Submission re Queensland Registering Life Events Discussion Paper

The following is my submission in response to the Queensland Government Registering Life Events: Recognising sex and gender diversity and same-sex families Discussion Paper. For more information on this review, go here.

 

BDM Act Review Team

PO Box 15188

City East, Brisbane QLD 4002

bdmlegislativereview@justice.qld.gov.au

 

Wednesday 18 April 2018

 

To the BDM Act Review Team

 

Submission re Registering Life Events Discussion Paper

 

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission in response to the Registering Life Events: Recognising sex and gender diversity and same-sex families Discussion Paper.

 

I write this submission as a long-time advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

 

I also write this as a cisgender gay man, and am therefore guided by the views of those groups directly affected by the provisions of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 2003.

 

Specifically, with respect to questions 1 to 7 I endorse both the submission to the current review by Intersex Human Rights Australia (IHRA),[i] and the Sex and Gender Advisory Group’s letter to the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department Review of the Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender.[ii]

 

Where there is any inconsistency between this submission and the views of these groups, I defer to them as experts in these areas.

 

Question 1. How should a person’s sex be recorded on the birth, adoption and death registers?

Question 2. Do you have any other comments on this issue?

 

I support the views expressed in Recommendation 3 of the Intersex Human Rights Australia submission that: Queensland should end legal classification of individuals by sex or gender, in line with the Darlington Statement and the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10.

 

I also agree with IHRA that this recommendation is unlikely to be achieved in the short-term and therefore support their recommendation 4, namely that: In the absence of an end to legal classification of individuals by sex or gender, Queensland should recognise ‘non-binary’, alternative (for example, self-affirmed) and multiple sex markers. Changes should be available [via] a simple administrative procedure, for example, via a statutory declaration.

 

I note that this terminology, and in particular the use of the term ‘non-binary’, was also supported by the Sex and Gender Advisory Group in its letter of 24 September 2015.

 

Question 3. Should any changes be considered to the BDMR Act and BDMR Regulation to improve the legal recognition of sex and gender diverse people in Queensland? If so, what should the changes be?

Question 4. Should any changes be made to the BDMR Act’s provisions regarding an application to note a reassignment of sex for children/young people under the age of 18? If so, what should the changes be?

 

Yes, significant changes must be made to the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 2003 to improve the legal recognition of sex and gender diverse people in Queensland. This includes the removal of the major hurdles that currently prevent people from accessing accurate and appropriate identity documentation.

 

First, the requirement that trans and gender diverse people must have ‘sexual reassignment surgery’[iii] before being able to update their sex on the birth register must be removed. This requirement is inappropriate as not all transgender people want or are able to undertake such procedures (for a variety or reasons, including financial).

 

Second, the requirement that applications to note the reassignment of a person’s sex ‘must be accompanied by statutory declarations, by 2 doctors, verifying that the person the subject of the application has undergone sexual reassignment surgery’ [section 23(4)(b)] must also be removed. The medicalisation of identity recognition processes is also inappropriate – doctors should not be ‘gatekeepers’ of the identity of trans and gender diverse people.

 

The process for updating sex and gender details should be based on the experience and/or identity of the individual involved – not the opinion of medical ‘experts’ – and should be straight-forward, most likely affirmed through a simple statutory declaration.

 

The same principles should also apply with respect to minors, with no medical gatekeepers involved, and the only caveat being that they are able to demonstrate their capacity for consent. Obviously, this also means that where a minor is able to demonstrate such capacity, they should be permitted to amend their identity documentation in the absence of approval from parent(s) or guardian(s).

 

Finally, I endorse Recommendation 6 of the Intersex Human Rights Australia submission that: In the absence of legislation and regulation that implements prior BDM recommendations, the Queensland government should ensure that a separate, simple and accessible pathway is available for people born with variations of sex characteristics to correct details on birth certificates.

 

Question 5. Should the BDMR Act contain provisions to allow for the reassignment of a person’s sex for individuals who reside in Queensland but whose birth was registered elsewhere?

Question 6. Should BDMR Act allow for the issuing of a gender recognition certificate/identity acknowledgement certificate which can be used by a person as proof of their sex or gender?

Question 7. Do you have any other comments on this issue?

 

Yes, I support the inclusion of provisions to allow for the reassignment of a person’s sex for individuals who reside in Queensland but whose birth was registered elsewhere. This would seem to be an important practical measure for people who are unable to update these details in other jurisdictions, for a variety of possible reasons.

 

I am not in a position to comment on the process for such recognition – including the specific proposal for the issuing of a gender recognition certificate/identity acknowledgement certificate – and defer to the views of trans, gender diverse and intersex organisations on this question.

 

Question 8. Should the BDMR Act be amended to permit same-sex parents to choose how they are recorded on a birth or adoption registration?

 

Yes, although this should not be limited to ‘same-sex parents’ – all parents should be able to nominate how they are recorded. This would better reflect the diversity of modern families, not just in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity, but also in terms of methods of family creation.

 

Question 9. If so, what descriptors should be available and in what combinations?

 

At the very least, parents should have the option of nominating as ‘mother’, ‘father’ or ‘parent’, thereby allowing the combinations of mother/father, mother/mother, father/father, mother/parent, father/parent and parent/parent.

 

I am not in a position to comment on what other terms may be preferable (especially with respect to the potential use of ‘birth mother’ or ‘birth parent’) but encourage the BDM Act Review Team to consult directly with rainbow families on these issues.

 

Question 10. Do you have any other comments on this issue?

 

I note that the Discussion Paper states that ‘[t]he issue of whether or not a child’s birth or adoption registration should include more than two parents and the issuing of integrated birth certificates listing more than two parents will be canvassed in a subsequent discussion paper.’

 

I take this opportunity to pre-emptively express the view that, in contemporary Australia, there is already a wide range of family structures in existence – including where children are raised by three or four different parents – and that the law should be amended to reflect this reality.

 

Additional Comments

 

I also take this opportunity to express my support for the first two recommendations of the Intersex Human Rights Australia submission to the current review, namely that:

 

Recommendation 1. Queensland should protect children’s right to bodily integrity, in line with the Darlington Statement and the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10

and

Recommendation 2. The Queensland government should protect people from discrimination and violence on grounds of ‘sex characteristics’, in line with the attribute defined in the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10.

 

These are important issues and both represent serious shortcomings in Queensland law (as well as in other jurisdictions within Australia). The Queensland Government has in recent years adopted a progressive agenda on LGBTI issues overall – I strongly encourage it to add both of these items to that list.

 

Thank you for considering this submission as part of this important review. Please do not hesitate to contact me at the details below should you require additional information.

 

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

Palaszczuk

The Palaszczuk Labor Government has already enacted a strong LGBTI reform agenda – but there’s plenty left to do.

 

Footnotes:

[i] Morgan Carpenter, 4 April 2018: https://ihra.org.au/32033/submission-bdm-queensland/

[ii] Gavi Ansara, Sue Webeck, Morgan Carpenter, Peter Hyndal and Sally Goldner, 24 September 2015, as published on the National LGBTI Health Alliance website: https://lgbtihealth.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/FOR-DISTRIBUTION-AGD-Sex-and-Gender-Guidelines-Review-Advisory-Group-Endorsement-Letter.pdf

[iii] Defined in the Act as:

‘means a surgical procedure involving the alteration of a person’s reproductive organs carried out:

(a) to help the person to be considered a member of the opposite sex; or

(b) to correct or eliminate ambiguities about the sex of the person.’

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Submission re Queensland Adoption and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016

The Queensland Labor Government has proposed legislation to finally allow adoption by same-sex couples in that state. The Adoption and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 is currently being considered by a Parliamentary Committee, before being debated and voted upon later in 2016.

My submission to the Committee is included below. If you are reading this post on Wednesday 12 October, you can also watch the Committee’s public hearings about the Bill here.

**********

Research Director

Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee

Parliament House

George St

Brisbane QLD 4000

c/- hcdsdfvpc@parliament.qld.gov.au

Tuesday 4 October 2016

To the Committee

Submission re Queensland Adoption and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission regarding the Adoption and Other Legislation Amendment Bill (‘the Bill’).

In this submission, I will focus on one aspect of this legislation – the proposed reform to allow same-sex couples to adopt children.

This reform is outlined in clause 13 of the Bill, which would amend section 76 of the Adoption Act 2009 to remove the requirement that a person expressing an interest in being assessed for suitability as an adoptive parent has a spouse, and that their spouse is not of the same gender as themself.

