Leading economist Saul Eslake strikes gold with his adopted family
News, Profile | 26th September 2017
Saul Eslake, with his wife Linda Arenella and two children Caroline Eslake, 15, and Jonathan Eslake, 10,
says rhetoric about “gold standard” families can be offensive. Picture: Richard Jupe
HE may be best known as a numbers man, but Saul Eslake has some ideas about family too.
As an adopted child, and the father of adopted children, Mr Eslake knows more than most about forming families through adoption.
He knows that families come in many shapes and sizes, and he knows that some of the rhetoric stemming from the marriage-equality debate about purportedly “gold standard” families can be offensive.
“I don’t like the assertion, commonly made, that the most desirable thing for children is to be brought up by biological parents,” Mr Eslake said.
As a case in point, Mr Eslake is talking publicly for the first time about his own biological mother — a woman who has been jailed twice for fraud and conceived Saul after a one-night stand with a trainee pilot.
The woman, who lives in the UK and wants nothing to do with her Tasmanian biological son, has six children from three different fathers.
Mr Eslake has spoken with his English half-siblings, and all five of them agree his adoption was a stroke of good fortune.
“None of the other five children has a single nice thing to say about her parenting skills,” Mr Eslake said.
“Of the six of us, I was the luckiest because she had nothing to do with my upbringing.”
Mr Eslake’s own two children were adopted from Chinese orphanages, and he and his wife Linda believe they are giving the pair a better upbringing in Tasmania.
The leading Australian economist is speaking after comments by Tasmanian Liberal senator Eric Abetz, who has campaigned about what he believes is the family of “best practice” as part of his No campaign in the same-sex marriage debate.
Senator Abetz told the ABC earlier this month: “The gold standard model for the raising of children is to be with biological parents, providing that security if at all possible, together with the diversity of a male and female role model.”
In an address to the Young Liberals in 2014, he said: “The gold standard for the nurturing of children is a married man and woman with their biological children.”
Mr Eslake said: “Senator Abetz’s particular reference to being brought up by one’s biological parents as the ‘gold’ option, I found distasteful.
“When I read or hear people say that my own upbringing or the one that Linda and I are trying to give to our children is somehow inferior, I object to that.
“I am not criticising anyone who wants to vote ‘no’ in the referendum.
“But I don’t think they should make the suggestion that there is something inferior about families who differ from their notion of ‘best practice’, such as mine, in order to advance their positions.”
For the record, Mr Eslake said he had already voted “yes” in the same-sex marriage postal survey.
In response to Mr Eslake, Senator Abetz said he commended whose who provided support to orphaned children.
“While there are many examples, including adoptive parents, step parents and single parents, who do a wonderful job, it’s important that we nevertheless promote the undisputed best practice model recognising there are others that fall outside that,” Senator Abetz said.
“I have always commended those who provide love and support for children who were denied the opportunity of growing up with their biological parents. This does not derogate from the ideal.”
Mr Eslake speaks highly of his adoptive parents, a couple originally from Sydney who adopted four children while living in England and later settled in Tasmania.
Saul went to school at Smithton and then Hobart before gaining a first-class honours degree in economics from the University of Tasmania.
“For anyone to say my upbringing was second rate or something less than ‘gold’, I find hurtful and insulting — and I can understand why other families feel the same,” Mr Eslake said.
He said he had always considered his Tasmanian parents to be his “real” parents, but decided to do some research into his biological parents about seven years ago.
Despite his mother’s difficult story, Mr Eslake says his biological father, who died 20 years ago, was “by all accounts a very decent chap”.
Mr Eslake and his wife Linda Arenella, who is originally from New York, are now bringing up two children in Hobart — Jonathan, 10, and Caroline, 15.