Letter to Minister Pyne Calling for COAG to Reject Health & Physical Education Curriculum Due to Ongoing LGBTI Exclusion

The Hon Christopher Pyne MP

Commonwealth Minister for Education

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

CANBERRA ACT 2600

C.Pyne.MP@aph.gov.au

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Dear Minister Pyne

Call for COAG to Reject Health & Physical Education Curriculum Due to Ongoing LGBTI Exclusion

I am writing to you in advance of the COAG Education Ministers Council meeting on Friday 12 December 2014 in Canberra. Specifically, I am writing to request that you, and your state and territory ministerial counterparts, reject the national Health & Physical Education (HPE) curriculum and start again.

I make this serious request on the basis that this curriculum does not ensure that all students are provided with health and physical education that is relevant to their needs, including those students that are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI).

The development of the national HPE curriculum has, like other national curricula, been a long process, with multiple stages of public consultation.

This has included:

None of these versions of the HPE curriculum have been genuinely LGBTI-inclusive. None of these three documents have even included the words lesbian, gay or bisexual. Not once. How can a national HPE curriculum support all students, including those with diverse sexual orientations, if it cannot even name them?

It must also be pointed out that none of the three drafts of the HPE curriculum have included sufficient sexual health information, with no references to sexually transmissible infections, condoms and/or safer sex and, more than 30 years into the HIV epidemic, none have even mentioned HIV or other blood borne viruses. These omissions mean Australian students, including but not limited to LGBTI students, will not be given the information that they need to stay safe in future.

Of course, the national HPE curriculum, like other curricula, underwent an additional review during 2014, after you requested that Mr Kevin Donnelly and Mr Ken Wiltshire review the entirety of the Australian curriculum (see my submission to this review here:  https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/03/13/submission-to-national-curriculum-review-re-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/).

Unfortunately, the outcome of this review, at least as far as the HPE curriculum is concerned, is far from positive (see my summary of this: https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/11/09/the-national-curriculum-review-fails-to-support-lgbti-students/).

In their report, released in October 2014, Mr Donnelly and Mr Wiltshire noted that at least one jurisdiction, one religion-based school system, and a number of other individual schools, have each rejected the inclusion of even minimal content for same-sex attracted and gender diverse students, and will oppose any attempt to introduce comprehensive sexual health education.

The national curriculum review also found that the HPE curriculum is overcrowded, and recommended that “[t]he core content should be reduced and a significant portion should become part of school-based curriculum…” This jeopardises further the few positive references that have made it into the current draft (such as the option for schools to teach students about homophobia, alongside racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination).

Finally, the national curriculum review report supported the views of some religious organisations that the HPE curriculum should grant schools even greater flexibility in how ‘sexuality education’ should be delivered, when it should be delivered (allowing schools to delay provision of this vital information), and even flexibility in who should teach it (commenting that “[w]e think this is the way forward” in response to suggestions that older teachers should deliver these topics).

The specific recommendation in this area notes “[t]he two controversial areas of sexuality and drugs education should remain, but schools should be given greater flexibility to determine the level of which these areas are introduced and the modalities in which they will be delivered…”

The net outcome of the national curriculum review, at least as it concerns Health & Physical Education, is this: a curriculum that already largely excluded LGBTI students and content, is, in practice, found to be essentially optional, with at least one jurisdiction, one religion-based school system, and other individual schools all opting-out. What LGBTI-related subject matter there is remains under threat as the content is slimmed down, while those religious schools that do teach ‘sexuality education’ will have the ‘flexibility’ to choose when it is taught, how it is taught and even by whom it is taught.

This is the exact opposite of what a national curriculum should be. A national Health & Physical Education curriculum should be a document that recognises that, no matter what state they reside in, and irrespective of the type of school they attend (government, religious or private), all LGBTI students have the fundamental right to an inclusive education, to learn about themselves and their sexual orientations, gender identities and intersex status, to be taught that who they are is okay, and not to be silenced, excluded or marginalised.

