Green MP Kevin Hague, together with National’s Nikki Kaye, started drafting a Bill in 2012 that attempts to completely overhaul adoption law. As it stands, the member’s bill sits in the ballot “waiting its turn, hoping to be drawn out of the biscuit tin,” Mr Hague says.
“Fundamentally the existing 1955 Act has, at its heart, a wrong assumption. It effectively fossilises the attitudes to children from the 1950s – children are seen by the law as the property of their parents, and the process of adoption is constructed in the law akin to a property transaction.
“This underlying attitude pervades the law, and we quickly realised that it wouldn’t be possible to just amend the existing act. We needed to rip it up and start again, so that’s what we did.”
Mr Hague believes there are two reasons why successive parliaments have not dealt with the issue: the reason for change is the slow evolution of societal values rather than an “incident” demonstrating the failure of the law; and secondly, at least until 2013 “politicians from both Labour and National have been scared of the issue because of the highly polarised views about adoption by same sex couples”.
“If I knew of a way of speeding up the process I would have done it! When the Honourable Simon Power left Parliament, one of the surprising comments in his Valedictory was that he regretted Parliament had not acted to reform adoption law. Yet it is still not on the legislative agenda for the Government. I am attempting to change that.”
ACC, civil defence and youth affairs minister Nikki Kaye says the law in this area is both old and complex, which is why she was involved with Mr Hague in drafting the private member’s bill.
“The government is addressing a wide range of social and economic issues, and must prioritise its areas of focus accordingly.
“In terms of scale, adoption and surrogacy law does not impact as many people as other pressing social issues, but for people affected it matters a lot.”
Labour’s Jacinda Ardern attempted to tackle the issues with her Care of Children Law Reform Bill in 2011 that called on the Law Commission to review and update adoption law to better reflect modern New Zealand and put the interests of children at the heart of any decision-making, she says.
The Bill was voted down due to “priority issues”, “which was a great shame and really baffling”, she says.
“There are so many discriminatory elements that need fixing – from gay couples to the incorporation of Whangai adoptions. We’ll keep lobbying, hoping that the current government takes a stand.”
There are other pieces of legislation that touch on the issues – the Vulnerable Children Bill amendments look at strengthening relationships around guardianship, for example, but “this is just a plaster on top of the real problem – we need a complete overhaul of adoption legislation”.