I strongly support this reform, for two reasons.

First, it removes unjustifiable discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

The overwhelming majority of credible research shows that children raised in same-sex parented families are as healthy, and as happy, as those raised by mixed-sex couples.

As Deborah Dempsey found in the 2013 research paper “Same-sex parented families in Australia”[i]:

“[o]verall, research to date considerably challenges the point of view that same-sex parented families are harmful to children. Children in such families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers from heterosexual couple families”.

This conclusion was supported by research in the following year, by Dr Simon Crouch and others, that:

“children with same-sex attracted parents in Australia are being raised in a diverse range of family types. These children are faring well on most measures of child health and wellbeing, and demonstrate higher levels of family cohesion than population samples.”[ii]

These findings accord with reputable studies from overseas, with evidence consistently revealing that children from same-sex parented families experience the same levels of physical and mental health as their peers, if not better.

Based on this research, continuing to impose legal criteria that restricts prospective adoptive parents to those who have a spouse of a different gender, can be seen for what it really is – discrimination against LGBTI people that is both unnecessary, and completely without foundation.

It is time such discrimination was removed from the statute book, and I am grateful that the Bill will accomplish this.

Second, and even more importantly, removing this discrimination is in the best interests of children because it will help ensure an adopted child has the best possible adoptive parents.

As the research demonstrates, parenting ability has nothing whatsoever to do with sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Some cisgender heterosexual people make wonderful parents, while others do not. The same is undoubtedly true of members of the LGBTI community.

But to determine that only people who are in mixed-gender relationships may apply to become adoptive parents, while the LGBTI people who would make wonderful parents may not, carries with it the inherent risk that a child misses out on being adopted by more suitable parents solely because past Queensland Parliaments have determined that those people do not have the ‘right’ sexual orientation, gender identity or sex.

After all, it is only logical that, if the pool of prospective adoptive parents is reduced because of irrelevant criteria, the overall depth and quality of that pool is diminished.

Indeed, this argument was explicitly acknowledged in the second reading speech by Minister Fentiman, who noted that:

“[t]he bill recognises the need to provide fairness and equity and amends eligibility criteria to enable same-sex couples, single people and people undergoing fertility treatment to adopt a child. This will result in a broader and more flexible pool of people from which to select for assessment as suitable adoptive parents. Importantly, this change will mean more options will be available for matching a child to prospective adoptive parents who will best meet the child’s individual needs.”

On the basis of the above two reasons – that the Bill will remove unjust discrimination against LGBTI people, and that the proposed changes are in the best interests of children who are adopted – I urge the Committee to recommend that the Adoption and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 be passed.

Ultimately, I call on the Queensland Parliament to support this reform as a matter of priority, thus recognising the diversity of modern families, and ensuring that they are treated equally under the law.

Thank you again for the opportunity to provide a submission on this important Bill. Should the Committee want any additional information, or wish to clarify any of the above, I can be contacted at the details provided below.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

[Update 10 January 2017: Queensland Parliament passed legislation to allow for adoption by same-sex couples on Wednesday 2 November 2016, removing a major barrier to the equal treatment of LGBTI people, and relationships, under Queensland law. The Brisbane Times reported on this long-overdue law reform success here.]

 

Footnotes:

[i] Dempsey, D, “Same-sex parented families in Australia”, Child Family Community Australia, Research Paper No. 18, 2013.

[ii] Crouch, S, Waters, E McNair, R, Power, J, Davis, E, “Parent-reported measures of child health and wellbeing in same-sex parented families: a cross-sectional survey”, BMC Public Health, 21 June 2014.

Submission to Review of the Queensland Adoption Act 2009

Update 16 January 2017:

Queensland Parliament passed legislation to allow for adoption by same-sex couples on Wednesday 2 November 2016, removing a major barrier to the equal treatment of LGBTI people, and relationships, under Queensland law.

The Brisbane Times reported on this long-overdue law reform success here.

Update 11 August 2016:

On Saturday 6 August, the Queensland Government announced that, in response to this review, it will be proposing legislation to ensure that single people, and same-sex couples, will be able to adopt legally in Queensland.

The consultation report can be found here.

This is obviously wonderful news for rainbow families – both existing and prospective – and for LGBTI Queenslanders generally. I am thankful to have played a small part through this consultation. Please see my own submission to this review below.

Original Post:

The Queensland Government is currently undertaking a review of the Adoption Act 2009.

This is an important opportunity for the LGBTI community to let the Government know that the current discriminatory provisions contained in the Act – which prevent same-sex couples from together adopting children, and which also prevent a same-sex partner from adopting their partner’s child – must be removed as a matter of priority.

Full details of the consultation can be found here. Public submissions close 5pm Friday 11 March 2016. The following is my submission:

Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services

Child and Family Legislative Review

PO Box 806

Brisbane QLD 4001

adoptionactreview@communities.qld.gov.au

Sunday 6 March 2016

To whom it may concern

Submission to Review of the Queensland Adoption Act 2009

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this submission as part of the five-year review of the operation of the Queensland Adoption Act 2009.

In this submission, I will primarily focus on one of the nine questions posed by the Discussion Paper, namely:

  1. Do you consider the eligibility criteria provisions of the Act to be fair and continue to meet the needs of children who require adoptive families?[i]

In my view, the answer to this question is unequivocally no.

As stated in the Discussion Paper, the Adoption Act 2009 currently requires that “To be eligible to express an interest [in adopting] a range of criteria must be met: [including]

The person has a spouse who:

  • is also eligible
  • is not the same gender as the person
  • has been the person’s spouse for at least two years”[ii] [emphasis added].

This is clearly neither fair, nor is it in the best interests of the child(ren).

To begin, including a requirement that prospective adoptive parents must be in mixed-gender relationships, rather than in a relationship with someone of the same gender, is unfair in its discriminatory approach toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, excluding the majority of LGBTI people from even applying to adopt children in Queensland.

This discrimination is not supported by evidence showing that children are ‘better off’ being adopted exclusively by cisgender heterosexual couples.

In fact, the overwhelming majority of credible research shows that children raised in same-sex parented families are as healthy, and as happy, as those raised by mixed-sex couples.

As Deborah Dempsey found in the 2013 research paper “Same-sex parented families in Australia”[iii]:

“[o]verall, research to date considerably challenges the point of view that same-sex parented families are harmful to children. Children in such families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers from heterosexual couple families” [emphasis added].

This conclusion was supported by research in the following year, by Dr Simon Crouch and others, that:

“children with same-sex attracted parents in Australia are being raised in a diverse range of family types. These children are faring well on most measures of child health and wellbeing, and demonstrate higher levels of family cohesion than population samples.”[iv]

These findings accord with reputable studies from overseas, with evidence consistently revealing that children from same-sex parented families experience the same levels of physical and mental health as their peers, if not better.

The criteria which restricts prospective adoptive parents to those who have a spouse of a different gender should be removed from Queensland’s Adoption Act 2009 as it unnecessarily, and completely without foundation, discriminates against members of the LGBTI community.

Even more importantly, it should be removed because it potentially denies an adopted child from having the best possible adoptive parents.

As the research referred to above demonstrates, parenting ability has nothing whatsoever to do with sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Some cisgender heterosexual people make wonderful parents, while others do not. The same is undoubtedly true of members of the LGBTI community.

But to determine that only people who are in mixed-gender relationships may apply to become adoptive parents, while the LGBTI people who would make wonderful parents may not, carries with it the inherent risk that a child misses out on being adopted by more suitable parents solely because the Queensland Parliament has determined that those people do not have the ‘right’ sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

After all, it is only logical that, if the pool of prospective adoptive parents is reduced because of irrelevant criteria, the overall depth and quality of that pool is diminished.

If adoption laws are to be based on the best interests of the child, and nearly all people agree that should be the case, then this is another compelling reason to remove eligibility criteria based on the gender(s) of the prospective adoptive parents.

These factors – the discriminatory impact of the Queensland Adoption Act 2009 on LGBTI people, and the failure to take into account the best interests of the child – are both exacerbated in the current denial of the ability of people who are in same-gender relationships to apply to be the adoptive parents of their partner’s child (ie step-parent adoption)[v].

In this situation, and based on the other eligibility criteria contained in the Act, the applicant, their partner and the child(ren) involved would have been living together for at least three years. That’s three years of sharing a home and living together, for all intents and purposes, as a family.