The existing version of the HPE curriculum does not even come close to recognising that right, and, as such, I believe it should be rejected and the entire curriculum development process begun again.

I call on you and the state and territory ministers attending the COAG Education Ministers Council meeting to take this serious course of action because the failure to do so will have serious consequences for the next generation of LGBTI young people and students.

I am sure you are aware young LGBTI people are at greater risk of experiencing bullying (including homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic discrimination) and physical abuse, are at greater risk of depression and other mental health issues and, most tragically of all, are at greater risk of attempting or committing suicide than their non-LGBTI peers.

The development of a national Health & Physical Education curriculum was an unprecedented opportunity to address some of these issues by guaranteeing that, in their classrooms at least, young LGBTI people were provided with an inclusive and understanding environment. Unfortunately, despite two public consultations and the national curriculum review, the current draft of the national HPE curriculum fails miserably to seize this opportunity.

We can do better, we should do better, we must do better, for the sake of young LGBTI people around the country, now and in coming years. Please reject the national Health & Physical Education curriculum and start again.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Will Minister Pyne listen to the needs of LGBTI students?

Will Education Minister Christopher Pyne listen to the needs of LGBTI students?

Cc: The Hon Adrian Piccoli MP, NSW Minister for Education (office@piccoli.minister.nsw.gov.au)

The Hon James Merlino MP, Victorian Minister for Education (james.merlino@parliament.vic.gov.au)

The Hon John-Paul Langbroek MP, Queensland Minister for Education, Training and Development (education@ministerial.qld.gov.au)

The Hon Peter Collier MLA, Western Australian Minister for Education (Minister.Collier@dpc.wa.gov.au)

The Hon Jennifer Rankine MP, South Australian Minister for Education and Child Development (minister.rankine@sa.gov.au)

The  Hon Jeremy Rockliff MP, Tasmanian Minister for Education and Training (jeremy.rockliff@parliament.tas.gov.au)

The Hon Joy Burch MLA, Australian Capital Territory Minister for Education and Training (BURCH@act.gov.au)

The Hon Peter Chandler MLA, Northern Territory Minister for Education (minister.chandler@nt.gov.au)

The National Curriculum Review Fails to Support LGBTI Students

The Final Report of the Review of the Australian Curriculum, conducted by Ken Wiltshire and Kevin Donnelly, was released on Sunday 12 October 2014, accompanied by the Commonwealth Government’s Response (both documents can be found at the following link: <http://www.studentsfirst.gov.au/review-australian-curriculum ).

Based on initial reporting (including this article by Samantha Maiden in The Sunday Telegraph <http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/teenagers-should-be-given-lessons-on-sex-and-drugs-national-curriculum-report-states/story-fni0cx12-1227087475187 ), you could be forgiven for believing that the outcome of the Review was, overall, a positive one for LGBTI students, with a commitment to include content relevant to their needs.

Unfortunately, however, a closer examination of the Final Report, and the Government’s Response, reveals that it is nothing more than another missed opportunity, yet another failure to ensure that the national Health & Physical Education (HPE) curriculum caters to the needs of all students, including those of different sexual orientations, gender identities and intersex status.

To understand just how far short of this standard the ‘Wiltshire & Donnelly’ Review falls, we must first look back at the development of the HPE curriculum. Drafted by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment & Reporting Authority (ACARA) during 2012 and 2013, the HPE curriculum was subject to two rounds of formal public consultation, before the current draft was submitted for the consideration of COAG Education Ministers late last year.

Despite a number of submissions highlighting the HPE curriculum’s failure to genuinely include LGBTI students and content (including two from yours truly: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/04/11/submission-on-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ and <https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/07/30/submission-on-redrafted-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ ), and even after some minor tinkering around the edges (with a couple of welcome references to ‘homophobia’ and ‘transphobia’ added), the current draft of the HPE curriculum does not guarantee that all students will learn what they need to know to be comfortable in who they are, and to stay safe.

