The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) today condemned the ACT Government’s inadequate consultation on new legislation that will simplify the ability to dispense with parental consent for children to be adopted.
ACTCOSS and other undisclosed partners were given only two weeks to comment on this profound legislation – that can determine whether a child can be adopted without the consent of their parents – with many key organisations and communities excluded from the consultation.
ACTCOSS CEO, Dr Emma Campbell, said: “Regrettably, ACTCOSS’s request to extend the period for organisations to provide feedback on changes to the Adoption Act 1993 was refused.
“We condemn this decision by the ACT Government to restrict proper consultation on legislation that will have profound impacts on children, young people and their families in the ACT.
“The permanent removal of a child from a parent without parental consent is the gravest decision the state can make. Legislation on this issue should not be rushed through. The Government has a moral obligation to undertake proper engagement with expert organisations and impacted communities,” she said.
Dr Campbell continued: “Based on feedback from our members, we are deeply concerned that the ACT Government is rushing through changes that can dispense with parental consent for adoption while dragging its feet on other essential reforms to the child protection system.
“The ACT Government must first implement an external review mechanism for child protection decisions before any additional powers are given to permanently remove children.
“An external review mechanism has strong support from the community sector, the ACT Human Rights Commission and Legal Aid ACT. Without it, the ACT child protection system remains unaccountable and opaque.
“The dismally poor level of consultation on this key piece of legislation further exemplifies the system’s lack of transparency,” Dr Campbell said.
Due to the insufficient time it was given to submit its views, ACTCOSS has been unable to consult with its members and provide feedback on this legislation.
Dr Campbell continued: “We have been unable to fully consult with our members about this legislation, including whether it provides sufficient safeguards for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander families and parents with disability who are overrepresented in the child protection system.
“At a time when we are discussing ways of challenging the injustice experienced by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people, the ACT needs to demonstrate that this new legislation will not perpetuate the high rates of child removal experienced by these communities.
“A good start for the ACT Government would be to properly consult communities and organisations most impacted by this legislation.
“At a minimum, the ACT Government must commit to – and put into practice – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Principle, which firstly states that we must focus on prevention and ‘protecting children’s rights to grow up in family, community and culture by addressing the causes of child protection intervention’,” Dr Campbell concluded.