What possible justification could there be to say that an LGBTI step-parent should be denied the ability to adopt their partner’s child, where they would otherwise be able to if they were cisgender and heterosexual?

In my view, and I would hope the view of the majority of the Queensland Parliament, there can be no justification for discriminating in this way, and denying these families – because they are families, irrespective of what the current law says – the legal protections that they require, and that they deserve.

Introducing adoption equality – by removing restrictions on the ability of LGBTI people to adopt, both ‘unknown’ children and their partner’s child(ren) – would also bring Queensland laws into line with the majority of other Australian states and territories, thereby aiding national consistency in this important area of family law and legal recognition[vi].

As the Discussion Paper notes[vii], NSW, Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT all have existing adoption equality laws. In the time since the Discussion Paper was released, Victoria has also amended its laws to ensure that LGBTI people have the ability to adopt children[viii].

With South Australia currently reviewing its adoption laws, and the realistic prospect that adoption equality will be introduced there in the near future, that would leave the Northern Territory as the only other jurisdiction in Australia continuing to discriminate against adoptive parents on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

By passing amendments to the Adoption Act 2009 to remove discrimination against LGBTI people, Queensland Parliament would therefore be helping to recognise the 21st century reality – that rainbow families exist, and that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people can be just as good parents as cisgender heterosexual people.

Thank you for taking this submission into account as part of the five-year review. If you would like more information, or to clarify any of the above, please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Shannon Fentiman

Queensland Minister for Communities, Women and Youth, and Child Safety, the Hon Shannon Fentiman MP.

[i] Discussion paper: Public consultation for the review of the operation of the Adoption Act 2009, page 9.

[ii] Ibid page 8.

[iii] Dempsey, D, “Same-sex parented families in Australia”, Child Family Community Australia, Research Paper No. 18, 2013.

[iv] Crouch, S, Waters, E McNair, R, Power, J, Davis, E, “Parent-reported measures of child health and wellbeing in same-sex parented families: a cross-sectional survey”, BMC Public Health, 21 June 2014.

[v] The Discussion Paper states on page 12 that: “A person may apply to the Chief Executive to arrange an adoption of a stated child if: the person’s spouse is not the same gender as the person.”

[vi] Which is relevant to question 7 on page 16 of the Discussion Paper: “Are there approaches in other jurisdictions that Queensland could consider?”

[vii] Discussion Paper, Appendix: Adoption in Australia – Inter-jurisdictional analysis of legislative provisions.

[viii] ABC News, “Same-Sex Adoptions Laws Pass Victorian Parliament” December 9 2015.

Submission to Commonwealth Parliamentary Inquiry into Surrogacy

Update 19 May 2016:

In advance of the widely-anticipated election announcement by Malcolm Turnbull on Sunday May 8, a range of Parliamentary Committees handed down inquiry reports in the first week of May. This included the inquiry into surrogacy conducted by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, with their final report – called Surrogacy Matters – available here.

This update will provide a brief summary of that report, including consideration of whether they incorporated any of the recommendations made in my submission to the inquiry (included below).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the Committee was chaired by George ‘the Safe Schools program is like grooming’ Christensen, the Committee did not support any change in approach to commercial surrogacy in Australia:

Recommendation 1. The Committee recommends that the practice of commercial surrogacy remain illegal in Australia.

Nevertheless, this is still a disappointing outcome, particularly given the Committee did accept my suggestion that a body like the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) could be tasked to develop best practice legislation in this area – they just decided to limit it to altruistic surrogacy:

Recommendation 2. The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in conjunction with the Council of Australian Governments, consider the development of a model national law that facilitates altruistic surrogacy in Australia. The model law should have regard to the following four guiding principles:

  • that the best interests of the child should be protected (including the child’s safety and well-being and the child’s right to know about their origins),
  • that the surrogate mother is able to make a free and informed decision about whether to act as a surrogate,
  • that sufficient regulatory protections are in place to protect the surrogate mother from exploitation, and
  • that there is legal clarity about the parent-child relationships that result from the arrangement.

Looking at this recommendation in detail, I can see absolutely no reason why these same ‘guiding principles’ could not also be used to develop a framework for commercial surrogacy for inclusion in the model law (but that would take a Committee, and a Parliament, with more courage than the one that was just dissolved).

On the positive side, the Committee notes on page 5 that “[m]any inquiry participants also highlighted a number of discriminatory provisions that exist in relation to gender, marital status and sexual orientation” in state and territory laws (and referenced submissions from the Australian Human Rights Commission, myself, and the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby).

As a result, one of the factors the Committee believes the ALRC should consider is “the need for State and Territory laws to be non-discriminatory” (Recommendation 3), which is obviously welcome.

However, the Committee’s recommendations around international commercial surrogacy are far less welcome – and far more frustrating.

The Committee acknowledged that the ban on domestic commercial surrogacy is a major contributing factor to Australian couples, including LGBTI couples, seeking access to commercial surrogacy in other countries. It also acknowledged that the criminalisation of this practice, by Queensland, NSW and the ACT, has so far been ineffective in stopping it.

But, instead of using this evidence to justify a reconsideration of the domestic prohibition of commercial surrogacy, the Committee decided to reinforce this ‘criminalisation’ agenda:

Recommendation 9. The Committee recommends that the Australian Government introduce legislation to amend the Migration Act 1958 such that Australian residents seeking a passport for a young child to return to Australia are subject to screening by Department of Immigration and Border Protection officials to determine whether they have breached Australian or international surrogacy laws while outside Australia, and that, where the Department is satisfied that breaches have occurred, the Minister for Immigration is given the authority to make determinations in the best interests of the child, including in relation to the custody of the child.

So, in Christensen & co’s ideal world, Department of Immigration and Border Protection officials will investigate Australian families who return from overseas with children born through surrogacy arrangements and, presumably, assist in their criminal prosecution under state and territory law.

Most worrying of all is the proposal for the Minister for Immigration to make determinations about the custody of that child, including potentially stripping their parents of responsibility. Imagine for a moment the current Minister, Peter Dutton (or his predecessor, Scott Morrison) making such decisions, including about LGBTI families? Let’s hope that terrifying reality never comes to pass.

All in all then, while the Committee’s Surrogacy Matters report does include some positive recommendations (such as supporting the principle that state and territory surrogacy laws should be non-discriminatory), its failure to reconsider the ban on domestic commercial surrogacy, and its approach to international commercial surrogacy, is frustrating and worrying, respectively.

George Christensen

George Christensen, Committee Chair.

 

**********

Original Post:

Committee Secretary

House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs

PO Box 6021

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

spla.reps@aph.gov.au

 

Thursday 11 February 2016

 

To whom it may concern

 

Submission to Commonwealth Parliamentary Inquiry into Surrogacy

 

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission to the inquiry into surrogacy, being conducted by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs.

 

In this submission, I will not be addressing all eight terms of reference of the inquiry in detail.

 

Instead, I propose to focus on the following three issues:

 

  • Surrogacy and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) parent(s)
  • National consistency and
  • Commercial surrogacy, including international commercial surrogacy.

 

These three issues are of particular relevance to the first three terms of reference of the inquiry:

 

  1. the role and responsibility of states and territories to regulate surrogacy, both international and domestic, and differences in existing legislative arrangements
  2. medical and welfare aspects for all parties, including regulatory requirements for intending parents and the role of health care providers, welfare services and other service providers [and]
  3. issues arising regarding informed consent, exploitation, compensatory payments, rights and protections for all parties involved, including children.

 

For context, I am writing this submission as an LGBTI advocate and activist, and as someone who is in a long-term same-sex relationship, but not as someone who intends to enter into a surrogacy arrangement at any point in the foreseeable future.

 

Surrogacy and LGBTI parents

 

While I am not an expert in surrogacy policy and/or law across Australia, I am aware that different jurisdictions have adopted different approaches to the eligibility of LGBTI people to access surrogacy.

 

Specifically, it is my understanding that, while most Australian jurisdictions now allow non-discriminatory access to altruistic surrogacy (including my current state of residence, NSW), some jurisdictions continue to prohibit same-sex couples solely on the basis of their sexual orientation – including both South Australia and Western Australia.

 

There can be no justification for this discrimination.

 

The overwhelming majority of credible research shows that children raised in same-sex parented families are as healthy, and as happy, as those raised by mixed-sex couples.

