Advocates say WA govt show double standards on conversion therapy

West Australian LGBTIQ+ advocates have accused the McGowan Government of double standards when tackling child abuse in religious organisations.

Earlier this week, Community Services Minister Simone McGurk told The West Australian that the government had decided that state legislation aimed at improving the reporting of child abuse would focus on religious institutions “because as institutions those organisations have not got good regulation.”

National advocacy group just.equal’s WA spokesperson Brian Greig said the position was inconsistent with the approach the government is taking on LGBTIQ+ conversion therapy.

“Last week in parliament in answer to a question from the Greens, Labor spokesperson Alanna Clohesy said the McGowan Government was not looking at banning conversion practices, but if it did it might only focus on medical practitioners and not religious organisations,” Greig said.

Greig said this news had caused deep concern in the LGBTIQ+ community because more than 90% of conversion practices occur in religious settings, often through a priest, pastor or preacher.

Clohesy told parliament that the government was instead looking to national regulation of counsellors as a solution to addressing unregulated conversion practices, and the government would only consider a ban on this movement if national reform proved “ineffective.”

“The government is opposed to, and does not support, the use of gay conversion therapy.” Clohesy said in parliament, listing the prominent medical groups that oppose the practice. The Labor MLC said people should be encouraged to report unprofessional behaviour.

“Psychiatrists or psychologists who engage in practices that attempt to change sexual orientation may be in breach of their professional code of conduct and ethics, and individuals who have experienced this should consider reporting them to either the Health and Disability Services Complaints Office or the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.”

Spokesperson for conversion survivors’ group Brave Network, Nathan Despott, said the McGowan Government failed to understand the need for urgent reform and lacked consistency when dealing with the regulation of abuse by religious organisations.

“If the government understands the need to focus on religious ministers and religious organisations in relation to child abuse, then they must understand the same principal has to apply when it comes to conversion practices.

“If they can introduce a Bill targeting religious organisations for child abuse, then they can introduce a Bill to target religious organisations for conversion abuse,” Despott said.

Despott adds it was more important to understand that any legislative response to conversion practices that only focused on the regulation of health professionals would fail, because it did not address the reality in which conversion practices operated.

“Both issues require a local response and neither issue can be meaningfully addressed by deferring to some national approach to professional regulation that might never happen.”

Despott said conversion practices frequently resulted in survivors suffering depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation.

Queensland and the ACT have passed legislation to ban conversion practices. South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria are all currently considering it.

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