Labour’s adoption approach underwhelming at best

Labour MP (and perhaps crucially candidate for Auckland Central) Jacinda Ardern announced last week that she will seek to introduce a Member’s Bill to require the Law Commission to update its previous advice on adoption law and draft a bill to overhaul the current law in this light.

Readers may well have heard me talk previously about the Adoption Act. It dates back to 1955, and effectively fossilises the attitudes and values of that time. Greens started looking at this because the Act only permits couples to adopt if they are married, excluding de facto couples (though that has been reversed in Court) and same sex couples from adopting. First Metiria and then I had Members’ Bills in the ballot to change this. However we were persuaded that a lot more was wrong with the 1955 Act, and that total overhaul or replacement was necessary.  Most crucially, the 1955 Act treats children as, effectively, chattels and adoption like a property transaction. The law needs to reflect the primacy of the child’s interests and welfare.

Ten years ago the Law Commission produced a comprehensive report on the care of children. The Labour Government of the time passed the Care of Children Act, which implemented the Law Commission’s proposed changes to limited term guardianship arrangements, but did nothing with the recommended replacement of the Adoption Act. Probably this was because Labour was scared of debate around the issue of same sex couples, and maybe couldn’t muster the numbers within its own caucus – six Labour MPs (including three current ones) even voted against Civil Unions, for goodness’ sake.

Because of Labour filibustering on the VSM bill there is no real prospect that Jacinda’s bill will even go into the ballot, let alone be drawn from it, and anyway National’s approach to all bills from Opposition members has been to vote them down at First Reading. Jacinda argues that the purpose of her bill is to put pressure on Simon Power to instruct the Law Commission to do more work, but I can’t see how her idea of a bill could even remotely do this. Instead the real reason for her announcement is its rhetorical value. On the positive side I guess it indicates to the public that Labour does now support adoption law reform and maybe helps to raise awareness of the issue. Jacinda will also be hoping that gay, lesbian and other progressive voters in Auckland Central will also read into her move that she is doing something about adoption by same sex couples. Unfortunately for Jacinda, while I’m sure she is personally progressive on the issue, she doesn’t get to speak for her Party on it, and Phil Goff, along with opposing gay marriage, has also been at best cagey on adoption.

But while it’s useful for the public to know that Labour now supports some sort of adoption law reform, Labour’s unilateral action with the proposed bill will also damage the work that has been occurring to overhaul adoption law. When I withdrew my previous bill I instead set out to achieve the broader reform of law that was needed, and first developed support for and then convened a multilateral, cross-party group to work on the issues. The progress of the group has been slow but, as I have tried to point out to the less patient advocates for change, the best chance of success is a careful process that builds support and keeps everybody on board. Rushing makes reform less likely, by returning the issue to the traditional arm wrestle for political advantage between National and Labour.

What remains to be seen is whether Jacinda’s move represents an abandonment by Labour of the multilateral approach, and whether National will be willing to stay at the table in the face of Labour’s attempt to gain political advantage from the issue. I will be working to try to keep the cross-party approach alive. Otherwise adoption law reform will be off the table for another decade.

12 thoughts on “Labour’s adoption approach underwhelming at best

  1. As you say, the crucial point is that Jacinda is the candidate for Auckland Central with a constituency her position will rhetorically appeal to. But I don’t think it has much to do with Labour. Have you seen the leaflets she’s distributing? There is one small Labour logo and the rest is all Jacinda. I think she has dumped Labour as a vehicle and is just rooting now for team Jacinda – probably not a bad idea given where Goff has led the Party to in the polls. She doesn’t care about cross-Party, because she doesn’t even care about her Party.

  2. How disappointing and frustrating! I really hope it won’t actually take another decade for this discrimination to end, Kevin. New Zealand used to be regarded as the world leader for furthering social justice and we are rapidly losing that status.

  3. Kevin says “The progress of the group has been slow but, as I have tried to point out to the less patient advocates for change, the best chance of success is a careful process that builds support and keeps everybody on board.”

    We could do with more politicians who take this approach. More behind the scenes work getting multiparty support, with less flag waving and point scoring.

    Big pat on the back Kevin – keep up the good work on this.

  4. Given that the only actual result of Jacinda’s bill will be a Law Commission review, I’m not sure that it really qualifies as “rushing”. Doesn’t expert legal opinion have a place in a slow, multilateral process? I would think that a LawCom review would complement your own efforts in this area.

  5. If indeed the current adoption law that applies ancient ens. not adapted to a rapidly changing reality. In fact my opinion is that adoptions should regual in a more dynamic, to respond to the interests of children, perhaps a law that was revised annually, even six months.

  6. It is worth notingthat the fillibustering that Kevin notes Labour is doing demonstrates Labours priorities: opposing freedom of associateing is deemed more important to Labour than this important issue of social justice.

  7. Kevin’s observation that “Because of Labour filibustering on the VSM bill there is no real prospect that Jacinda’s bill will even go into the ballot, let alone be drawn from it” might now be undermined, as Labour’s fillibustering has blown up in their face and the VSM bill is back on track!

  8. A few too many assumptions here, Ardern’s position does not indicate that of her party and nor does a members bill interfere with a multi-lateral approach behind the scenes.

    Given the bill is only on a list and may not even be drawn from the ballot (and if it is, it will be in the next term), I don’t see a problem here.

    Though this post does enable you to show what your approach to achieving progress on the issue is and reference the Labour Party in the negative based on the past – good luck with the non partisan multi-lateral approach otherwise.

  9. Kevin

    Thanks for the response. I both was adopted, and know people who adopted and have been adopted. I think it is extremely important that this be considered across the points of view of those with experience in this.

    I for one, think the mother should always have absolute veto over who adopts her children, and that no reason need necessarily be given. The exception being when there is a court order to permanently deprive custody in obvious cases of abuse, neglect or incapacity.

Comments are closed.