 

As Deborah Dempsey found in the 2013 research paper “Same-sex parented families in Australia”[i]:

 

“[o]verall, research to date considerably challenges the point of view that same-sex parented families are harmful to children. Children in such families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers from heterosexual couple families” [emphasis added].

 

This conclusion was supported by research in the following year, by Dr Simon Crouch and others, that:

 

“children with same-sex attracted parents in Australia are being raised in a diverse range of family types. These children are faring well on most measures of child health and wellbeing, and demonstrate higher levels of family cohesion than population samples.”[ii]

 

These findings accord with reputable studies from overseas, with evidence consistently revealing that children from same-sex parented families experience the same levels of physical and mental health as their peers, if not better.

 

Given this, I believe that it is time for the remaining Australian jurisdictions to remove any outstanding discrimination against LGBTI people seeking access to surrogacy. To support this objective, the current inquiry should express its support for the equal treatment of LGBTI parents and prospective parents, and encourage remaining jurisdictions to amend their laws.

 

Recommendation 1: The Committee should expressly support the principle that there should be no discrimination against LGBTI people seeking access to surrogacy and should encourage jurisdictions that currently discriminate against LGBTI people in this area to remove such discrimination as a matter of priority.

 

National Consistency

 

The above issue (LGBTI eligibility) is just one area where there is significant inconsistency in the legislative approach to surrogacy across Australia.

 

There are a variety of other inconsistencies, including the very different treatment of international commercial surrogacy by different states and territories (which will be addressed in more detail below).

 

There seems to be little justification for Australian jurisdictions to adopt such widely divergent approaches.

 

Moreover, the differences in legislative approach can have significant impacts on people who may be mobile, moving regularly between jurisdictions, who are contemplating becoming parents and where surrogacy is one, or even the most likely, method in which this may occur.

 

Alternatively, the differences in legislative approaches to surrogacy may induce, or in some cases compel, people to move between states and territories, especially to avoid possible criminal sanction.

 

As someone who has already lived in four different jurisdictions for extended periods (and twice in one of those jurisdictions), it seems illogical that at different points in time I would not have had access to altruistic surrogacy due to where I lived at the time, or that currently accessing international commercial surrogacy would make me a criminal in some of those places, but not others.

 

Wherever possible – and provided that LGBTI people are not denied access to surrogacy because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status – I believe that the laws regulating surrogacy should be consistent across all Australian jurisdictions, and that the current inquiry should adopt this as a principle for proposed reforms.

 

Recommendation 2: Provided that LGBTI people are not discriminated against, the Committee should expressly support the principle that the laws regulating surrogacy should be uniform across Australian states and territories, wherever possible.

 

Commercial Surrogacy, including International Commercial Surrogacy

 

The first two parts of this submission have covered issues that should be uncontroversial for most people – that LGBTI parents, and prospective parents, should be treated equally, and that, wherever possible, there should be national consistency on the laws which apply to surrogacy.

 

There is no denying, however, that the third issue is inherently controversial – and that is the question of whether, and if so how, commercial surrogacy should be allowed in Australia.

The current response by Australian states and territories has been to prohibit domestic commercial surrogacy in all circumstances, with three jurisdictions[iii] going one step further and criminalising participation in international commercial surrogacy arrangements as well.

 

My approach to this issue is informed by the following four observations:

 

  1. Surrogacy arrangements, and especially commercial surrogacy arrangements, contain a risk of exploitation of the surrogate
  2. The risk of exploitation significantly increases in the absence of appropriate regulatory oversight
  3. There are some women who perform the role of surrogate, who wish to be paid for this service and who would not be exploited by doing so, and
  4. There are many prospective parents, including but not limited to LGBTI (and especially gay male) people, for whom commercial surrogacy is their most likely avenue to become parents and who are therefore willing to participate in these arrangements, domestically or internationally and, in some cases, irrespective of its potential illegality.

 

Based on these observations, I do not believe that the current approach adopted by the states and territories on this issue is the correct one.

 

Instead, it is my view that it would be preferable for commercial surrogacy to be made lawful within Australia, but only within a regulatory framework that includes appropriate safeguards and oversight to minimise the risk of exploitation of surrogates.

 

As I have submitted previously to the NSW Government[iv], and to the National Health & Medical Research Council[v], I believe that the NSW and/or Australian Law Reform Commissions could be tasked with investigating this issue, and proposing a regulatory framework that significantly reduces the risk of surrogate exploitation.

 

This framework could then be considered by the respective Parliaments, rather than debating the issue of commercial surrogacy in the abstract, which is too often the case, and which too easily leads to blanket bans rather than a more considered approach.

 

Indeed, as I wrote to the NHMRC:

 

“While I agree that commercial surrogacy raises a variety of complex ethical issues, I do not necessarily agree with… broad-sweeping and all-encompassing statement[s] against commercial surrogacy. I do not believe there is sufficient evidence to assert that in every single situation commercial surrogacy is ‘unethical’ or ‘wrong’.

 

“Of course, I am, like most people, sensitive to the very real potential for commercial surrogacy to result in the exploitation of women for their reproductive capabilities. This has to be a major, if not the major, consideration in determining whether to allow commercial surrogacy and if so what form of regulation might be appropriate.

 

“However, I am also aware that the current legal situation – where commercial surrogacy in Australia is banned, and as a direct result of these laws an increasing number of Australian individuals and couples are engaging in commercial surrogacy arrangements overseas – may in fact cause a far greater degree of exploitation of women, certainly in developing countries and/or countries which do not closely regulate surrogacy arrangements.

 

“It may be that a domestic ban on commercial surrogacy has, contrary to the intended outcome of those who introduced it, in fact resulted in greater exploitation of women when considered as a whole. It may also be that, creating a domestic commercial surrogacy scheme, which would allow for direct oversight by Commonwealth (or State and Territory) authorities, could lead to a significant reduction in the potential for such exploitation…

 

“I… believe that this is an issue that requires further investigation, and could be the subject of a comprehensive review by the Australian Law Reform Commission, or their State and Territory equivalents.

 

“The ALRC could be asked not to review whether such a scheme should be adopted but to determine, if commercial surrogacy was to be allowed in Australia, what the best possible scheme (with the least potential for the exploitation of women) would look like. The Parliament, and the wider community, could then discuss and debate the option that was put forward and make an informed choice about whether such a model was preferable to the ongoing domestic ban on commercial surrogacy (and the corresponding trend to overseas surrogacy arrangements).”

 

It is my view that this process has the potential to produce a regulatory framework to allow commercial surrogacy within Australia that would significantly reduce the risk of surrogate exploitation and therefore allay the concerns, and garner the support, of a majority of stakeholders.

 

Recommendation 3: The Committee should recommend that the Australian Law Reform Commission be asked to review the issue of domestic commercial surrogacy and develop a regulatory scheme that significantly reduces the risk of exploitation of surrogates and which is then presented for the consideration of Parliament.

 

The above discussion obviously focuses on the issue of domestic commercial surrogacy, leaving the even more vexed question of international commercial surrogacy unanswered.

 

To some extent, I would hope that, were commercial surrogacy to be allowed within Australia, the demand to engage in international commercial surrogacy arrangements would be significantly reduced.

 

However, the introduction of such a scheme, either nationwide or in some states and/or territories, is likely to be years away. In the meantime, Australian individuals and couples will continue to seek to participate in international commercial surrogacy arrangements.

 

I think it is undeniable that some of these arrangements have already led, and will continue to lead, to the exploitation of the surrogate involved. There have also been very public examples of such arrangements where the child involved has been abandoned.

 

But I also believe that there are other examples where no such exploitation has taken place, and that the arrangement has demonstrably been to the benefit of all parties concerned, including the parents, the surrogate and the child(ren).

 

Given this, there are a range of options that could be explored, including the introduction of ‘mutual recognition’ laws, where, provided appropriate safeguards and oversight exist, the commercial surrogacy schemes of specific countries are deemed to be accepted under Australian law. However, I will leave it to experts in this area to provide submissions on how such options might be drafted.

 

What I do want to comment on is the approach of Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory in criminalising those people who currently engage in international commercial surrogacy arrangements.

 

While, as indicated above, I understand the motivations behind such prohibitions, I question whether in practice they have been successful. Specifically, it is my understanding that individuals and couples from all three jurisdictions continue to engage in international commercial surrogacy.

 

Even if the overall number who do so has been reduced from before the respective bans were introduced (which may not be verifiable, and therefore may or may not be true), there are nevertheless negative consequences for children who are born through such arrangements.

