Surrogacy Bill

Extract from Hansard - House of Assembly 10 September 2019

I also would like to speak on the Surrogacy Bill and commend the Attorney-General for bringing this to the house. I would also like to acknowledge the extensive work of the Hon. John Dawkins over many years on this topic. I actually worked with the Hon. John Dawkins many years ago. I was just trying to find the date, but I believe it was in my first term, so between 2010 and 2014, that I actually brought amendments to the house as a backbencher. I believe it was one of the first times that an opposition backbencher actually had support for a private member’s bill.

I worked very closely with minister Hill, the minister at the time, to amend the surrogacy act, as it was then. In the original act, surrogacy was permissible for somebody in the instance where the child's life was in danger or where a woman could not conceive. It was brought to my attention by a young woman who had had a child already by IVF. During the term of carrying the child and after the birth, she had severe physical issues. She was in a wheelchair.

Her body had absorbed the calcium from her bones. She was on a walking stick for nearly two years because her body could not carry a baby. She had multiple blood transfusions. She wanted another child, however, was told that there would be a severe risk of those issues returning in the future. The surrogacy laws at the time only contemplated a danger to the baby rather than the mother, which it seems crazy to have a baby born and the mother does not survive or is unable to care for it.

It was very good to get the support of minister Hill to bring that through. He also took the opportunity to add in another amendment at that time, which was for women who could conceive but could not carry to term, because that was also something that was coming up often. There are many women who can conceive but often miscarry in the first few months, and they were not covered by the original surrogacy bill. We worked well together and we got both of those amendments through the house.

I note that this new legislation actually goes a lot further because this is now recognising that families come in many different styles. Same-sex couples and those who are unable to conceive, whether by age or circumstance or sexuality, are now covered, so it is less restrictive than it was. It does raise a few issues of inconsistencies as far as the utilisation of assisted reproductive technologies and even the current adoption act, which is not available, unless under special circumstances, for a single person. We need to really get some consistency going across other bills that will be affected by the changes in this bill.

I definitely think this is a move in the right direction. This is a move that will help many people who would be wonderful parents to have families. This gives them the opportunity, along with our recent announcement last Friday of adoption being more widely available and promoted, particularly for children in care. We know that for the last five years there have been no adoptions of children in care. That is something for people who are considering a family to also consider.

Obviously, it would only be in limited circumstances for the children who are in our care who could definitely not be returned home to their own family, and there would be careful consideration of the child's best interests. The voice of the child is also very important now in legislation, but also in determining policy for adoption and permanency planning for children.

Approximately five years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet with UNICEF in New York and talk to them about child protection in general across the whole world. At that time, there had been a major disaster. One of the things that we discussed, and in fact they suggested, was that our country needed to change its surrogacy laws not only to be more in line with the rest of the world but also to prevent what was happening after a major disaster in Third World countries—that is, children were actually being sold to raise money. They said that if we had surrogacy laws that were more available for people who wanted children then it would limit the trade of people who were going to these poor countries and buying children because they had no other option or way to have their own children.

I was quite surprised that UNICEF would be promoting that, but they did see it as a really big problem for wealthy countries such as Australia, New Zealand and England, where people did have the money and they do want the children, but that was then being used in the wrong way in poorer countries. So I think this will go a long way to solving that problem as well. Of course, there was the case of Baby Gammy, which everyone would be very aware of as well and the issues around that.

It is very natural that people would want to have their own family and that they would want to have children, but not everybody, whether by circumstance, age, sexuality or whatever, has the ease of that possibility of having their own family. I think this is a great piece of legislation and I am proud to be part of a government that has brought this forward.

Again, I would like to particularly acknowledge the Hon. John Dawkins for starting this conversation so many years ago and for doing a lot of the work—years and years and years of work, I think—to get to this point. Now we are finally in government and we can actually bring through this legislation, so I commend the bill to the house.