In particular, as I made clear in my submission to the National Curriculum Review itself, the draft HPE curriculum:

  • Has significant problems in terms of terminology – for example, it does not even use the words ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’ once in the entire document.
  • Includes a fine-sounding commitment to student diversity that is almost immediately undermined by allowing “schools flexibility to meet the learning needs of all young people” – and which is especially poor when compared with the first draft that clearly stated that “same-sex attracted and gender diverse students exist in all Australian schools”.
  • Does not ensure students receive comprehensive sexual health education – with no year band descriptions providing a minimum level of information about sexually transmissible infections, and no references to condoms either, and
  • Completely excludes HIV and other BBVs, like hepatitis B and C – despite the fact that, more than 30 years into the HIV epidemic in Australia, the number of transmissions is rising (with one potential cause a lack of comprehensive and inclusive sexual health/BBV education for students).

[NB My full submission to the National Curriculum Review is available here: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/03/13/submission-to-national-curriculum-review-re-national-health-physical-education-curriculum/ ].

The choice to appoint noted homophobe Kevin Donnelly (see my letter to Minister Pyne calling for Mr Donnelly to be sacked on that basis: <https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/01/11/letter-to-minister-pyne-re-health-physical-education-curriculum-and-appointment-of-mr-kevin-donnelly/ ) to review what was already a poor document was obviously a major concern.

And I will be the first to admit that the Final Report of the National Curriculum Review, including its recommendations about the HPE curriculum, is not as bad as was initially anticipated. But just because it did not live down to some exceptionally low expectations, does not mean that the outcome for the HPE curriculum, and its potential impact on LGBTI students, was in any way positive.

The first major failing of the National Curriculum Review’s approach is that it appears to concede, without mustering much opposition, that, far from being a national minimum standard, the HPE curriculum is essentially optional.

For example, it notes that “one jurisdiction said it would refuse to implement the content in sexual orientation” (which appears to be Western Australia), while “a few schools are implacably opposed to the inclusion of such material [sexuality education] and some have refused to teach it”, and “[o]ne organisation claimed they would not teach it as prescribed as it did not fit in with their religious values.”

Presumably, that final organisation was the National Catholic Education Office (NCEC), with the Final Report noting that “the submission by the NCEC signals that Catholic schools reserve the right to implement the Australian Curriculum according to the uniquely faith-based and religious nature of such schools: For example, as usual in all Catholic schools, the new Health and Physical Education Curriculum will need to be taught in the context of a Personal Development program informed by Catholic values on the life and personal issues involved” (emphasis in original).

Which means that Catholic Schools – which now account for more than 1-in-5 students across Australia – (presumably) Western Australian schools, and select other schools, have all refused to implement a document that wasn’t even genuinely LGBTI-inclusive to start.

The second major failing, or in this case potential failing, of the National Curriculum Review’s approach is that it supports “the need to reduce the amount of content overall”, noting that “[s]ubmissions and consultations and the opinion of the subject matter specialist suggest that it is overcrowded and needs some slimming down and some restricting of year-level content. Some of the content could well be addressed more in school-based activity.”

Indeed, one of its key recommendations is that “[t]he core content should be reduced and a significant portion should become part of school-based curriculum…” While this recommendation isn’t explicitly linked to LGBTI-related content, there is now a real risk that, in finalising the HPE Curriculum, either at the COAG Education Ministers meeting in December, or subsequently during 2015, what little LGBTI-inclusive material there is may be on the chopping block. This is something that will need to be monitored closely in coming months.

The third major failing of the National Curriculum Review in this area is that, rather than mandating that every student, in every school, receives a minimum level of LGBTI-related education, it instead supports ever greater levels of ‘flexibility’ in terms of what is delivered in the classroom (noting that that the original HPE curriculum already supported ‘flexibility’ in this area).

