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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Australian Embassy ignores Thai ban on ‘wombs for rent

Australian embassy staff are ­undermining Thailand’s surrogacy ban by granting passports to “wombs-for-rent” babies, a parliamentary committee said yesterday.

Childless Australian couples were exploiting third-world ­surrogate mothers, it warned.

The bipartisan House of ­Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs called on the Abbott government to set up a full inquiry into commercial surrogacy.

The committee’s chairman, Nationals whip George Christensen, said Australian embassy staff in Thailand continued to issue passports for surrogate ­babies “without thinking twice’’.

“In Thailand, where surrogacy is outlawed, when our authorities receive an application for a child they know full well was born through surrogacy ­arrangements, they will still issue citizenship and passports without thinking twice,’’ he told The Australian yesterday.

“The only thing they require is a sign-off from the biological mother.’’

Mr Christensen said he was concerned surrogate mothers could be pressured into giving consent for an Australian passport in order to receive payment.

“I would think it’s a good starting point to say that if (surrogacy) is illegal in another country, perhaps there are mechanisms to ensure Australians aren’t involved and if they are, that the other jurisdiction is notified,’’ he said.

“If they’ve taken steps for banning it in Thailand, then Australia shouldn’t be facilitating it.

“If it’s a crime, it’s a crime.’’

Thailand banned commercial surrogacy last year after the scandal involving baby Gammy, whose Australian parents abandoned him in Thailand with his surrogate mother after he was born with Down syndrome.

Mr Christensen said the committee’s “roundtable’’ meetings — which included officials from the Department of Foreign ­Affairs and Trade and the Immigration Department, Family Court Chief Justice Diana ­Bryant and Federal Circuit Court Chief Judge John Pascoe — had concluded women and babies were being exploited through commercial surrogacy overseas.

“I have no doubt whatsoever there is exploitation of women in foreign jurisdictions happening through Australians who are seeking surrogacy arrangements to have a child,’’ he said.

Judge Pascoe told a roundtable session that surrogate women overseas were treated as “less than the value of cows being impregnated for the purposes of calving’’.

“I think it should be deeply disturbing that Australians are so heavily involved in what amounts to the production and sale of newly born children,’’ he told the committee.

Immigration Department ­assistant secretary Frances ­Finney told the hearing that if a child was an Australian citizen by descent, embassy officials had to grant citizenship.


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