 

This can include increased uncertainty of their legal parentage when their families have returned to Queensland, NSW and the ACT, as well as the obvious risk of criminal sanctions being imposed on their primary caregiver(s) were the international commercial surrogacy arrangement involved to come to the attention of authorities. As a general principle, it is difficult to see how criminalising the parents involved in such cases would benefit the child(ren).

 

In this context, and given the laws in all three jurisdictions have been in operation for some time, I believe it would be useful for Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory to specifically review their criminalisation of international commercial surrogacy arrangements, including the potential detriment of these policies on the children born as a result of such arrangements.

 

Recommendation 4: The Committee should recommend that states and territories that have introduced criminal sanctions for people engaging in international commercial surrogacy arrangements should review the effectiveness of these laws, including investigating their impact on the children born as a result of these arrangements.

 

Thank you again for the opportunity to make a submission to this inquiry. I can be contacted at the details provided with this submission should the Committee wish to obtain additional information, or to seek clarification of any of the above.

 

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

 

[i] Dempsey, D, “Same-sex parented families in Australia”, Child Family Community Australia, Research Paper No. 18, 2013.

[ii] Crouch, S, Waters, E McNair, R, Power, J, Davis, E, “Parent-reported measures of child health and wellbeing in same-sex parented families: a cross-sectional survey”, BMC Public Health, 21 June 2014.

[iii] ACT (Parentage Act 2004, s45), NSW (Surrogacy Act 2010, s11) and Queensland (Surrogacy Act 2010, s54).

[iv] Submission on Review of the NSW Surrogacy Act 2010, April 23 2014.

[v] Submission on NHMRC Review of Ethical Guidelines for Assisted Reproductive Technology Stage 2, September 17 2015.

Submission on NHMRC Review of Ethical Guidelines for Assisted Reproductive Technology Stage 2

Project Officer – ART Public Consultation

Ethics and Governance Section

Evidence, Advice and Governance

National Health and Medical Research Council

GPO Box 1421

CANBERRA ACT 2601

ethics@nhmrc.gov.au

Thursday 17 September 2015

Dear Project Officer

ETHICAL GUIDELINES ON THE USE OF ASSISTED REPRODUCTIVE TECHNOLOGY IN CLINICAL PRACTICE AND RESEARCH

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a further submission to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) review of Part B of the Ethical guidelines on the use of assisted reproductive technology in clinical practice and research, 2007 (the ART guidelines).

The following submission builds on my earlier submission, in April 2014, to this review (a copy of which is available here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/04/20/submission-on-nhmrc-review-of-ethical-guidelines-for-assisted-reproductive-technology/ ).

Overall, while I note that there have been some positive outcomes from the previous round of consultation – including the recognition in para 5.1.2 that “[c]linics must not accept donations from any donor who wishes to place conditions on the donation that the gametes are for the use only by individuals or couples from particular ethnic or social groups, or not be used by particular ethnic or social groups”, and the revised approach to transmissible infections/infectious disease at para 5.2.5  – there remain a range of areas where the ART guidelines should be improved.

First, I believe that the ‘principles and values’ outlined on pages 12 and 13 of the draft ART guidelines should include a specific principle of Non-Discrimination, and that the explanation for this principle should explicitly acknowledge that there should be no discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in the provision of assisted reproductive technology services.

Second, and on a related matter, in the chapter “Application of ethical principles in the clinical practice of ART”, the discussion under point 3.5 on page 15 should be updated to reflect contemporary best practice.

Specifically, the sentence “[t]here must be no unlawful or unreasonable discrimination against an individual or couple on the basis of:

  • race, religion, sex, marital status, sexual preference, social status, disability or age”

reflects out-dated terminology and does not recognise all necessary groups.

The term ‘sexual preference’ should be replaced by ‘sexual orientation’, and the additional terms ‘gender identity’ and ‘intersex status’ should be added, to ensure that all members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community are protected from discrimination, and also to ensure that the ART guidelines are consistent with the protected attributes covered under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

Third, consistent with my previous submission, I disagree with the discussion under point 3.6 on page 16 regarding commercial surrogacy.

In particular, I do not support the blanket statement that “[i]t is unethical for individuals, or couples, to purchase, offer to purchase or sell gametes or embryos or surrogacy services” or the equally unequivocal blanket ban at para 8.7.1 (“[c]linics and clinicians must not practice, promote or recommend commercial surrogacy, nor enter into contractual arrangements with commercial surrogacy providers.”)

As outlined previously, I believe that the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) should be asked to investigate the issue of commercial surrogacy, including consideration of what a best practice scheme would look like, before determining whether all commercial surrogacy services should be deemed unethical and therefore illegal.

From my previous submission:

“While I agree that commercial surrogacy raises a variety of complex ethical issues, I do not necessarily agree with such a broad-sweeping and all-encompassing statement against commercial surrogacy. I do not believe there is sufficient evidence to assert that in every single situation commercial surrogacy is ‘unethical’ or ‘wrong’.

 Of course, I am, like most people, sensitive to the very real potential for commercial surrogacy to result in the exploitation of women for their reproductive capabilities. This has to be a major, if not the major, consideration in determining whether to allow commercial surrogacy and if so what form of regulation might be appropriate.

 However, I am also aware that the current legal situation – where commercial surrogacy in Australia is banned, and as a direct result of these laws an increasing number of Australian individuals and couples are engaging in commercial surrogacy arrangements overseas – may in fact cause a far greater degree of exploitation of women, especially in developing countries and/or countries which do not closely regulate surrogacy arrangements.

 It may be that a domestic ban on commercial surrogacy has, contrary to the intended outcome of those who introduced it, in fact resulted in greater exploitation of women when considered as a whole. It may also be that, creating a domestic commercial surrogacy scheme, which would allow for direct oversight by Commonwealth (or State and Territory) authorities, could lead to a significant reduction in the potential for such exploitation.

 I do not expect the review process considering these Guidelines to come to a conclusion about these difficult matters. Nor am I willing, or in a position, to even attempt to suggest what a domestic commercial surrogacy scheme would look like.

 However, I do believe that this is an issue that requires further investigation, and could be the subject of a comprehensive review by the Australian Law Reform Commission, or their State and Territory equivalents.

 The ALRC could be asked not to review whether such a scheme should be adopted but to determine, if commercial surrogacy was to be allowed in Australia, what the best possible scheme (with the least potential for the exploitation of women) would look like. The Parliament, and the wider community, could then discuss and debate the option that was put forward and make an informed choice about whether such a model was preferable to the ongoing domestic ban on commercial surrogacy (and the corresponding trend to overseas surrogacy arrangements).

 I believe that such a debate, informed not just by a practical proposal but also by the real-world consequences of the current ban, is vital before we can truly come to grips with and possibly resolve whether a permanent ban on commercial surrogacy is ethical or otherwise.”

Fourth, I continue to oppose ‘Conscientious objection’ provisions (under point 3.7 on pages 16 and 17) that would allow a member of staff or student to refuse to treat an individual or couple on the basis of that person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, or on their relationship status.

The refusal to provide a medical service on these grounds is, and always should be considered, unethical.

Again, from my previous submission:

“While I note that the provision of ART services may, for some staff members of students, raise ethical concerns, I believe that the drafting of this provision is far too broad, and allows for conscientious objections even when such objections are themselves unethical.

 For example, the provision as drafted would allow an individual member of staff to refuse to provide ART services to a person on the basis of that person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status (if that person believed that ART services should not be provided to such persons) or on the basis of relationship status (if the person believed that only ‘opposite-sex’ married persons should have access to ART).

 With the increasing acceptance of LGBTI Australians (as evidenced by the long-overdue introduction of federal anti-discrimination protections in 2013) and of different relationship statuses (including the 2008 reforms to federal de facto relationship recognition), none of these objections – while potentially genuinely held by the individual – should be allowed as the basis for refusing to provide ART services. Nor should conscientious objections on the basis of any of sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status or relationship status be recognized as acceptable or ‘ethical’ in the context of these Guidelines.

 If [point 3.7] is to be retained in the Ethical Guidelines, I recommend that it be amended to specifically note that conscientious objections do not apply, and are not accepted, with respect to the sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status or relationship status of the intended recipient of the ART procedure or service.”

Fifth, in response to the discussion of “Sex selection for non-medical purposes” on pages 55 to 58 of the consultation draft, I submit that sex selection should not be allowed on these grounds.

