The Tasmanian Government has released a draft law that is supposed to stop conversion practices but will actually encourage them.
In May of 2022 the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute (TLRI) issued a landmark report that recommended a ban on conversion practices and outlined in great detail what kind of legislation would be the most effective.
Soon after Premier Jeremy Rockliff committed to implementing the recommendations.
After nineteen long months of drafting, the Government has issued a bill that not only doesn’t come up to the TLRI’s standards (only 3 of its 13 recommendations were acted on), but looks more like it was drafted by the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL).
So what are the problems with the bill? The definition of conversion practices is narrow and inaccurate.
It focusses on practices that don’t occur any more like inducing nausea or paralysis. It ignores what really matters: the intention behind the practices and the ideology that motives them.
There are wide, ill-defined exemptions for religious “beliefs”, parental “guidance”, “assistance” for people considering gender transition and other forms of “care”, “support” and “understanding”.
There is also an exemption for adults who consent to conversion practices if the practitioner has warned them there might be harm.
This is despite the fact that it is impossible to consent to a fraudulent “treatment” for a non-existent “condition”, and despite the huge power disparities between conversion practitioners and those vulnerable to such practices.
These are just the kind of loopholes the ACL has been lobbying for because they would allow the most common and harmful conversion practices to continue with only minor adaptions required from conversion practitioners.
But wait, it gets worse… Under this bill no organisation is charged with the responsibility of investigating conversion practices or educating faith communities about the law.
Even if there were successful investigations revealing the existence of conversion programs, or charges brought by conversion survivors, the bill only has criminal penalties, not civil ones.
This means the bar for prosecution is so high it’s unlikely anyone would be held to account.
The bill is worse than useless.
It would give a green light to all those practices which are still permissible.
It would encourage practitioners in states with better legislation to set up shop in Tasmania.
It is a slap in the face to Tasmanian survivor advocates who bared their souls but have been ignored.
It sets a terrible precedent for continental states that don’t yet have conversion legislation.
So how did we get here? Starting from 2021 the Tasmanian Liberal Government developed a good reputation on LGBTIQA+ human rights.
It conducted a statewide LGBTIQA+ survey and is putting together an LGBTIQA+ action plan based on that survey.
It funded Equality Tasmania and Working It Out to provide policy advice, and made Tasmania the first state to officially recognise asexual, aromantic and agender people by adding “A” to the LGBTIQA+ acronym.
But in late 2023 there were resignations and reshuffles that tipped the Liberal Party room from the centre to the right.
This is the right’s first culture war victory, and probably not its last.
So what now? Tasmania will now use a two-month consultation period to make the case that the draft bill should be scrapped.
We will be encouraging conversion survivors and our allies to make their same case.
But this is an issue the whole of Tasmania and the nation must speak out on.
We can’t sit back and let groups like the ACL hijack the law-making process.
Equality Tasmania is planning a campaign that will take our message to as many people as possible.
It’s the least we owe those LGBTIQA+ people who will be saved from the cruelty and trauma of conversion practices by conversion laws that work.
-Rodney Croome is a spokesperson for Equality Tasmania
For more information go to equalitytasmania.org.au
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