Atrocious Tasmanian Anti-Gay Conversion Practices Bill Is A Warning For Other States
The Tasmanian anti-gay conversion practices bill does more to protect perpetrators than their victims. They’re not my words. They’re the words of a Tasmanian legal academic familiar with conversion law around the nation.
The bill is the worst ever introduced in Australia, possibly the world. It has been condemned by conversion survivors, health experts and faith leaders (add your voice here).
Here’s why the bill is so atrocious.
Full Of Holes
The definition of conversion practices is weak. It doesn’t include “suppression” of sexual orientation and gender identity, meaning counselling celibacy is permitted.
It fails to identify that conversion practices are always based on false, misleading and pseudo-scientific claims, an omission that leads on to the next set of problems, exemptions. The bill allows conversion practices if they are in the name of religious belief or parental guidance, if they are for the purposes of support and assistance, and if the victim “consents”.
If the bill identified that conversion is based on false and misleading claims, it would be much easier to draw the line between when belief and guidance are genuine, and when they are a cover for conversion. It would also illustrate why consent to conversion is never possible: how can anyone give informed consent practices that are fundamentally fraudulent?
But perhaps the worst exemption is for “health service providers” who believe their conversion practices are “reasonable”. Under Tasmanian law, anyone can define themselves as a health service provider, regardless of their professional qualifications.
A pastor could declare, as some have already, that they are a “therapist”, in which case the law doesn’t apply to them.
If you think this sounds like dream legislation for the Australian Christian Lobby and conservative Catholic bishops, you’re right. It meets all their demands.
Enforcement and education are also huge problems.
The only way conversion practitioners can come to the attention of the law is if survivors lodge complaints with the police (health complaints can also be lodged but the penalties are weak and only apply to actual health professionals). The only penalties the police can apply are criminal, making the burden of proof so high convictions will be nearly impossible.
Survivors should not have to bear the burden of shining a light on conversion. The police should not have to decide what is and isn’t a conversion practice. There should be an expert body charged with proactively investigating allegations of conversion practices and educating the public about the law. There should be civil penalties so it is not as hard for survivors to obtain redress.
Instead, we have a bill so difficult to enforce it’s unlikely anyone will ever be held to account.
The Danger For Other States
All these problems add up to a bill that will encourage conversion practices rather than stop them. It is worse than nothing and must be scrapped.
Obviously, I am disappointed we have to make this call. Equality Tasmania and Tasmanian survivors have been advocating for this bill for many years. We have the backing of all major health bodies, many faith leaders and the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute, which issued Australia’s most comprehensive report in support of a conversion ban in 2022.
But the bill fails to fully implement any of the TLRI’s 16 recommendations, despite a commitment from long-time LGBTIQA+ ally, Premier Jeremy Rockliff, that it would. Clearly, the legislative process has been hijacked by the religious right.
There is a warning here for states like New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia that are yet to adopt conversion bans.
Just because your government commits to legislation doesn’t mean that legislation will be any good.
Remember, the conversion movement is nothing if not adaptable. It will find ways to squeeze through loopholes so it can continue to harm us.
NSW Premier, Chris Minns, has said freedom to preach and pray will not be impinged by his conversion bill, despite some of the most egregious examples of conversion trauma being inflicted through so-called “prayer ministry”.
I’ve also received calls from trans advocates in Sydney concerned the NSW Government will exempt trans kids from its proposed bill. Similar concerns have been expressed by long-time WA LGBTIQA+ advocate, Brian Greig, about that state’s proposed conversion law.
We must all be vigilant against dodgy deals with pro-conversion lobby groups that seek to “strike a balance” between conversion victims and perpetrators by allowing some practices to continue.
Show Your Opposition To The Tasmanian Bill
In Tasmania, we long ago learnt that if the Government isn’t listening we must go to the people.
That’s the goal of a new campaign from Equality Tasmania.
The campaign features videos of survivors, doctors and researchers explaining the harm conversion causes and problems with the bill.
These videos will be promoted to hundreds of thousands of Tasmanians via social media.
The campaign also asks opponents of conversion practices across the nation to sign an Open Letter as part of the Government’s consultation on the bill. I urge you to join me in standing with survivors, against the influence of the religious right on conversion legislation and for strong conversion prohibitions across the nation.
Rodney Croome is a long-time Australian LGBTIQA+ human rights advocate and spokesperson for Equality Tasmania.