There are three reasons for this:

  1. Based on evidence from the submission of OII Australia (Organisation Intersex International Australia, see their submission here: https://oii.org.au/29939/nhmrc-genetic-selection-intersex-traits/ ), it appears that sex selection is already being used to select against embryos on the basis of intersex variations. This practice is entirely unethical, intending to prevent the birth of children on the basis of where they sit along the natural spectrum of sex variation, and should cease.
  2. Allowing sex selection for non-medical purposes also sets a negative precedent, opening the door in future to selecting for (or more likely against) embryos on the basis of gender identity or even sexual orientation if and when genetic testing emerges which can accurately predict the existence of, or even pre-disposition towards, these traits.
  3. As acknowledged by the consultation paper on page 55, there is a strong “possibility that sex selection for non-medical reasons may reinforce gender stereotyping, and create pressure on the person born to conform to parental expectations regarding gender.” This practice will be particularly harmful towards children born as a result of such procedures where those children express a different gender identity to that which the parents ‘choose’, and also may negatively impact children who are homosexual or bisexual.

On this basis, I do not believe that sex selection is appropriate in any of the case studies presented on pages 56, 57 and 58, and submit that it should not be included as an ‘ethical option’ under the ART guidelines.

Sixth, and finally, I would like to express my support for the submission by OII Australia to this consultation. Specifically, I endorse their recommendations that:

  • “Information giving and counselling must include non-pathologising information, aimed at supporting a philosophy of self-acceptance”
  • Pre-implantation genetic testing (PGT) should not be used to prevent the births of intersex babies and that
  • “The practice of sex selection should not be permitted for social, child replacement, or family balancing purposes.”

Thank you again for the opportunity to provide a submission to this consultation process. Please do not hesitate to contact me, at the details below, should you which to clarify any of the above, or to seek additional information.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Letter to Prime Minister Abbott re Intercountry Adoption by Same-Sex Couples Part 2

In early March I wrote to Prime Minister Abbott about the review, then being undertaken by his department, of Australia’s inter-country adoption arrangements. Specifically, I asked that same-sex couples be included in any potential reforms to be considered at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting scheduled for Friday 2 May (see original letter here: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/03/08/letter-to-prime-minister-abbott-re-inter-country-adoption-by-same-sex-couples/ )

I did not receive a response to my letter until after the COAG meeting (on Monday 5 May), although it was dated 1 May. The reply stated:

 

Dear Mr Lawrie

 

Thank you for your letter of 8 March 2014 to the Prime Minister regarding overseas adoption. I have been asked to reply on the Prime Minister’s behalf. I apologise for the delay in replying.

 

This is an issue that could benefit from attention at the highest levels of government. That’s what it will be getting between now and the next meeting of the Council of Australian Governments.

 

As you note, at present there is no consistency across Australia on whether same-sex couples can adopt a child. The requirements of foreign countries are also relevant, with most of Australia’s current partner countries not allowing adoption by same-sex couples.

 

The Commonwealth Government is committed to working with our state and territory colleagues and stakeholders in this area, including the non-government sector, to deliver reform.

 

Thank you for letting the Government know your views on this issue.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Name Withheld

Assistant Secretary

Which, it has said to be said, was a pretty underwhelming response, especially given the paucity of firm details or commitments. I also cracked a wry smile at the statement that the issue would be getting attention between now (ie the time of writing) and the next COAG meeting – which was held the following day.

In any event, the issue of inter-country adoption was discussed at COAG on Friday 2 May. The Prime Minister, and State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers, agreed to the following in the official Communique:

Intercountry adoption of children

 

Adopting a child from overseas is an emotional and complex undertaking. Different requirements across Australia can create even more difficulty for families wanting to adopt a child from overseas.

 

COAG supports adoption conducted in the best interests of the child and consistent with the safeguards of the Hague Conventions.

 

COAG agreed in principle to the Commonwealth’s proposal to provide a new national intercountry adoption service for all Australians wanting to adopt a child from overseas.

 

Under the new service, the Commonwealth will fund either a new accredited non-government organisation or organisations, or a Commonwealth agency, to provide services for intercountry adoption by early 2015.

 

The Commonwealth and the States and Territories will work closely together to make sure there is a smooth transition to the new system.

So, some more detail (albeit only a little bit), but also some unanswered questions (including whether same-sex couples are to be included), as well as some new questions (if a non-government organisation contracted to provide inter-country adoption services was religious, could they refuse to provide those services to same-sex couples – but more on that particular issue later).

On the following Monday, 5 May, Prime Minister Abbott issued a Media Release, which revealed a little bit more:

REFORM AND ACTION ON INTERCOUNTRY ADOPTION

 

The Commonwealth Government is committed to adoption reform to enable more people to find families.

 

A new report has identified significant barriers facing Australian families wanting to adopt from overseas.  Inconsistent rules, costs and the lengthy wait to adopt currently deter many people from even starting the adoption process.

 

Last Friday, COAG agreed to a national system for intercountry adoption. The Commonwealth will work vigorously with the States and Territories to have a new system operating by early 2015.

 

The report into intercountry adoption also recommended establishing new country programmes to help more Australian families to adopt.  A new intercountry adoption programme between Australia and South Africa is now in place.

 

South Africa has a strong commitment to finding families within its borders to care for children in need. Where, for whatever reason, a South African family cannot be found, Australian families will be able to help provide permanent loving homes to South African children.  Many of these children will have health needs, and would benefit from the caring environment that Australian families can provide.

 

The Government will introduce amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act so that obtaining Australian citizenship can happen in a child’s country of origin. As well, we will fix the problems associated with the visa system. It is too complicated at the moment and processing times are too long.

 

For too long children who legitimately need a safe and loving home and Australians who dream of providing this home have been hindered by red tape and confusion. The Government is pleased to be able to undertake real action to bring families together.

The accompanying Report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Intercountry Adoption provided some additional information (see link to report here: <http://www.dpmc.gov.au/publications/docs/idc_report_intercountry_adoption.pdf ), although undoubtedly would have provided more had pages 41 onwards, which contained Options for Reform and Recommendations to Government, not been deliberately withheld from the public.

The table on page 30 of the section of the Report that was released at least acknowledged that in four Australian jurisdictions – NSW, Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT – adoption by same-sex couples is already legal.

On page 32, Table 11: Country of Origin Requirements then spelled out all the different countries where agreements exist, but which deem same-sex couples to be ineligible. Sadly, none of the countries listed currently permit inter-country adoption that does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

The discussion on page 31 helpfully (or should I say rather unhelpfully), noted that “[r]estrictions on same-sex couples adopting was raised by several submissions as a problem… [But] It seems that changes to these criteria would probably have limited impact on intercountry adoption given the country of origins’ criteria.”

Which is absolutely correct. But still does not answer the question of what would happen if Australia were to sign an inter-country agreement which did allow same-sex adoption (or even, as I suggested in my original letter, if Australia were to actively seek to include non-discrimination as a key clause in all of our inter-country agreements)?

And the media release, and accompanying IDC report, didn’t even address the most obvious question of all – given South Africa already allows same-sex couple adoption, and Prime Minister Abbott announced a new inter-country adoption program with South Africa, would Australian same-sex couples be able to adopt under that program?

The mainstream media didn’t appear to follow up on this question – although fortunately, Benjamin Riley of the Star Observer newspaper stepped into the breach to report the following:

SAME-SEX COUPLES INCLUDED IN OVERSEAS ADOPTION AGREEMENT FOR THE FIRST TIME

 

BEJAMIN RILEY – May 5, 2014

 

SAME-sex couples are included in Australia’s new agreement with South Africa on overseas adoption announced today by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, after being excluded from every previous intercountry adoption agreement between Australia and another country.

A spokesperson for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet told the Star Observer the agreement with South Africa is the first such arrangement with a country that allows same-sex couples to adopt children.

 

Although there is currently inconsistency across Australian states and territories around same-sex adoption, same-sex couples can legally adopt in NSW, ACT, Tasmania and Western Australia. However, until now this has been irrelevant due to the explicit exclusion of same-sex couples from Australia’s intercountry adoption agreements.

 

The Prime Minister announced the agreement with South Africa today along with a range of reforms to streamline the overseas adoption process, allowing children to obtain Australian citizenship in their country of origin, and simplify visa processes. These reforms have come out of a new report by the Interdepartmental Committee on Intercountry Adoption.

