Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter has hit back at claims by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews that the draft religious discrimination bill could make it harder to outlaw “gay conversion” therapy at a state level.
“Conversion therapy” refers to harmful and discredited practices to change or suppress an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, using psychological or spiritual means.
Daniel Andrews said the state had begun consultation on their promised “conversion therapy” ban on Monday.
But he expressed concerns the new religious discrimination laws could jeopardise Victoria’s bid to prevent “conversion” therapists operating. Practitioners may claim their religious freedoms were being restricted, he said.
“We made a commitment we would ban this terrible practice,” Andrews told ABC Radio.
“It’s a practice that [leads to] self harm and suicide and all manner of terrible outcomes.
But under the new laws, he said, “you might see people escape past [or] avoid that ban at a state level, on the basis this was part of their religious belief.”
“The last thing we want is a federal law that makes it harder for us to deliver on our commitment,” he said.
Andrews said his government had made a submission responding to the bill. Victorian Attorney General Jill Hennessy wrote to federal Attorney-General Christian Porter to express their concerns.
But Christian Porter told The Guardian the Victorian Premier had a “clear lack of understanding” of the bill.
“What the Andrews government’s 1.5 page submission demonstrates to me is a clear lack of understanding about how the religious discrimination bill will work,” he said.
“Nothing in the bill gives religious institutions or individuals the right to defy laws passed by state and territory governments.
“As such, it would not affect in any way Victoria’s ability to introduce laws covering gay conversion therapy, or mandatory reporting, or any other criminal matter.”
Porter said to suggest otherwise “is just plain wrong”.
“Either the people who wrote or signed-off on this submission cannot read or interpret fairly straightforward legislative provisions, or there are other motives for attempting to misrepresent the bill,” he said.
Competing human rights is a ‘difficult balancing act’
Daniel Andrews earlier described the competing religious and personal freedoms as a “difficult balancing act.”
“You should be yourself free to have your own views, to practice your faith,” he said.
“When that starts to impinge on others, whether it be people of another faith or no faith at all, that’s where the difficult balancing act comes in.
“I don’t think people are free to be prejudiced against others… I don’t think people are free to be devaluing the way other people live their lives.”
Last month, a group representing survivors of “conversion” practices also raised the alarm about some sections of the draft religion bill.
“Various parts of the religious discrimination bill will give heart to those who support conversion practices,” Brave Network spokesperson Nathan Despott said.
“Their cumulative effect [will be] to relegitimise this damaging movement.”
Attorney-General Christian Porter said on Monday he will introduce the religious discrimination bill to parliament and begin debate before Christmas.
He said he is trying to balance “as much as possible” several competing views that have emerged from public submissions.
Victoria begins consultation on gay conversion therapy ban
Premier Daniel Andrews announced at the Midsumma pride march in February his government would ban gay conversion therapy.
Earlier, an investigation by the Victorian Health Complaints Commissioner (HCC) found the practices caused long-term psychological harm.
The HCC recommended legislation to denounce conversion therapy and prohibit it in law. Andrews said the Victorian government had accepted the recommendation.
On Monday, the Victorian government began public consultation on such laws.
Consultations would include the government’s LGBTIQ taskforce, religious groups and survivor’s groups and will take place over six weeks.
“We are taking action to ban cruel and insidious conversion practices, which are nothing short of harmful quackery and bigotry,” Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said.
After the consultation period, the government will release a report in February next year.