Intercountry Adoption Fees
The Hon. JOHN RYAN: My question without notice is directed to the Minister for Community Services. Has she reconsidered her decision to increase fees for intercountry adoptions by 270 per cent from 1 July 2004 in light of the public outcry and submissions that she has received from potential adoptive parents and others?
The Hon. CARMEL TEBBUTT: This is an issue in which the honourable member has a keen interest. I can advise the House that a reform proposal was put out for consultation and that consultation period has recently been completed. The reform proposal covered a range of issues, one of which the honourable member has spoken about on a number of occasions, that is, the fee increases. The reform proposal also covered a range of other issues, including the proposal to accredit service providers that seek to provide inter-country adoption services. The legislation provides for that to occur.
The proposal in the paper is that the Children's Guardian will assume the role of accrediting service providers under the Adoption Act through a delegation from the director-general of the Department of Community Services. This is an important issue. Potential providers of intercountry adoption services and others have expressed some concern about the proposed fee increases outlined in the paper to which the honourable member has referred. I indicate to the honourable member that I have not changed my mind with regard either to the fee increases or to the other issues that are covered in the paper that has been released.
Nonetheless, should the reform proposals go ahead they would enable other service providers beyond the Department of Community Services to provide for intercountry adoptions. I have pointed out previously that fees for intercountry adoptions have not increased since 1995. Should the Department of Community Services continue to make available intercountry adoption services at a greatly subsidised cost, clearly that would be unfair to any other providers because there would be a significant advantage to people using the government provider as opposed to other service providers.
I reiterate that the Government is proposing to do what has already been done in several other jurisdictions—that is, recover a great proportion of the costs of providing intercountry adoption services. Some of the costs in this process are not controlled by government, including fees paid to engage private social workers to conduct assessments of intercountry adoption applicants. Revenue will be directed towards recovering costs and to funding system improvements. I also advise the House, as I have done previously, that applications already being processed will continue to accrue the current level of fees and will not be affected by these proposals.
The Hon. Catherine Cusack: Why discriminate against overseas adoptions?
The Hon. CARMEL TEBBUTT: The Government is not discriminating against intercountry adoptions. The reality is that the costs involved in organising intercountry adoptions are quite significant. I also inform the House that a hardship provision is being developed in response to issues that have been raised through the consultation process whereby financially disadvantaged applicants will be charged a reduced rate for intercountry adoption processes. I will provide more details to the House about this issue in the coming weeks.