 

The Prime Minister’s office confirmed the eligibility of same-sex couples to adopt under the new agreement with South Africa, and told the Star Observer these reforms will consider inconsistencies between the states and territories on same-sex couples adopting.

 

“Current eligibility requirements vary across Australia via states and territory requirements. We will most be certainly considering this issue — together with other eligibility criteria — as we finalise the new national approach to intercountry adoption,” press secretary Sally Branson said.

 

“This just isn’t an issue for the home country of the adoptive parents — the requirements of overseas countries are also relevant. The South Africa agreement will allow for same sex couples to adopt.”

 

A Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting on Friday also flagged the development of a new national service for intercountry adoption by early-2105. The service would be either a funded non-government organisation or a Commonwealth agency.

 

The announcement prompted calls by the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights lobby to ensure a new national framework would operate with equality for LGBTI people looking to adopt, and said the same should be true for any organisations assisting in the adoption process.

 

The Prime Minister’s office told the Star Observer there is no detail yet around how the national service would operate, but said the Federal Government would “ensure non-discriminatory service is provided to all stakeholders, and work with all stakeholders in a the same manner”.

 

Rodney Chiang-Cruise from Gay Dads Australia said the streamlined citizenship and visa processes wouldn’t change a great deal for Australian same-sex couples looking to adopt from overseas, but was glad the issue was being discussed.

 

“The Federal Government has not done anything on overseas adoption for decades… It sounds like a positive move, and hopefully it’s an indication of further moves in regards to what is a complex and difficult area,” Chiang-Cruise told the Star Observer [emphasis added, abridged]. Link to original article here: <http://www.starobserver.com.au/news/local-news/same-sex-couples-included-in-overseas-adoption-agreement-for-the-first-time/122370

As the article reports, this is a potentially significant breakthrough in terms of LGBTI equality – provided this agreement is implemented in line with state and territory requirements, for the first time ever, same-sex couples in NSW, WA, Tasmania and ACT will be treated equally in terms of overseas adoption.

However, the notes of caution expressed by Mr Chiang-Cruise also seem to be appropriate. After all, that still leaves LGBTI-inclusive couples in four Australian jurisdictions (Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory) out in the cold.

And, as described earlier, there is genuine concern that, should a religious organisation be awarded the contract to deliver inter-country adoption services, they might discriminate against same-sex couples and then use the (incredibly broad) religious exemptions offered under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to essentially ‘get away with’ such discrimination.

Which means, while some questions have been resolved – and the South African agreement is indeed a big step forward for same-sex couple adoption in Australia – there are still plenty of issues to be worked through in coming months. It also means there was certainly plenty of material to write a follow-up letter to Prime Minister Abbott on this subject. As always, I will post any reply that I receive.

The Hon Tony Abbott MP

Prime Minister

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

CANBERRA ACT 2600

Thursday 29 May 2014

Dear Prime Minister

INTER-COUNTRY ADOPTION BY SAME-SEX COUPLES

Thank you for the reply, from your Department, to my letter of 8 March, concerning the issue of inter-country adoption by same-sex couples.

Unfortunately, some of the issues raised in my letter were not answered. Additional issues have also arisen from the Communique of the COAG meeting on Friday 2 May, and from your media release on Monday 5 May, which was accompanied by the release of some sections of the Report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Intercountry Adoption.

First of all, however, I wish to congratulate you on your commitment, as expressed by your office to the Star Observer newspaper on Monday 5 May, that same-sex couples will be eligible to adopt under the newly-finalised agreement with South Africa. This is a major step forward for the equal treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex-inclusive families.

Nevertheless, as highlighted in my original letter, and confirmed in the Report of the Interdepartmental Committee, it is highly unlikely that, due to differing legislation, same-sex couples in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory will be able to take advantage of this new agreement.

This is obviously an unsatisfactory outcome – that arrangements entered into by the Commonwealth will only provide benefit to couples in Sydney, not Melbourne, Perth not Brisbane, and Hobart but not Adelaide.

I therefore reiterate my call that you should use the process of establishing new inter-country arrangements over the coming year to urge those states and territories that have not yet made adoption non-discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status to finally do so.

Second, I wish to ask you about the proposal being considered that a non-government organisation may be funded to provide inter-country adoption services on behalf of the Commonwealth and states and territories. Specifically, if this organisation is itself, or is run by, a religious body, will you guarantee that they will not be able to deny these services to same-sex couples?

Again, it would be a deeply unsatisfactory outcome if, despite the successful inclusion of same-sex couples in formal arrangements between Australia and South Africa, these were undermined in practice because of the exemptions offered to religious organisations under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

Please ensure that whichever non-government organisation is funded to provide inter-country adoptions services on behalf of the Australian Government, and therefore the Australian people, they are legally bound not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Third, and finally, I return to a point made in my initial correspondence and that is that I believe the Australian Government should be actively seeking to include non-discrimination clauses in all future inter-country adoption agreements. This stance should apply irrespective of whether the country is like South Africa, and itself already recognises same-sex adoption, or another country that does not.

I acknowledge that it may not be possible to secure the inclusion of such a clause in every single signed agreement – because it is dependent on the response of the other country – but I can see no reason why Australia should not be directly and firmly putting forward the principle that all couples are able to be loving and nurturing parents, irrespective of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Congratulations again on the inclusion of same-sex couples in the inter-country adoption agreement with South Africa.

I look forward to your response to the other matters raised in this correspondence.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Submission on Review of NSW Surrogacy Act 2010

The NSW Attorney-General’s Department is currently reviewing the Surrogacy Act 2010, legislation which allowed equal access to altruistic surrogacy within NSW, but made a criminal offence, with a penalty of to 2 years’ imprisonment, of entering into commercial surrogacy arrangements both within NSW and overseas.

Submissions are due by 30 April (next Wednesday), and full details about the review can be found here: <http://www.lpclrd.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/lpclrd/lpclrd_consultation/lpclrd_stat_reviews.html?s=1810621881

As with the NHMRC review of the Ethical Guidelines re Assisted Reproductive Technology, this subject matter is complicated, and I am sure that some people reading this blog will disagree with some of my conclusions (particularly re commercial surrogacy). if that’s the case, then I encourage you to leave a comment below and/or write your own submission.

The Director,

Justice Policy

Department of Attorney General and Justice

GPO Box 6

SYDNEY NSW 2001

justice.policy@agd.nsw.gov.au

Wednesday 23 April

Dear Director,

SUBMISSION RE REVIEW OF SURROGACY ACT 2010

Thank you for the opportunity to provide my personal submission in response to the review of the NSW Surrogacy Act 2010.

As suggested by the terms of reference, this submission is separated into two parts: the first examines whether the policy objectives of the Act remain valid, while the second considers whether the terms of the Act remain appropriate for securing those objectives.

Part A: Do the policy objectives of the Surrogacy Act 2010 remain valid?

The review outlines that the policy objectives of the Surrogacy Act 2010 are to:

  • Protect the interests of children born as a result of surrogacy arrangements;
  • Provide legal certainty for parties to surrogacy arrangements, and
  • Prevent the commercialisation of human reproduction.

Overall, I believe that the first two of these policy objectives remain valid, while the third should be replaced with the policy objective “To prevent the exploitation of people for the purposes of human reproduction”. I also believe that an additional policy objective should be added: “To recognise and support diversity in family structures and relationships.”

Protect the interests of children born as a result of surrogacy arrangements

As with likely all other people making submissions to this review, I strongly support the retention of this policy objective. I also agree with the inclusion of this objective as the primary Guiding Principle in section 3 of the Act: “[t]his Act is to be administered by reference to the principle that, in relation to any surrogacy arrangement, the best interests of the child of the surrogacy arrangement are paramount.”

I note that the best interests of children born through surrogacy are protected and supported by the equal treatment of all people, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, because, as all reputable research has shown, none of these characteristics are relevant in determining whether an individual or couple will be a good, caring and loving parent(s).

The Surrogacy Act 2010 should be commended for not drawing any distinctions on the basis of these attributes, and the non-discriminatory nature of its operative provisions should be retained.

However, the role of the Act in affirming the diversity of family structures and relationships that already exist in NSW could be strengthened by the elevation of a principle reflecting this reality in a new stand-alone policy objective.

Such a possibility was considered during the second reading speech debate in 2010[1], as well as in the Standing Committee on Law and Justice’s 2009 Report entitled ‘Legislation in Altruistic Surrogacy’, which helped to inform development of the Act.

