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By Matthew Benns
December 27, 2009 / smh.com.au
DESPERATE families seeking to adopt children from overseas have been dealt a blow after the Attorney-General's Department halted Australia's largest international adoption program.
Frustrated adoption groups claim steps taken by the Rudd Government to free up adoption processes have instead buried it under another layer of red tape.
Australia has an average 300 international adoptions a year, the largest number, about 40, from Ethiopia. But the program has been suspended amid fears a request for payments to help needy children left behind breaks international laws on child trafficking.
A spokesman for the Attorney-General's Department said: "The apparent link between the provision of financial assistance and the referral of children for adoption is inconsistent with our understanding of our obligations under the Hague Convention.
"Given these concerns, the Attorney-General considered it was not possible for the program to continue accepting new referrals of children until the review of the program was completed."
The review should be completed early next year.
Australian-African Children's Aid Support Association president Gaylene Cooper said: "We don't understand why they need to suspend the program whilst the review takes place. It is a bit like stopping the trains while reviewing the rail network.
"This is a well-run program that has been operating successfully for 20 years."
She met Attorney-General Robert McClelland last week and was given an unofficial undertaking that the Attorney-General's Department would lead a delegation to Ethiopia to discuss the problems next month.
"I think they are committed to finding a way forward," said Ms Cooper, who is a member of the Attorney-General Department's National Intercountry Adoption Advisory Group. "We really want to pressure them into finding a solution and not just writing this program off."
But other adoption advocates argue the suspension of the Ethiopian program is just another example of the Government's resistance to helping families adopt from overseas.
A campaign to highlight the complexities of adoption by actor Deborra-lee Furness, who has adopted two children with husband Hugh Jackman, has pushed the issue into the limelight. But adoption advocate Janine Weir said: "We have not had a positive comment from this Prime Minister or Attorney-General on adoption.
"They have set up the National Intercountry Adoption Advisory Group but it is just window dressing. It has had probably 17 international junkets and the problems with adoption remain the same. There are in excess of 130 million children without family in the world and we adopt on average 300 a year."
International Adoptive Families Queensland president Tony Dunne said: "It is harder than ever to adopt a child from overseas. The waiting time can be up to six years.
"We worked hard to get adoption centralised through Canberra but all that has done is bring in another layer of red tape and the problem of dealing with people who are lawyers and have no empathy with dealing with people trying to adopt."