It takes into account the wishes of the child, and where appropriate that is taken into account from an age perspective, so where children are of an age where they can have a say, they will be consulted. It requires that the parties go through counselling, and at the end of the day it requires the court to make a really careful and considered decision.
This is not opening up something in a random way. The rules will continue to apply in the same way to everyone who is considered under this legislation, whether they be heterosexual or same-sex couples. Where adoption occurs, it will often extinguish the rights of a biological parent, and a court will also have to take that into account. Again, these are serious issues that a court has to consider.
I live in, and represent, a diverse community. Over 30 languages are spoken throughout my electorate. There are people of many religious beliefs. There are many things that I have had to weigh up in coming to the decision that I have in relation to this, but the overwhelming thing that guides me is that I believe that equality needs to be the paramount consideration, and I formed the view that I will support this legislation on that basis.