For example, in one particularly telling paragraph it notes “[o]ther schools, including Christian schools, have advised us that they are comfortable with the inclusion of such content [sexuality education] in the health and physical education curriculum, provided there is flexibility so that they are able to teach it at the age level they deem appropriate, and by mature teachers rather than younger ones who may feel challenged in this arena. We think this is the way forward.”

Which, upon analysis, is actually a pretty bizarre statement – not just because it shouldn’t matter how old a teacher is, as long as they are appropriately qualified, but also because the National Curriculum Review is essentially agreeing to schools disregarding the evidence of when it is best to provide sexuality/sexual health education to students. Instead, the Review supports allowing schools to teach this content at whatever age they wish, without any justification, and presumably delaying it beyond the age at which it would be most valuable.

The recommendation in this area goes even further: “[t]he two controversial areas of sexuality and drugs education should remain, but schools should be given greater flexibility to determine the level at which these areas are introduced and the modalities in which they will be delivered…” (emphasis added). Which means that even how sexuality education is taught is apparently negotiable.

The net outcome of the National Curriculum Review, at least as it concerns Health & Physical Education, is this: A curriculum that already largely excludes LGBTI students and content, is, in practice, essentially optional, with at least one jurisdiction, one religion-based school system, and other individual schools all opting-out. What LGBTI-related subject matter there is remains under threat as the content is ‘slimmed down’ in coming months, while those religious schools that do teach ‘sexuality education’ will have the ‘flexibility’ to choose when it is taught, how it is taught and even by whom it is taught.

Which, to me at least, sounds like the exact opposite of what a national curriculum should be – and demonstrates just how big a missed opportunity this entire process has been.

A national Health & Physical Education curriculum should be a document that recognises that, no matter what state they reside in, and irrespective of the type of school they attend (government, religious or private), all LGBTI students have the fundamental right to an inclusive education.

The existing HPE curriculum does not even come close to recognising that right, and the Final Report of the Australian Curriculum Review will not deliver it, either. That is why we must give the ‘Wiltshire & Donnelly’ Review a fail – because it fails to support LGBTI students.

Two final points. First, at least one of the explanations for why the National Curriculum Review has ultimately failed LGBTI students lies in the fact that it actively bought into the notion that the area of ‘sexuality education’ is somehow controversial. Well, that is simply not true.

Just because there are people who disagree with something does not make it controversial. Just because some governments, religious organisations, individual schools and even some parents do not think students should be taught material because it is LGBTI-inclusive, does not mean their opinion is valid.

None of their individual or collective prejudices about sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status trump the rights of LGBTI students to hear about themselves in the classroom, and to be taught that who they are is okay. Nor do the so-called interests of these groups override the need to reduce the number of suicides of young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, an ongoing tragedy in schools and communities across the country.

Which brings me to my final point. Some people believe that the inclusion of the following paragraph indicates that the Curriculum Review is supportive of LGBTI students:

“Expert medical opinion is clear that, along with the earlier maturation of young people, there is currently a serious crisis – including youth suicides – occurring in Australian society in this domain as a result of a lack of forums and spaces where young people can discuss such issues, including sexuality. The school setting, on the assumption that the curriculum is balanced and objective in dealing with what are sensitive and often controversial issues, offers one of the few neutral places for this to occur.”

Of course, I agree with the majority of this statement (reference to ‘controversial’ aside) – as would many advocates operating in this area. But, if you are to raise the spectre of youth suicide, and LGBTI youth suicide in particular, but then fail to deliver a document that would do anything to tackle this crisis, then, Mr Wiltshire and Mr Donnelly, your words aren’t just hollow and tokenistic, they are offensive.

Ken Wiltshire & Kevin Donnelly's National Curriculum Review has failed LGBTI students around the country.

Ken Wiltshire & Kevin Donnelly’s National Curriculum Review has failed to support LGBTI students around the country.

