The Victorian Liberal Party has called on the Andrews Labor government to pause its controversial conversion therapy ban so that the Legislative Assembly can hear concerns from both the religious and medical communities.
Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien told 3AW’s Tom Eliot on Dec. 9 that though his party supports the ban in principle he remains concerned about elements of the bill—which outlaws any therapy that seeks to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
“[T]here are some questions the government needs to answer about how this bill will work in practice … it’s not just by religious communities, but by medical professionals,” O’Brien said.
“[T]here’s an opportunity for the government over summer to do a little consultation to answer some questions, and hopefully convince the community that the fears that some people have about this bill won’t be met,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien added that elements of the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 could prevent religious groups from teaching aspects of their faith.
Medical doctors could also be seen as “suppressing” a person if they tell a patient to think through their decisions before making any rash decisions in relation to their gender dysphoria or sexual orientation.
“We don’t want parents feeling censored in how they converse with their own children,” he said.
Under the proposed bill any person who is found guilty of causing physical or psychological injury by attempting to suppress or change another person’s sexuality will face up to 10 years’ jail.
Currently, the bill has unconditional support of three key crossbenchers—Fiona Patten’s Reason Party, the Greens’ Samantha Ratnam, and Andy Meddick from the Animal Justice Party. This may be sufficient for the bill to pass through the Legislative Council.
Opposition leader Michael O’Brien has not confirmed whether a conscious vote would be allowed.
However, Liberal MP Tim Smith said the party should not allow a conscience vote on the matter.
“This is pretty cut and dry. You are what you are. I read reports about people praying, or some such to stop people from being gay or some rubbish. I mean this is nonsense,” he told reporters on Dec. 8.
Karina Okotel, federal vice president of the Liberal Party and an advocate of the No campaign during the same sex marriage debate, expressed her concerns in an op-ed in the Spectator.
“The Bill would prevent a competent adult from being able, of their own volition, to discuss changing their sexual orientation or affirming their gender identity if this does not concur with the way they were feeling.
“No one wants to risk being labelled as someone who wants to torture people who are same-sex attracted, and if you oppose this bill, expect to be shamed into submission.”
Equality Minister Martin Foley said the government wasn’t criminalising faith teachings.
“We are criminalising deliberate practices that torture and target individuals for being who they are,” he said.
The government has been consulting with organisations on a ban since October 2019. Victoria’s parliament is in its final sitting week of the year.
AAP contributed to this report.