• Labor MP Cynthia Lui, Aunty McRose Elu, former Queensland Child Safety Minister Shannon Fentiman and Ivy Trevallion in Cairns in 2017. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Queensland Labor is promising to introduce new laws to recognise Torres Strait Islander families' continued use of traditional adoption if re-elected.
Liz Deep-Jones

16 Nov 2017 - 3:03 PM  UPDATED 16 Nov 2017 - 5:12 PM

The Palaszczuk Government says it would set aside $1 million to cover the implementation of a legislation which would acknowledge Torres Strait Islander traditional adoption, a continuous cultural practice that has taken place for thousands of years.

"This will be a historic piece of legislation that will ensure Torres Strait Islander children and adults who have been part of this traditional family structure can have their legal identity, including their birth certificate, [and] match their cultural identity," Communities Minister and Ministerial Champion for the Torres Strait, Shannon Fentiman, said today at the Esplande Lagoon in Cairns.

The consultation process has been revived and the Labor government are adamant that they're ready to commit to passing legislation in the next term of government if elected.

Introducing these new laws would recognise the outcomes achieved by Torres Strait Islander families in keeping communities together and culturally strong.

"Untold generations of Torres Strait Islanders had supported their children and each other with traditional parenting approaches," Ms Fentiman added.

"These practices have meant generations of loving, caring homes but these extended family relationships have not been fully recognised by Australian law in the same way as Western adoption.”

The lack of official legal recognition of traditional adoption practices has impacted the way in which traditionally adopted children can function as Australian citizens.

"This has meant Torres Strait Islander children being cared for by traditional adoptive parents have been unable to do things we take for granted, such as have a passport in their own name,” Ms Fentiman explained.

Ms Fentiman said Labor's candidate for Cook, Cynthia Lui, who would become the first Torres Strait Islander to sit in the Queensland Parliament if elected, had been a passionate advocate for legal recognition and had consistently lobbied for reform.

Ms Lui said that despite the fact that several governments had considered legal recognition of traditional adoption, she believes the Palaszczuk Government would actually deliver.

But the LNP's Shadow Child Safety Minister Ros Bates isn't so confident. She acknowledged the benefits of traditional adoption but also stated that decisions over the welfare of children would always depend on what's best for the child.

“Traditional adoption is an important part of ensuring children in need of protection are able to remain connected to their culture and heritage.

"Every decision we make must always be guided by the principle of what is in the best interests of the individual child,” she added.

“Sadly under Labor we have seen a record 1,500 carers exit the system in the past 12 months.

For her part, Ms Lui though is determined to assist the Torres Strait Islander communities who she feels have been left in limbo.

"Torres Strait Islanders have long sought legal recognition of the outcomes they are achieving for children and families and we will provide that recognition.

"Traditional adoption, while similar in outcomes for families and children, is not based on a Western understanding of adoption, and since 1985 when the then Queensland Government determined that this practice was beyond the scope of the Queensland's existing adoptions laws, families have been left in legal limbo," Ms Lui said.

"It will be a proud moment as a Torres Strait Islander woman to vote to pass this legislation in the Parliament."

The legislation to recognise traditional adoption would be developed in close consultation with Queensland's Torres Strait Islander community and an eminent person will be appointed to help that process.

Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, Mark Furner, said he was proud to be part of a government that would make this change.

"On becoming Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, I quickly became aware of traditional adoption and its precious place in the lives of the people of the Torres Strait. It is a deeply meaningful practice, held dear by generations of Torres Strait Islanders.

Legal recognition of traditional adoptions would be based on three key principles: consent of the birth parents; suitability of adoptive parents; and the rights and best interest of the child throughout their life.