Stakeholders in the ACT’s proposed anti-conversion therapy bill are in support of the legislation being amended, albeit for different reasons.
The legislation was tabled on 13 August, which seeks to have the ACT Human Rights Commission handle all complaints on conversion practices, leading to either criminal or remedial action.
With only two remaining sitting sessions after the Bill was tabled, the legislation was not addressed during sitting week 12 (20 August), and is set to be debated and voted on next Thursday (27 August).
Christian Schools Australia (CSA) welcomed the extra week, after liaising with representatives from the Chief Minister’s office during the week about concerns surrounding “broad definitions” in the legislation.
“While nobody supports coercive ‘gay conversion therapy’ the Bill goes well beyond that and potentially criminalises the actions of parents and teachers caring for children and young people,” CSA Director of Public Policy, Mark Spencer said.
“We need explicit protections for religious teaching in the Bill. We need clarity in the Bill that parents and teachers will not be jailed.
“Fundamentally, the advice is anything non-affirming is potentially conversion therapy inclusive.”
Meridian (formerly the AIDS Action Council of the ACT) CEO Philippa Moss also said she believed the Bill could use amendments, but was concerned about negative public discourse while the process was stretched out.
“The Bill is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. We have concerns about sexual characteristics and intersex people being represented in the legislation,” she said.
“We are particularly concerned about the public debate and discourse around this, and my biggest concern is human wellbeing.”
Earlier in the week, there was an increase in robocalls made to Canberrans claiming the change in conversion laws would result in easier access to medical and hormonal treatment and remove a parent’s right to be involved in their child’s gender identity decision.
Ms Moss said these calls alone had resulted in an increased demand for Meridian’s mental health and wellbeing services.
“After the robocalls on Monday night, we had four new intakes into our mental health and wellbeing services on Tuesday and on Wednesday another three,” she said.
“This is unusually high – we usually see around two or three per week – and all were somehow related to distress about the offensive language and misinformation about gender and the trauma this causes people.”
Queensland was the first Australian state to pass legislation outlawing sexual and gender identity conversion practices on 13 August and the Victorian Government is undertaking public consultation on the matter.