Gay dads working in the public sector in some states are forgoing paid parental leave to avoid raising suspicions from state authorities due to strict state surrogacy laws.
Overseas commercial surrogacy is illegal in NSW, Queensland and the ACT despite nine out of 10 Australian gay men who want to be full-time fathers taking this option.
On January 1 next year, the federal government’s Dad and Partner Leave scheme will begin and offer two weeks paid leave at the minimum wage for partners of the primary carer, although dads are already accessing the Paid Leave Pay scheme worth 18 weeks at the minimum wage.
But Gay Dads Australia and Surrogacy Australia said many gay dads are worried their employers will find out about the surrogacy arrangements if they apply for federal government grants, potentially losing their families or going to jail.
Surrogacy Australia president Sam Everingham said commercial surrogacy was an expensive proposition, costing up to $170,000 a child in the US, so missing out on the federal grants puts these dads at a greater disadvantage.
“We still have quite a lot of discrimination when it comes to gay dads getting leave to look after new babies via surrogacy,” Everingham said.
“The private sector has been really good at granting leave but the public sector, NSW in particular, has been shocking.”
He said he knew of four men in the NSW public service who were fighting for paid leave arrrangements.
“We’ve got gay men who are prepared to go to jail rather than forgo the chances of having a family,” he said.
“We have a lot of gay men in Sydney, in Brisbane, in Canberra who’d rather risk going to jail and having a family of their own than put up with these laws.”
Surrogacy Australia believes Sydney is one of the top two cities for gay dads in Australia, alongside Melbourne. There are at least 350 gay male families in Australia who have used surrogacy, with more than 100 families in Sydney alone.
One Sydney man said his family had emigrated to France with their US-born child last year, in part to escape the commercial surrogacy crackdown in NSW.
“We did not want to feel like criminals or have sticky beak Aussies asking intrusive questions as they tend to do unlike in [the] US or Europe,” he said.
Gay Dads Australia spokesman Rodney Chiang-Cruise told the Star Observer that it was gay teachers, nurses, police officers and other public servants in NSW who were most anxious about applying for benefits.
“Certainly the guys in New South Wales and Queensland have expressed concern about claiming any benefits,” he said.
“Even letting their employer know they’ve actually just become parents simply because they’re concerned somebody may alert NSW or Queensland authorities.”
He said gay dads working in the private sector were much better off, with some companies extending and topping up the federal government’s 18-week paid parental leave.
“I’m sure it’s not true across the board in private industry but a lot of people are reporting that they are getting a very good response from their private sector employers.”
One Sydney dad said his private sector employer was giving him up to 24 months parental leave with full pay for three months on top of the federal grant.
However, another Sydney father said, after taking six months off work to look after their new-born daughter, he was forced to return to a lower position with a lower salary.
While he said he had no problem gaining access to the 18 weeks paid leave from the federal government, his company offered no extra leave.
In NSW, people found guilty of commercial surrogacy anywhere in the world can be jailed for two years and/or fined $100,000.
A federal Department of Human Services spokeswoman said the department did not provide state and territory governments with information about paid parental leave claims.