Just two months ago, former NSW Supreme Court judge James Wood delivered his three-volume report into the Department of Community Services (DOCS) making 11 recommendations for remedial action. His 1,000-page door-stopper was a clinical assault on the financially neglected, under-staffed and under-performing department.

Perhaps its most appalling finding was that 14,000 children taken from their parents are currently living in foster care, and the numbers are expected to rise to almost 20,000 by 2012. Included in the number of children taken from their birth mothers are 4,000 Aboriginal children, which almost gives them the status of “Stolen Generation Mark II”.

The newly-appointed DOCS Minister is Linda Burney, the former director-general of the NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the first Aboriginal woman elected to the NSW Legislative Assembly. Against this background, Burney has decided to use her powers as a minister to ask a standing committee of the NSW parliament to conduct an inquiry into one of the burning issues of her portfolio — adoption by same s-x couples.

The six members of the standing committee on law and justice, all from the Upper House, have been given their marching orders by the minister and started proceedings.

The terms of reference state:

Ascertain whether adoption of same s-x couples would further the objectives of the Adoption Act of 2000.

The experience in other Australian and overseas jurisdictions that allow the adoption of children by same s-x couples.

Whether there is scope within the existing programs (local and international) for same s-x couples.

If adoption by same s-x couples will promote the welfare of children, then examining what legislative changes are required.

Written submissions are due by February 13 with public hearings to follow on February 24 and 25.

The committee’s fair-minded chairwoman is Labor’s Christine Robertson, but the other members of the committee almost guarantee that it will be deadlocked on ideological lines.

Two hardline Roman Catholics, Liberal David Clarke and Labor’s Greg Donnelly, can be expected to veto any liberalisation of laws allowing gay couples to adopt.

The remaining committee members, Amanda Fazio (ALP right), John Ajaka (Liberal left) and Sylvia Hale (Greens), will be caught in the crossfire.

Which begs the question: with DOCS facing a massive overhaul and family problems growing with every twist in the economic meltdown, why is the government spending time, effort and money investigating adoption by same s-x couples?

Voters will be able to cast their verdict on March 26, 2011, when Burney attempts to be re-elected in the seat of Canterbury and Labor tries to extend its incumbency from 16 years to 20.

Peter Fray

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