Fight to end contact veto restraining orders preventing adopted people contacting their family

Home Politics Fight to end contact veto restraining orders preventing adopted people contacting their family
Fight to end contact veto restraining orders preventing adopted people contacting their family

While families across the country prepare to gather for Christmas, Michael Hickey is facing another festive season forbidden from meeting his mother.

He is one of thousands of adopted Australians barred from contacting biological family members under so-called “contact vetoes”.

Adoption lobby groups are fighting for an end to the vetoes, arguing they were “cruel” and “outdated”.

Mr Hickey was adopted out as a newborn in Perth in 1960 when unmarried mothers were shunned and often pressured into giving up their babies.

black and white photo of Michael as a baby being held by his adoptive father
Michael Hickey as a baby in the 1960s after being adopted.(Supplied: Michael Hickey)

He knew from a young age he was adopted and tried to find his biological mother when he was in his 30s.

But instead of an emotional reunion, he was informed by authorities she had taken out a veto that prohibits him from contacting her.

“It was a pre-emptive move,” he said.

“But I’ve committed no crime. I’m the result of an act of love, not an act of hate.

“That’s the injustice of it all.”

Mr Hickey believed state governments should do more to reunite families affected by past adoption practices, by cancelling vetoes and offering counselling.

black and white image of young boy standing on front steps of house in school uniform
Michael Hickey, pictured here on his first day at school.(Supplied: Michael Hickey)

He would like to meet his half-siblings and believed he had a right to know his medical history.

“The state has the resource … and the obligation to write to people to say ‘we understand that attitudes in the 1950s and 60s were different to today,” he said.

More than 8,000 vetoes still in place

Mr Hickey supported a push by adoptee groups to overhaul state adoption legislation and scrap all remaining “contact vetoes” across the country. 

There were more than 8,000 in place according to the latest available figures.

Mr Hickey was able to track down his biological father and had pieced together much of the story behind his adoption.

60 year old man sitting smiling at camera with woman standing with her arm around him
Mr Hickey pictured here on his 60th birthday.(Supplied: Michael Hickey)

He said his mother was whisked away on “holiday” by her family to give birth in Perth in secret when she fell pregnant in the late 1950s.

Mr Hickey was concerned the continuing contact veto was linked to the shame of becoming pregnant out of wedlock that existed in that era. 

He wants the WA government to lift what he called the “artificial construct that is propping up [his mother’s] reluctance” to meet him. 

“Contact would be enough. A cordial relationship. I’m not looking for a mother at 63,” Mr Hickey said.

In Western Australia, breaching a contact veto was decriminalised in 2012, but in some states a breach could still have serious implications.

‘It’s incredibly distressing’

Barbara Scott was adopted out as a baby in New South Wales where the penalty for breaching a veto was a fine or 12 months in jail, or both.

head and shoulders pic of Barbara Scott holding up little dog
Barbara Scott says all adoptees have a right to know that they were adopted. (Supplied: Barbara Scott)

Remarkably, the 68-year-old only found out she was adopted two years ago when a relative dropped the bombshell.

After the initial disbelief and shock, Mrs Scott started on a traumatic journey to trace her roots and contacted adoption authorities in NSW.

But she was told a contact veto had been taken out by her biological mother.

“It felt like a second rejection,” she said.

“Even just to get my birth certificate or any information, I had to sign this legal document, saying that I would not try to contact her.

“It feels unfair, it feels cruel. I’ve had lots and lots of tears over this.”

Through social media, Mrs Scott found out she had siblings but could not contact them under the terms of the veto.

Barbara Scott as a young girl
Barbara Scott says she asked her adoptive parents over the years if she was adopted but they always deflected the question and relatives were sworn to secrecy. (Supplied: Barbara Scott)

“It’s incredibly distressing,” she said.

“My mother may not be interested, but my siblings may.

“I have no malice against her, I don’t want anything from the family, I don’t want money.

“It’s more just to have that link … just to come face-to-face with somebody that I belong to, I suppose.”

Mrs Scott was also concerned she had been unable to get any information on her family medical history that could be vital for her health.

She compared her experience to her adopted brother, who learned about his adoption at the same time. 

But, he had different biological parents who were already deceased and was able to access his records relatively quickly. 

Since then, he had been able to reconnect with his siblings.

Vetoes ‘deep and damaging’

A patchwork of laws exist across the country in relation to adoption.

Victoria repealed its contact veto system in 2015, replacing it with an information register where people could record their wishes about contact with family.

Groups representing survivors want any states that still have contact vetoes, including WA and NSW, to abolish them.

Jen and Lynn sitting together looking at camera
Jen McRae is working with Lynne Devine of ARMS WA to push for a WA inquiry into forced adoptions.(ABC News: Claire Moodie)

Lynne Devine from the group, ARMS WA, which represented mothers separated from children by adoption believes vetoes were wrong on many levels.

“The infliction of a veto upon anyone is a deep and damaging body blow,” she said.

“No one should be told they do not deserve to know who they are.

“Mothers who veto are operating from a denial of reality and in placing a veto they seem stuck in the old idea that they are somehow sinners.”

Adoptions plummet in recent decades

Tens of thousands of unwed mothers were coerced into adoption under forced adoption practices from the 1940s to the 1980s.

Since then, adoption in Australia had changed dramatically.

Far fewer children were adopted with rates dropping by 63 per cent over the past 25 years down to about 250 adoptions a year, according to a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

There had also been a shift towards “open adoption” which recognised a child’s right to know their birth family.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.