Victorian parliament bans conversion therapy

A “world-leading” bill banning gay conversion practices has passed Victorian parliament, despite a last-ditch attempt by the opposition to pause its progress.

The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill passed the Legislative Council 29-9 just after 10.30pm on Thursday following a lengthy debate.

Labor had the support of crossbenchers Rod Barton from the Transport Matters Party, Andy Meddick from the Animal Justice Party, Reason Party MP Fiona Patten and Samantha Ratnam of the Greens.

The bill outlaws practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Those found to have engaged in conversion practices that result in serious injury will face penalties of up to 10 years’ jail or up to $10,000 in fines.

In supporting the bill, Mr Meddick described himself as the proud father of two “perfect” transgender children.

“They do not need fixing. Nor do any other children or adults who do not fit an often religiously held belief that sexuality and gender are binary only,” he said.

Labor’s Harriet Shing, the first openly lesbian member of Victorian parliament, acknowledged conversion therapy victims and survivor groups who have advocated for the ban for many years.

“(Their experiences) have had the effect, directly or indirectly, of breaking them or of trying to break them,” she said.

Ms Shing called out the “cognitive dissonance” and “doublespeak” of MPs who were opposing the bill despite supporting a ban on conversion practices.

“It is not acceptable that in a debate like this victims and survivors and our communities – my communities – are denied the opportunity to have our equality, our pain and hurt and trauma, on a footing which is of the utmost importance,” she said.

Ms Shing’s speech was interrupted by Liberal MPs when she began naming coalition members who abstained from voting on the bill in the lower house.

“She is the only person in this chamber from an LGBTIQA+ community. As such, deserved a hell of a lot more respect than she got,” Mr Meddick said.

Ms Shing told AAP the Liberal MPs were “literally shutting down the speech of the first and only openly gay woman in the Victorian parliament”.

The coalition did not oppose the bill but moved a number of amendments that failed, including one to pause its progress for further consultation.

Liberal MPs Bernie Finn and Bev McArthur voted against the bill.

Advocates including the Brave Network, the LGBTQIA+ committee of the Uniting Church in Australia, and Rainbow Catholics, have described the bill as the “world’s most significant achievement in legislation curtailing the diabolical influence of the conversion movement”.

The bill goes further than one passed in Queensland last year in that it prohibits harmful practices not only in healthcare settings but also in religious settings.

This includes “carrying out a religious practice including but not limited to, a prayer based practice, a deliverance practice or an exorcism”.

A number of religious leaders have raised issue with the bill, including Melbourne’s Catholic Archbishop Peter Comensoli and Bishop Brad Billings of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne.

Medical professionals have also raised concerns it could compromise the practice of psychiatry and psychotherapy.

“This bill does not outlaw prayer. It 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,” Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said.

“To suggest anything to the contrary is rubbish.”

The legislation will now go to the Victorian governor for royal assent. It will not come into effect for 12 months.