I believe that a new policy objective – namely, “To recognise and support diversity in family structures and relationships” – should be added to the Act to highlight the non-discriminatory approach of the legislation and the fact that all people can be good parents, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Recommendation 1: A new policy objective should be added to the Surrogacy Act 2010– “To recognise and support diversity in family structures and relationships.”

Provide legal certainty for parties to surrogacy arrangements

Not only do I believe that this policy objective remains valid, but I also believe that the Act, and its framework for transfer of parentage of children born through surrogacy arrangements, is largely successful in achieving this outcome. Therefore, this policy objective should be retained.

Prevent the commercialisation of human reproduction

I do not support this policy objective, and believe it should be replaced with a new policy objective: “To prevent the exploitation of people for the purposes of human reproduction.”

By way of explanation, I believe the inclusion of the current policy objective is, to some degree, an attempt to address the issue of potential reproductive exploitation (especially of women), but that it confuses the means (a ban on commercial reproduction, including surrogacy) with the ends (preventing reproductive exploitation). It is the ends that should be reflected in the policy objectives rather than the means.

Further, I believe that the question whether commercial surrogacy is and always will be wrong, in every possible circumstance, is complex, and one about which different people, well-motivated and passionate about human rights and welfare, can and do reach different conclusions. However, one conclusion about which I hope all people would agree is that people, and especially women, should not be exploited for their reproductive capabilities.

Personally, I do not feel confident in saying that every possible arrangement, between a birth mother and the intended parent(s) of the child, is inherently wrong – and wrong to the point where it should be criminalised – simply because of the exchange of money in addition to those which cover the birth mother’s costs.

Nor do I necessarily believe that the nature of a surrogacy arrangement automatically and fundamentally changes, from one which is recognised and supported in legislation (altruistic surrogacy), to one which is not only prohibited but attracts a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment (commercial surrogacy), because of the exchange of that money.

Of course, I am cognisant of the fact that the introduction of financial ‘rewards’ to the already ethically-complex area of surrogacy arrangements carries with it significant risks. Chief among those are the risk that people, and especially the women acting as surrogate mothers, will be exploited for their reproductive capabilities.

However, I also believe there are other ways in which people can be exploited for their reproductive capabilities (such as through emotional and/or familial pressure). Indeed, the Surrogacy Act 2010 already contains a range of safeguards that have nothing to do with commercialisation, but are directed at preventing exploitation (for example, the requirement for an independent counsellor’s report to verify that the birth mother has an “understanding of the social and psychological implications of the making of a parentage order” and “whether any consent given by the birth parent or parents to the parentage order is informed consent, freely and voluntarily given” – subsections 17(3)(a) and (f)).

In my view, it is the prevention of exploitation that should be the policy objective in this area, rather than commercialisation per se. This new objective should then be used to guide whether and, if so, how commercial surrogacy arrangements should be allowed (see discussion in part B).

Recommendation 2: The policy objective “To prevent the commercialisation of human reproduction” should be replaced with a new policy objective “To prevent the exploitation of people for the purposes of human reproduction.”

Part B: Do the terms of the Surrogacy Act 2010 remain appropriate to secure those objectives?

For the most part, the provisions of the Surrogacy Act 2010 work well in protecting the interests of children born as a result of surrogacy arrangements and in providing legal certainty for parties to surrogacy arrangements. As indicated in Part A, I also believe that the non-discriminatory way in which the legislation has been drafted could be enhanced further by the addition of a new policy objective (“To recognise and support diversity in family structures and relationships”).

However, I believe that there is a clear divergence in determining whether the provisions of the Act remain appropriate depending on which of the two alternative policy objectives discussed in Part A (‘prevent commercialisation’ or ‘prevent exploitation’) is adopted.

For example, if the over-arching goal of the legislation remains to prevent commercialisation in any form, then the ban on commercial surrogacy in section 8 (which includes a maximum penalty of 1000 penalty units or 2 years’ imprisonment, or both, for those people who are in contravention) would clearly still be appropriate.

The prohibition on commercial surrogacy arrangements entered into overseas by people ordinarily resident or domicile in NSW, as outlined in the ‘geographical nexus for offences’ provision in section 11, would also remain a valid attempt to secure the objective of preventing commercialisation.

However, if the policy objective of preventing commercialisation is actually seen as a means to the end of preventing exploitation (which I believe it is), or indeed, if it were to be replaced with the explicit policy objective of preventing exploitation of people and especially women for their reproductive capabilities, then we are forced to consider how these provisions are currently operating, and their impact on people both in NSW and overseas.

I suspect that, even before the Surrogacy Act 2010 was introduced, there were few, if any, commercial surrogacy arrangements entered into within NSW, and that this situation would remain the case today.

I also believe that there is evidence that the number of overseas commercial surrogacy arrangements was growing at the time of the legislation’s passage, and that, since its introduction, the number of these arrangements entered into by people resident or domiciled in NSW has likely decreased. This could be seen as evidence that the ban has reduced exploitation.

However, I also believe that there is sufficient anecdotal and other evidence that some overseas commercial surrogacy arrangements entered into by people living in NSW continue. The overwhelming desire for some individuals or couples to become parents, together with the low numbers of ‘stranger’-child adoptions, both within Australia and internationally, means that this option continues to be at or near the top of the list of possible routes to parenthood. The criminal penalty attached to section 8 is unlikely to deter such people.

The result of this is that, while some individuals or couples may choose (or have the money to choose) commercial surrogacy arrangements in countries with strong regulation and low economic disadvantage, which at least reduces the possibility of exploitation, others opt for (or are financially restricted to choosing) countries with little or no regulation, as well as higher economic inequality or disadvantage than Australia, thereby significantly increasing the risks of exploitation of the women acting as surrogate mothers.

Thus, while the ban on commercial surrogacy may be effective in preventing the exploitation of women within Australia, I believe it has to be acknowledged that it is not entirely successful in preventing the potential for exploitation of women in other countries.

In this context, we are forced to consider whether there are alternative approaches to the question of commercial surrogacy that could lower the overall level of exploitation of all women.

At least one option, which should at least be considered, would be legalising commercial surrogacy arrangements within NSW, and placing them within a tightly regulated system with the ability to be overseen by appropriate domestic agencies, while at the same time continuing the prohibition on commercial surrogacy arrangements entered into overseas.

This framework – domestic legalisation and overseas ban – arguably may have the best potential to reduce the overall level of reproductive exploitation of women.

However, it is difficult to consider the respective advantages or disadvantages of such a framework in the absence of a proposal outlining exactly how a domestic commercial surrogacy scheme could operate. I believe it is nearly impossible to compare the known harms of surrogate exploitation in (some) overseas countries, with the hypothetical risks of exploitation under an unknown domestic commercial surrogacy scheme.

For this reason, I believe that the NSW Law Reform Commission or similar body should be given the responsibility to consider this issue, but, rather than recommend whether commercial surrogacy should be legalised or not, they should instead design what a ‘model’ domestic commercial surrogacy scheme would look like, with the guiding principle of minimising the risks of exploitation.

This model could then be used as the basis for a genuine and sustained debate, in the community, the media and amongst politicians, about whether the current system (a blanket ban), or a system which allows for tightly-regulated domestic commercial surrogacy, is the best way to reduce the risk of exploitation of all women, and not just those living in NSW.

Of course, it may be that it is impossible to design a domestic commercial surrogacy scheme that sufficiently reduces the risks of exploitation of people (and especially women) for their reproductive capabilities.

It may also be that, after this process, the majority of people still believe that the ‘commercialisation’ of human reproduction is always wrong, and that commercial surrogacy should always be illegal.

However, given we are aware that at least some overseas commercial surrogacy arrangements continue to occur, and appear likely to continue well into the future, I believe it is incumbent upon us to consider whether there are any alternatives to the current regulatory approach and, after considering those alternatives, decide what is the most appropriate way “To prevent the exploitation of people for the purpose of human reproduction.”

Recommendation 3: The NSW Law Reform Commission, or similar body, should be asked to design a ‘model’ framework for domestic commercial surrogacy arrangements, with a guiding principle to minimise the risks of the exploitation of people for the purpose of human reproduction.

Should you require additional information, or to clarify any of the recommendations included in this submission, I can be contacted at the details below.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

[1]http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/NSWBills.nsf/0/71c024816771a264ca2577c100195683/$FILE/LC%2010210.pdf