exposing the dark side of adoption
Register Log in

Deborra-lee Furness' adoption success


AT night, in the confines of her small room in China, orphan Zhen Liu frets for her adoptive mother, who is thousands of kilometres away.

"She said to me on the phone yesterday: `Mamma, when are you coming to get me?','' Diana Liu says.

Ms Liu hopes it will be very soon, after Deborra-lee Furness and The Sunday Telegraph won another victory in a campaign to overhaul Australia's adoption procedures.

The Federal Government announced last week it would review the harrowing case of Zhen, who has been refused entry to Australia.

Furness, who has two adopted children with husband Hugh Jackman after enduring their own bureaucratic nightmare, applauded the move.

"I'm hugely supportive of the new leadership having the sense to look at individual cases such as this,'' she said.

"The Australian Government has the opportunity to play a part in helping to change the direction of this little girl's life.''


Baby Zhen was just a few days old - and hours from death - when she was found dumped on the side of a road in a village near Beijing.

When police could not find the baby girl's biological parents, Ms Liu, who is a permanent Australian resident, adopted her through Chinese Government authorities.

But when she tried to bring her daughter to Sydney, she was refused permission.

The Immigration Department would not grant Zhen a visa, claiming that Ms Liuhad not gone through the correct Australian channels, and had not lived overseas for12 months.

When Furness read of Zhen's plight in The Sunday Telegraph, she immediately stepped in, outraged that the system could keep a child from her mother, and pushed for Australia's adoption process to be overhauled.

Last year, Furness called on the Howard government to overturn its decision on compassionate grounds.

Encouraging news came last week when newly appointed Immigration Minister Senator Chris Evans said he was reconsidering the case.

"An application for Ministerial intervention was subsequently submitted ... and a thorough investigation is being conducted by the department,'' Senator Evans said.

Ms Liu said she was buoyed by the news.

Her elderly parents, who have been caring for Zhen, had recently been hospitalised after becoming ill in the -15C winter temperatures and were unable to properly care for the active toddler.

"I feel so guilty because I am here and she is over there. My mum and dad are struggling,'' Ms Liu said.

"I can give her a beautiful life here in Australia.''

Ms Liu, who has not seen her daughter in three months, said she telephoned her family in China several times a week.

"My mother tells me Zhen is changing every day. She can hold a little conversation with me now.

She keeps asking: `Are you coming back to pick me up?'

"I have to say: `Very soon', but I don't know when.

"I tell her: `Your mum is in Sydney making money for you.'''


Furness has been making further headway in her crusade to reform adoption procedures.

She learned last week that the Federal Government is sending a delegation to Asia this month as it moves to open up adoption programs in Vietnam and Cambodia.

This would provide greater opportunities for Australian couples to adopt, and in turn reduce the growing waiting lists.

It follows the signing of the Hague Convention by the Cambodian Government in August last year.

"I'm thrilled. It shows signs the Government is taking this issue seriously,'' Furness said.

After repeated requests, Furness has also secured a meeting with federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland.

She said she would use the February 21 meeting to push for the establishment of private agencies to handle the number of couples wanting to adopt.

In NSW, the already struggling Department of Community Services is unable to cope with the growing demand.

Although Furness welcomed the Government's decision in December to establish a national peak body, she said it had not yet come to fruition.

"The new Government, under Mr Rudd, has indicated its support. I now want to see these changes put in place,'' she said.

Furness said that compared to the rest of the world, Australia was "seriously lagging.''

"We call ourselves the lucky country, but we aren't contributing as we should be,'' she said.

"I would like to feel pride, as an Australian, that we are standing up and contributing. At this stage, I don't think we're doing enough.''


Furness continues to be inundated with stories of Australian couples who are trying to adopt.

"Hopeful parents ring me daily, trying to find out information and progress. I hope to give them good news very soon,'' she said.

Furness has found an unlikely ally in Australian Scott Neeson.

The pair met on a red carpet in London in the 1990s, when Mr Neeson was the US president for feature films for the 20th Century Fox studios.

He now heads the Cambodian Children's Fund, helping hundreds of homeless children.

Mr Neeson said Australia had a ``notorious history'' on adoption, compared to the rest of the world.

"There are so many wonderful couples in Sydney who want to adopt. I understand there needs to be a very strong due diligence, but it should not be a bureaucratic nightmare,'' he said.

The Cambodian Government was set to pass laws that would enable countries, including Australia, to begin an adoption program, Mr Neeson said.

With Furness, he had a "renewed passion'' to see changes made to the system.

Furness said her priority was to see Zhen reunited with her mother in Sydney soon.

"It takes a passionate and motivated team. I am hoping that the Government can come through,'' she said.

Let's hope that she can make a difference for us all and help children find the loving families that they deserve. Why should children live in orphanages with no love when there are people here who want to love them?

2008 Feb 3