February 27th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY SSCA: Check out this inversion of the Parental Control system

CANBERRA OBSERVED Barnaby Joyce likely to give Cabinet a kick-along

ALCOHOL Studies confirm benefit of earlier nightclub closures

HISTORY OF TAIWAN Post-WWII Japan's loss is Chiang Kai-shek's gain

SPEECH IN PARLIAMENT Welfare of children at heart of surrogacy inquiry

EDITORIAL Syria agreement first step to ending the carnage

EDUCATION Discounting Christianity in schools denies history

WORLD CONGRESS OF FAMILIES Diversity's American dream: genderless parenthood and apple pie

ENVIRONMENT Harry Butler: a victim of deep-green politics

EUTHANASIA Legitimate denial of choice at end of life (Part I of two)

ACTIVISM Safer schools or a radical Marxist sexual revolution?

UNITED STATES Big Brother v the Little Sisters: Obama takes nuns to Supreme Court

MUSIC Oppositions reconciled in logical harmony

CINEMA Of heists and hedge funds: The Big Short

BOOK REVIEW Alarms and arms

BOOK REVIEW The human factor


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Welfare of children at heart of surrogacy inquiry

by George Christensen MP

News Weekly, February 27, 2016

On Monday February 8, George Christensen, the Federal Member for Dawson and the Nationals Deputy Whip, spoke in the House of Representatives on the progress of the inquiry into surrogacy that the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs is holding. This is Mr Christensen’s speech.

George Christensen MP

The desire to have a child is one held by many Australians. For some, conceiving a child naturally is not an option and this may drive them to consider other options. Some turn to surrogacy either within our shores or overseas. In Australia altruistic surrogacy, where reasonable costs are reimbursed to the surrogate mother, is permitted in some states.

However, many Australians have headed overseas to seek commercial surrogacy arrangements, which are illegal in this country. Commercial surrogacy is or has been facilitated through private clinics in countries such as Thailand, India, Nepal and Cambodia. In some of those countries, the practice is now illegal. The women who have become surrogates are often from disadvantaged backgrounds and there is evidence that, in some cases, they may have had little choice in the matter. Some may have been forced to have multiple children, all at a time convenient to the intending parents who have paid for the privilege of having a child.

Surrogate mothers may have few protections in countries where such practices are either unregulated or where health care may be inadequate. The risks to their personal health and that of the child are very high. Once they are unable to bear any more children they are left to fend for themselves.

Two well-publicised cases involving Australians – that of baby Gammy in Thailand and that of a twin that was left behind in India – raised concerns and a range of issues regarding child protection and exploitation. Such cases highlight that the future welfare of the child must be paramount and must be the paramount consideration when we determine how to regulate surrogacy.

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, which I chair, has been tasked with considering the regulatory and legislative aspects of international and domestic surrogacy arrangements. The inquiry follows a preliminary roundtable that we held on the issue in early 2015. From the Commonwealth’s perspective, the inquiry involves a wide range of considerations, such as family law, immigration, citizenship, passports and child-support matters. We as a nation have a range of international obligations, which we have to uphold, especially regarding the protection of children.

Last week the committee heard from Chief Judge John Pascoe, who heads Australia’s contribution to the work of The Hague in considering an international convention around surrogacy. Chief Justice Pascoe spoke of the need to develop a nationally consistent approach to surrogacy which considers the rights of all participants in the process, aiming particularly to reduce exploitation and ensure surrogacy arrangements are not sought by those seeking to harm children. He proposed that in cases concerning surrogate children automatic presumption to an Austra­lian passport should not apply.

Domestically, every state and territory, with the exception of the Northern Territory, has some form of legislation regarding surrogacy. Though not consistent in their application or reach, the common thread among this legislation is the determination of who can be deemed to be a parent of a child. In 2009 the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) released a discussion paper aimed at harmonising domestic legislation, but it was not progressed. Recently a number of state and territory jurisdictions have moved to review or strengthen their legislative response to surrogacy.

My committee will consider a number of things, including Australia’s regional responsibility in relation to surrogacy. It will particularly consider possible exploitation and unethical practices of clinics overseas. We will consider how best to protect the rights of any child in any arrangement here or overseas, and I have to say we will be particularly looking at the rights of children to know their biological heritage. We are going to be looking at harmonising Australia’s varied domestic legislation. We are going to be looking at a possible responsible approach to domestic surrogacy arrangements. The committee intends to present its report to this Parliament in June.

Given the complexities of legislative, jurisdictional and ethical issues, as well as international obligations, we anticipate that our report will set forward a clear direction for the nation on domestic surrogacy arrangements. No doubt legislative change will be required, as will the agreement of all states and territories, if we are going to do this. These things do not come quickly or easily. Surrogacy is ultimately about the best interests of the child. The committee considers that a public debate on a national approach is long overdue.

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