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Tuesday, September 22, 2020
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Moves to criminalise ‘conversion’ therapy in ACT

The ACT Government is working hard to criminalise “dangerous and abhorrent” sexuality and gender identity conversion practices in the Territory.

Tabling a Bill in the Legislative Assembly yesterday (Thursday 13 August), the legislation would see the ACT Human Rights Commission handle all complaints on conversion practices, leading to either criminal or remedial action.

Meridian (formerly the AIDS Action Council of the ACT) CEO Philippa Moss welcomed the legislation, stating the danger of conversion practices.

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“These practices are fairly common. We have had a number of people come through our counselling service who have been impacted by them,” she said.

“They can have massive mental health impacts leading to PTSD, issues that impact their daily lives, the ability to have relationships and sometimes the ability to work.

“It is so important we do pick this up and say practices do need to be prohibited and talk about it so we are aware that it happens and it needs to stop because it’s not okay.”

Ms Moss said she was happy to see most comments on the legislation so far were supportive. 

“We were concerned about the timing of the Bill because the broad public debate can be really harmful, and we saw that in the marriage debate,” she said.

“Obviously, the community has had a hard time with the fires and now COVID … but we understand it is important legislation that needs to be put through.”

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Justice Minister Shane Rattenbury both backed the legislation which was part of the Capital of Equality First Action Plan 2019-20 commitment. 

“So called conversion practices are dangerous and abhorrent,” Mr Rattenbury said. 

“As the Mental Health Minister, I am particularly concerned about the impact this can have on people where essentially the conversion practice seeks to say somebody is broken and you need to be fixed.”

Under the legislation, those who are found to be carrying out conversion practices could face a fine of up to $24,000 and 12 months’ imprisonment.

There was some push back on the bill, including from the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) who believe the definition of “conversion practices” in the legislation was too broad.

“The Australian Christian Lobby condemns coercive or abusive conversion practices towards people identifying as LGBT,” ACL spokesman Dan Flynn said.

“The ACL is unaware that they are occurring in Australia, or that any group, religious or otherwise, is advancing them.

“Faith-based teaching to children that encourages a biblical view of marriage and gender could result in criminal charges if anyone took the view that such teaching was intended to change that person’s sexuality or gender identity.”

Ms Moss said any form of suppression was unacceptable.

“We need to get to the root of the issue here and anything that supresses people’s gender identity or sexuality supresses their inner being and that isn’t okay,” she said.

Queensland became the first Australian state to pass legislation outlawing sexual and gender identity conversion practices on Thursday 13 August, while the Victorian Government is undertaking public consultation on the matter.

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