Victoria’s Conversion Therapy Bill ‘Inconsistent’ With Human Rights Charter: Australian Law Firm

February 4, 2021 Updated: February 4, 2021

Victoria’s Conversion Therapy Bill explicitly targets Christian sexual ethics and places “unjustifiable limits” on fundamental rights and freedoms, an Australian law firm has said.

In a report (pdf) published by the Coalition Against Unsafe Sexual Education (CAUSE), the Human Rights Law Alliance, a conservative non-for-profit law firm, analysed 8 sections of Victoria’s Human Rights Charter which the conversion therapy bill potentially breaches.

The sections of the Charter analysed include: Recognition and Equality before the Law, Protection from Torture and Cruelty, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, Freedom of Movement, Privacy and Reputation, Freedom of Thought, Conscience, Religion and Belief, Cultural Rights, Freedom of Expression, and Protection of Families and Children.

For example, under the bill “unequal protection” will be given to those who espouse “gender transition treatments” over those who promote “a single controversial practice in relation to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity,” John Steenhof, principal lawyer of the Human Rights Law Alliance, said.

Additionally, “parents and teachers may be restricted from sharing and imparting information and ideas about sexual orientation and gender identity,” Steenhof said.

The bill will also allow “unjustifiable interference” with right to privacy, enabling the Victoria government to “police communications between a parent and their child.”

New functions and powers under the bill’s “civil response scheme” will also enable the Commission to “pursue, investigate, sanction, re-educate, punish and suppress churches, organisations and individuals who teach and practice Christian sexual ethics,” Steenhof said.

“[T]his flawed design will only encourage anti-religious activists to weaponise the complaints regime to harass and seek to silence churches, organisations and individuals with religious convictions on sexual orientation and gender identity issues they do not agree with.”

However, Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes denies the bill outlaws religious prayer but instead “strikes the right balance between protecting people from the serious harm caused by change or suppression practices, while respecting the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.”⁣

“To suggest anything to the contrary is rubbish.”

Symes added that the bill does not prevent health professionals from doing their job, nor stop parents talking to their kids about their views on sexuality or gender, “but what it does do is clearly define what constitutes a change or suppression practice.”

Under the bill, a practice or conduct is considered a “change or suppression practice” if directed to a person to change or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity, whether the person consented or not.

However, a practice or conduct is not considered a change or suppression practice if it “supports of or affirms a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation.”

A number of religious leaders have raised issue with the bill, while the medical community is also concerned it could compromise the practice of psychiatry and psychotherapy.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists said the bill may not protect “clinicians engaged in evidence-based practice to support the mental health needs of the LGBTIQ+ community.”

“This can include exploratory work that empowers people to explore and challenge their own concepts of self, others and sexuality, and ultimately serves to affirm a clearer sense of self,” it said in a statement.

Martin Foley, the state’s equality and health minister, said the government consulted with stakeholders on the bill for almost two years.

“This is a bill that is designed to tell people that they are valued for who they are and they are respected for who they are,” he said on Feb. 3.

Liberal MP Bernie Finn said on Feb. 4 that his party was united in its opposition to conversion therapy, but he couldn’t support the legislation in its current form.

“This bill is an attack on basic freedoms, on freedoms of choice, free speech, freedom of assembly and an attack on freedom of ­religion,” Finn said.

The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill passed the Legislative Council on Thursday night 29 votes to nine following a marathon 12-hour debate.

Liberal MPs Bev McArthur and Bernie Finn voted against the bill, along with crossbench MPs Jeff Bourman, Catherine Cumming, Clifford Hayes, Stuart Grimley, David Limbrick, Tania Maxwell and Tim Quilty.

The legislation will now go to the Victorian governor for royal assent. It will not come into effect for 12 months.

AAP contributed to this report.