Report recommends WA bring in laws against conversion therapy


A report into the activities at Perth’s religious based facility Esther House has highlighted Western Australia’s lack of legislation specifically outlawing conversion practices and suppression practices that aim to change a person’s sexuality or gender.

The report from parliament’s Education and Health Standing Committee looked into complaints and allegations concerning the Esther Foundation from former residents, staff and volunteers.

The Perth based residential facility claimed to provide support for women and girls experiencing mental health concerns and substance abuse challenges. The organisation entered voluntary administration in April 2022.

The organisation operated for almost three decades with significant government support, but clients later shared stories emotional and psychological abuse, coercive and extreme religious practices, LGBTQA+ suppression and conversion practices, culturally harmful practices, medical complaints, family alienation, physical restraints and assaults, and sexual assault

Today the committee tabled it’s report in parliament finding that harm was caused to clients, staff, volunteers and their family. It also found that the culture of the organisation had allowed unacceptable behaviours and practices to occur and go undetected.

Among the reports findings is the observation that even if the government expands the the jurisdiction and powers of the Health and Disability Services Complaints Office it “will not prevent LGBTQA+ conversion practices in Western Australia, as these practices occur both within and outside healthcare settings.”

That the Attorney General introduces legislation to prohibit conversion practices, and establish a civil response scheme and supports for survivors of conversion practices.

Premier Mark McGowan promises to take action on conversion therapy

Following the tabling of the report Premier Mark McGowan announced that his government would move to introduce the long called for legislation.

The McGowan Government said that conversion and suppression practices are formal and informal practices that are based on the ideology that LGBTIQA+ people have a disorder and require treatment. They can include teachings, counseling, spiritual care activities, or other psychological or medical interventions.

The Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, Victoria, and New Zealand have enacted legislation that prohibits conversion and suppression practices, and it is expected that Tasmania will also pass legislation prohibiting conversion and suppression practices.

Accredited health professionals who provide lawful and ethical care will not be included in the ban and are properly regulated through their professional bodies.

Premier Mark McGowan said his government had a long history of supporting LGBTIQA+ communities and would now take action on conversion therapy.

“This Government has a strong record in supporting LGBTIQA+ people in WA and is opposed to attempts to forcibly change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Not only are conversion and suppression practices ineffective but they undermine the fundamental value of personal dignity and have long term negative impacts on the health and mental health of LGBTIQA+ people in our community.

“Whilst the Government is supportive of a ban on these harmful practices, we believe that accredited health professionals with relevant expertise, who provide healthcare in accordance with the law and their ethical obligations should be able to provide care for people, particularly young people.”

Attorney General John Quigley said it was clear that conversion therapy remained a problem in some religious communities.

“Conversion therapy remains a problem in some Australian religious communities.

“Evidence from survivors and advocacy organisations has demonstrated ongoing harm and trauma caused by these practices, including long term mental illness and suicidality.

“Whilst our reforms will prohibit conversion and suppression practices, the ban will not interfere with health professionals’ ability to provide suitable therapy and counselling to LGBTIQA+ patients without fear of being prosecuted.” John Quigley said.

“It is appropriate that people are professionally supported when they explore their own concepts of self, others, and sexuality, and that they receive expert assessment, treatment and care when seeking to affirm gender through medical treatments such as hormone blocking therapies or surgical procedures.

“We will consult with the LGBTIQA+ community and the medical profession as we draft the new laws.”

Youth Minister Dave Kelly also welcomed the new legislation announcement.

“LGBTIQA+ young people should be respected for who they are and allowed to live their lives as they see fit, without being subjected to harmful and damaging conversion and suppression therapies that have no basis in science.

“These conversion and suppression practices do serious damage to the health and wellbeing of the LGBTIQA+ community.

“Its fabulous news that these practices will no longer be allowed in Western Australia.” Minister Kelly said.

Graeme Watson

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