Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Australian laws fail the most willing parents

Nine days ago the Melbourne Age carried a story of a young couple and their quest to have children.

This couple's long, heart-wrenching and expensive saga was partly a story of the failure of main stream politics.

In my case, as an eight-times grandfather, I look at the story mainly out of personal pride as well as understanding the obvious desire of most young people to have children. It is part of their DNA and they harbour powerful and wonderful instincts for the growth of mankind. For those who are blocked, through no fault of their own - either temporarily or permanently - from having children, only the prospective parents could describe the heartache and deepest disappointment occasioned by the years of hope stuck in IVF and similar programs.

As a washed up ex-politician, I also see the issue through economic policy and politics which may seem mundane but which are still important. Australia is still a relatively new society, it has already built solid organisational structures in commerce, public life and cultural aspects but it still has a long way to go. A singular task for Australia is to grow in every way possible; culturally, socially, economically and in anyway free people want to grow. And to achieve this goal of continuing growth Australia needs more people or, in the jargon, a policy of increasing its population.

One aspect of this growth is to continue the policy of welcoming migrants to join our expanding enterprise. Unfortunately that policy is under attack, mainly from Labor and the unions but also the Greens and parts of the Liberal Party. Given that a majority of Australians have a migrant background it is surprising that migration policy is politically controversial. The union movement is generally opposed because they mistakenly think that less migration protects jobs when in fact migration has for decades helped to grow the economy as evidenced by the Snowy Rivers scheme and today in the mining industry. The Greens are anti-development so they are lukewarm on migration except for queue jumpers, and have common cause with the unions. Labor's 2008 policy to open the door to people smugglers has also had the effect of discouraging public support for migration because community support is eroded by genuine concerns that the Government is unable to manage our borders. This is the wider impact of the story dramatically demonstrated when people smugglers were recently found living in public housing in Canberra under the nose of the witless Gillard Government.

But migration policy is not the only means to increase population. Governments have spent millions on baby bonus schemes, subsidies for new homes and child care funding arrangements to encourage young couples to have babies and to go back to work.

The one group that attracts less support are the young couples who want to have a baby but are struggling to do so for medical reasons. They do receive financial support from government through Medicare and publicly-funded medical research, although in recent times the Gillard Government broke a promise and made cuts to this funding.

But this is only one aspect of the issue. The real deterrent and the obvious barriers for many couples are the huge financial burdens imposed on young people simply because our political class don't support their right to have children.

In Australia the system is designed to stop couples who need assistance to have a baby.

You can't advertise for a surrogate or a donor egg. If you could find what you needed, the bureaucracy of all the do-gooders would make red tape in the business community cause for a national summit.

If you are one of the handfuls that go through this nightmare, then there is still a risk, because birth mother can claim the child. In Canada and India, the law protects the agreement between the parties so that the parents know they will be able to keep the child but in Australia this unjust law is clearly another means to discourage these couples from having a baby.

You certainly can't pay an Australian resident to have the baby for you and it is illegal in NSW, Queensland and the ACT for you to pay for an overseas surrogate. So in these states you could be jailed for having a child overseas, or alternatively they expect you to leave NSW, Queensland or the ACT and live somewhere else.

The Age noted that despite the illegality of paying a surrogate in India, our High Commission provides advice on its website on how to have a newborn registered as an Australian citizen in the system. I think that is sensible but it highlights inconsistency in Australian law when one government opposes the practise and another facilitates its reality.

Aly and her husband Damien O'Brien reported in The Age (June 3, 2012) that they had to sell their home to pay over $120,000 to have their twin daughters born in Canada. A picture is worth a thousand words; you only have to see the happy couple and their healthy and happy twins to know that, they succeeded in their dreams to have a family.

But as the couple persevered, Australian laws did worse than just fail them; those laws were against them for most of their journey.

While Captain Emad has his family living in public funded housing, Aly and Damien have paid a huge penalty just for wanting a child.

Young couples who want to have a baby should be supported not discriminated against. Inconsistent approaches to law are confusing and unjust.

I can only assume the reason this state of affairs continues is because there are difficult issues around surrogacy and mainstream politicians have found it easier to let moral and religious crusaders have too much say.

The Canadians obviously have a system that is much better than Australia's and it's about time that main stream politicians, state and federal, within Labor and the Coalition get together and sort out a much fairer system.

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