Adoption law reform

Green MP has announced:

 Green MP Kevin Hague today unveiled a Bill to comprehensively overhaul law and address related surrogacy issues, which will be entered in the next Members’ bill ballot.

“This Bill is the result of considerable work, and is a much more ambitious reform than is usually attempted through the Members’ bill process,” Kevin Hague said.

“The Law Commission reviewed adoption law and in 2000 recommended the consolidation of the legislation relating to parenting and care of children. The changes they recommended are what we have based my Members Bill on.

“We have also used previous Ministry of Justice advice, and more recently had assistance from other experts with an interest in these issues. I want to thank everyone for helping us get the Bill this far.

The current Act is almost 60 years old, and has almost no relevance to what is happening today. It is primarily based on “closed” adoptions and the vast majority of adoptions today are “open”.

The Member’s Bill places adoption in the Care of Children Act, as originally intended by the Law Commission, and makes the best interests of the child the fundamental principle underpinning the law. The Bill also:

  • Ensures that all adoptions will be “open” unless exceptional circumstances mean there is a need to extinguish links with the child’s biological parents. While this has become common practice, the current law does not provide for it at all.
  • Removes unnecessary restrictions on the kinds of people who may be considered to adopt, ensuring that adoptive parents can be selected from all the options, in the best interests of the child.
  • Acknowledges, but does not regulate whāngai arrangements, which are instead controlled by traditional Iwi practice.
  • Provides for the adoption of children conceived and born through altruistic surrogacy arrangements.

I very much agree that the focus should be on the best interests of the child, and arbitrary restrictions should not be in place to restrict an adoption which is best for the child.

“Drafting a Bill of this size means that I’m sure there are further improvements that can be made. I will continue to work with interested parties to fine-tune the Bill while it sits in the ballot waiting to be drawn.

Few bills get drawn in their first ballot, and it is indeed sensible to listen to feedback and improve them for future ballots.

GayNZ has written:

Labour’s will put forward an amendment to her adoption bill at its upcoming first reading to immediately fix the basic discrimination in the current law, because the full overhaul her proposed legislation will lead to will take a long time.

The problem is you can not amend a bill at first reading. Standing orders do not allow for amendments to a bill to be considered at first reading. You can change a bill between members’s ballots before it is selected. You can have a select committee amend a bill, or you can amend a bill at the committee of the house stage. There is no provision to amend a bill at first reading.

Any MP can ask for leave to do something outside standing orders, but this requires not a single MP out of 121 to object, and have never known this to be granted for a first reading amendment that is substantive.

I blogged over four and a half months ago on the problems in Jacinda’s bill. It was resubmitted unchanged over three months later. The time for amendments was before resubmitting it. You simply can not amend a bill (without unanimous leave) at first reading. Now I’m not suggesting MPs should change their bills, just because I’ve criticised them. But the fact that Jacinda is now trying to amend her bill, indicates that many others share at least some of my concerns over her bill. Note that I believe we all want the same thing – a modern child-focused adoption law.

The challenge for an MP, is to not just write a bill, but to seek feedback on it from colleagues, from interested groups, from experts. You want to have it fit for purpose before it gets drawn from the ballot.

For those interested the Hague bill is here. I’m sure Kevin would welcome feedback on improvements to it (that are consistent with its aim).

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