Adoption program 'a drop in the ocean'

Deborra-Lee Furness..."There are 143 million orphans." Photo: Peter Brew-Bevan
Deborra-Lee Furness..."There are 143 million orphans." Photo: Peter Brew-Bevan 

Australia's largest international adoption program has been re-opened but it is not enough to change our ''anti-adoption culture'', says actor Deborra-Lee Furness.

The program with Ethiopia, bringing about 40 orphans a year to new families in Australia, will re-open in April with stricter controls and higher fees.

''I am thrilled. I can finally say, 'Good on the Attorney-General','' said Furness, wife of actor Hugh Jackman and mother of two adopted children. ''But really it is just a drop in the ocean.''

The Ethiopian program was suspended in November amid fears a request for payments to help children broke international laws on child trafficking.

The Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, announced its re-opening on Friday.

Australia has adoption programs with 14 countries and last year had just 269 such adoptions. Would-be Australian parents battle through up to seven years of red tape and expensive bills.

''There are 143 million orphans in the world. I think it would be great if Australia hosted a summit to address this problem,'' said Furness, who is patron of National Adoption Awareness Week.

She said a quicker response was needed to deal with crises such as the earthquake in Haiti. ''I have a girlfriend there and she has 2000 starving kids at her shelter. They are eating rocks and that is just abhorrent to me. I sob when I read that.''

Tony Dunne, president of the International Adoptive Families of Queensland, said people had contacted him after the Haiti disaster for advice on adopting orphans.


''I have to tell them it will take a long, long time for our government to come up with an agreement and by the time they get around to it the kids will be too old.

''It's all about the kids; we don't want kids to be stolen or money to be involved, so it is right that the correct procedures are put in place. But I am frustrated that the government has had two years to get things moving and has done zip.''

A spokesman for Mr McClelland confirmed the department had received inquiries since the earthquake in Haiti but there was no intercountry agreement in place. The government shared concerns about the plight of children there but ''intercountry adoption should not be considered in the immediate aftermath of such crises'', he said.

''During or after natural disasters, children are often separated from their families and communities … Even if both parents have died, the chance of finding living relatives or other carers from their community does exist. It is in the best interests of children to remain with their family and country as further separation from their extended families and countries may compound the trauma these children have already experienced.''

Furness has made a community service announcement with producers of Sesame Street to educate children about adoption, and had hoped to run it during Awareness Week in November.

''I was hit with every excuse in the book by the ABC,'' she said. ''It was me talking to Elmo and he has no political agenda, he just wants cookies.''

An ABC spokeswoman said: ''Unfortunately, this community service announcement did not meet the standards set out by the ABC to protect its independence and integrity. The ABC is however open to working with Ms Furness in the future.''