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

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

The Hon Tony Abbott MP

Prime Minister

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

CANBERRA ACT 2600

Cc Dr Ian Watt

Secretary

Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet

PO Box 6500

CANBERRA ACT 2600

Saturday March 8 2014

Dear Prime Minister

INTER-COUNTRY ADOPTIONS BY SAME-SEX COUPLES

I am writing regarding the issue of inter-country adoptions. Specifically, I call on you to ensure that the processes governing inter-country adoptions treat all couples equally, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

I note that you announced in December 2013 that the Department of Premier and Cabinet would be investigating the issue of inter-country adoptions, reporting to you on ways the processes governing inter-country adoptions can be streamlined ahead of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting, now scheduled for Friday 2 May in Canberra.

I also note recent reports about the potential for new arrangements for recognising adoptions by Australians with respect to children from Taiwan and South Korea.

However, I am unaware of any reports about work underway to ensure that all bilateral and, where relevant, multilateral, agreements concerning adoption entered into by Australia recognise the equal rights of all couples, including same-sex couples, to adopt.

There is no legitimate reason to prevent couples that may include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) individuals from adopting.

In fact, the most recent report on the issue of same-sex parenting, commissioned by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, reaffirmed independent research over the past decade in finding that “there is now strong evidence that same-sex parented families constitute supportive environments in which to raise children.”

The report – Same-Sex Parented Families in Australia by Dr Deborah Dempsey (December 2013) – further confirmed that “children in such families do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as their peers from heterosexual couple families.”

Speaking about the report to the Sydney Morning Herald in February 2014, author Dr Dempsey said “[i]t’s not the family structure that matters so much as the kind of care; that children are loved, and are taken care of.” In practice, same-sex couples are just as capable of providing for the best interests of the child as opposite-sex couples.

Given these and other research results, I seek your commitment to ensure there is no discrimination against same-sex couples contained in any inter-country adoption agreement which Australia signs.

On a related issue, one of the administrative barriers to efficient inter-country adoption processes must be the variety of different, often conflicting, adoption criteria that operate in Australian states and territories.

For example, while my fiancé Steven and I would likely be eligible to adopt in Sydney, we would not be eligible to adopt were we to relocate to Melbourne. I doubt that our suitability as parents would differ simply because we moved 1000km to the South.

As before, there is no legitimate reason to prevent couples that include LGBTI individuals from adopting, and that must include within and between Australian jurisdictions.

The report which you have commissioned and will be presenting to the COAG meeting in May is an ideal opportunity for you to call on the states and territories to adopt uniform adoption laws, in particular to ensure that all Australian states and territories allow all couples to adopt, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

This would be a benefit not just to the administrative efficiency of Australia’s inter-country adoption processes, but also to the equal rights and status of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians.

Finally, I note during the week reports of disagreement within the Coalition partyroom on the subject of single and same-sex couple parenting. Specifically, it was reported that Senator Cory Bernardi expressed his support for Minister Kevin Andrews’ defence of so-called ‘traditional families’.

In response, Liberal MP for Herbert, Ewen Jones, defended families headed by single people, and same-sex couples, saying that what was more important was that children were loved, not what gender their parents were. Mr Jones later told Fairfax Radio “I think it’s the quality of the role model, male or female, not the sexuality of the parents that maters” – a sentiment similar to that expressed by Dr Dempsey, above.

It was also reported that you responded to the debate by saying “[w]e need to be as supportive of people as possible, regardless of their circumstances.”

Taking you at your word, I sincerely hope that you will be supportive of all Australian couples, including same-sex or otherwise LGBTI-inclusive couples, having the same rights to adopt children from other countries.

You have the chance to demonstrate this support through the review of inter-country adoption which you have commissioned, and through your advocacy at the upcoming COAG meeting which will discuss this issue. I and other same-sex couples around the country will be watching which approach you take.

Thank you in for your consideration of this correspondence.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie