Up to 150,000 unmarried mothers were pressured, deceived and threatened into giving up their babies from the Second World War until the early 1970s so they could be adopted by married couples, which was perceived to be in the children’s best interests, the Senate committee report found.
The committee chairwoman, Rachel Siewert, said: “The evidence … tells the accounts of mothers and fathers who were pressured into giving up their babies by their families, by institutions – both state and territory and private institutions – by social workers, doctors, nurses and those who they rightly expected to have helped them.”
About 100 mothers who gave up babies and adults who had been adopted sat in the public gallery yesterday, applauding and weeping as the report was presented.
One of the mothers, Robin Turner, 61, only wanted public recognition of the injustice she suffered when her newborn son was taken from her at a Melbourne hospital in 1967.
“Acknowledgment. I want the Australian public to know what happened to us,” she said. Ms Turner said she was 17 when her baby was taken without her consent while she was drugged.
Weeks later, she was told he had died. They were reunited in 2008.
She has a copy of the adoption release form, which she said is a fraud, with both her typed name and supposed signature misspelt “Robyn”.
The seven-member committee began investigating the federal government’s role in forced adoption in 2010 after the Western Australian state parliament apologised to mothers and children for flawed practices there from the 1940s until the 1980s.
Roman Catholic hospitals in Australia apologised in July for forcing unmarried mothers to give up babies for adoption and urged state governments to accept financial responsibility.
Adoption in Australia is mostly controlled by state laws, but the report found that the federal government had contributed to forced adoption by failing to provide unwed mothers with full welfare benefits to which a widow or deserted wife would have been entitled until 1973.
Australian adoptions peaked at almost 10,000 a year in 1972, before rapidly declining. The report found that decline could reflect the availability of welfare, the growing popularity of the Pill and legalisation of abortion.
Among unmarried mothers, adoption rates were as high as 60 per cent in the late 1960s, the report said. The committee could not estimate how many adoptions were forced, but said they numbered in the thousands.
The committee recommended that the federal government make an apology that identifies the actions and policies that resulted in forced adoptions, and that state governments and non-government institutions that administered adoptions should issue formal statements of apology.