Victoria passes ‘life-saving’ legislation to outlaw harmful ‘conversion therapy’


victorian victoria parliament gay conversion therapy ban upper house
Photo: Samantha Ratnam/Twitter

Survivors of so-called “conversion therapy” have applauded the Victorian parliament for passing a “world-leading” bill to outlaw the practices.

The new legislation makes it illegal to try and change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity in Victoria.

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Under the reforms, any person who seriously harms another with the practices could face up to 10 years’ jail or fines close to $10,000.

The legislation also grants investigative powers to Victoria’s Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

The bill passed its final vote in Victoria’s Upper House late on Thursday night, 27 votes to 9, after an hours-long debate.

Lesbian MP’s emotional speech as Victorian parliament debates bill

Openly gay Upper House MP Harriet Shing was brought to tears speaking about the “deeply personal” legislation.

“It is very, very easy to say that we are not broken and we don’t need to be fixed,” she said.

“These are important messages, particularly from our allies, particularly from our leaders.

“Shame is at the heart of the need for this legislation. It is a recognition of this shame that has brought about [a] bill like this.

“Shame comes in so many layers [for] people who grow up in a family or in a faith that says that they’re not good enough, that they’re wrong.

“[A family or faith that says] in fact that love is conditional upon us either denying who we are or agreeing to change, or in certain tragic circumstances, are forced to change.”

The Victorian Opposition said it would not oppose the legislation. However the party put forward ultimately unsucccesful amendments after raising concerns about religious freedoms.

Liberal MP Bernie Finn voted against it, saying the bill goes too far and described it as “an attack on basic freedoms”.

“It is an attack on freedom of choice, it is an attack on free speech and it is an attack of freedom of association,” he said.

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Victorian conversion therapy ban was developed in consultation with survivors

Conversion practices cause significant trauma to participants, leading to increased suicidality, decreased vocational success, and increased risk of homelessness.

Nathan Despott from Victorian survivor support group Brave Network said the legislation is world-leading due to its input from Australian survivors.

“These legislative changes have been hard-won. Survivors of conversion practices have relived their trauma in order to secure passage of this world-leading legislation,” he said.

“The groundwork often involved painfully sharing our stories and insights repeatedly over several years.”

Despott said the practices now “primarily occur in informal, religious spaces, grounded in an ideology of ‘brokenness’ and often cloaked as ‘pastoral care’.”

“A ban that did not cover informal, religious practices would not have been a ban at all,” he said.

“But rather an endorsement for the conversion movement’s activities to flourish.

“By addressing these settings, this law will set a new global standard.”

Chris Csabs from survivor-led advocacy group SOGICE Survivors said the laws “will act as a powerful deterrent, ultimately saving lives.”

“[Our goal] is to see an end to the harm that conversion practices cause,” he said.

“So that all Victorians, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, can live authentically and with pride.”

‘This bill does not outlaw prayer’

Some health professionals expressed concern Victoria’s bill was overly broad and would impact on their practices.

Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes explained the bill “does not prevent health professionals from doing their job.”

“It does not stop parents from talking to their kids about their views about sexuality or gender. This bill does not outlaw prayer.”

The bill gives exemptions to allow health practitioners to exercise their professional judgement in line with legal and regulatory requirements, including the Code of Ethics maintained by AHPRA, according to the Brave Network.

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