OPINION: Lessons for WA in Tasmania’s weak conversion ban bill

OPINION

In 2021, Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews passed the best legislation in the world to prevent and abolish LGBTQA+ Conversion Practices. It was praised by survivors and denounced by religious conservatives.

It remains the “gold standard” for a bill of its kind.

Now that Victoria has the best legislation, which state has the worst? Or to put it another way, if a bill to “ban” conversion practices was written by the Australian Christian Lobby to keep conversion practices thriving while pretending not to – what would it look like?

Thankfully, we now have the blueprint for this thanks to Tasmania.

In recent years, Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff, a Liberal moderate, has committed to banning LGBTQA+ conversion practices. However, recent factional warfare in the Tasmanian Liberal Party has weakened his base and elevated Mr Guy Barnett, an anti-LGBTIQA+ campaigner, to the role of Attorney General.

Mr Guy Barnett comes from evangelical constituencies. He once belonged to a church group that advocated gay conversions and has claimed that he personally persuaded John Howard to ban same-sex marriage in 2004.

Late last year Mr Barnett released his draft “LGBT Conversion Practices Bill.” Opposition to it from religious conservatives and TERF groups was conspicuously muted. Why?

Because it’s so completely flawed, rather than stopping conversion practices it will actually facilitate them.

The Western Australian Government has committed to banning conversion practices but has not released draft legislation. However, the Tasmanian model shows exactly how it should not be done. Local campaigners need to be on the lookout for any Tasmanian-type flaws the Cook Labor Government might be tempted to copy.

Here are the three fatal flaws that weaken LGBTQA+ conversion bans and make them useless.

Definitions

The Tasmanian definition of conversion practices is narrow and inaccurate. It focuses on practices that no longer occur and there is no mention of practices designed to suppress same-sex attraction. This will effectively allow practices that promote celibacy.

Exemptions

The Tasmanian bill has exemptions for “religious belief”, “parental guidance”, “assistance” and “support”, which could easily include conversion practices because there’s no definition of any of those terms.

It also has an exemption if the practices are “consenting”.

Most people who undertake conversion do so voluntarily; often because of a lifetime of hearing they are broken or flawed. But this is not the same as “informed consent” which is impossible when we’re dealing with a fraudulent treatment for a non-existent condition

Penalties

Unlike the Victorian Bill, the Tasmanian draft has no civil penalties for those who conduct conversion practices, only criminal penalties. This sets an impossibly high bar for prosecution. It means virtually no-one will ever be held to account.

This is made worse by virtue of the fact that there is no body to investigate conversion practices or educate faith communities and medical professionals about them, contrary to expert advice.

These three flaws in the draft Tasmanian bill are all contrary to the advice of the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute (TLRI) which issued a landmark report on these matters in May 2022.

The TLRI made 16 key recommendations for legislation. Mr Barnett adopted just three of them. The rest of the Bill was crafted by the ACL and shaped by anti-trans campaigners.

It leaves a bill that gives a green light to the most common and harmful conversion practices.

It would encourage practitioners in states with stronger legislation to set up shop in Tasmania.

It also sets a terrible precedent for other states, including WA, that don’t yet have conversion bans in place.

That’s why Equality Tasmania have called for the bill to be scrapped and redrafted.

They say the fundamental problem is that the Government has failed to understand what conversion practices are, and doesn’t understand that these practices are inherently deceptive, masquerading as religious “counselling”, therapy or parental rights.

As the Cook Government timidly moves towards banning LGBTQA+ conversion practices in WA, we must ensure it doesn’t fall for the tricks of the ACL unfolding in Tasmania.

That means as a community we must insist on a quality bill with:

  • Clear, broad definitions that include suppression of identity.
  • No exemptions for “religious belief, parental guidance, assistance, support and consent”.
  • Access to civil penalties and the establishment of an investigative body.

Brian Greig is the Western Australian spokesperson for LGBTIQA+ advocacy group Just.Equal Australia.


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