The Victorian government looks set to pass a strict law against conversion practices that seek to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, with fines of up to $10,000 or 10 years imprisonment.

Survivors and equal rights organisations have welcomed the proposed law as “powerful” and “better than any Bill in Australia” to date.

The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 was introduced in Parliament on Wednesday. The law is likely to pass early next year as there aren’t enough sitting weeks left this year.

The proposed law that promises to be “survivor led and trauma informed” will empower the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) to look into and investigate reports about conversion practices from any person.

Unlike the law passed in Queensland in August this year, the Victorian law will cover all settings, including health and religious organisations.

The Queensland law had expressly left out religious settings, inviting criticism from survivor groups for not going far enough. That same month the ACT outlawed conversion practices and included both health and religious settings within its purview. The ACT’s Sexuality and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Bill 2020 included prison terms of up to 12 months and fines of up to $24,000.

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 Victoria said their “world leading” Bill was drafted after extensive consultations with survivors, LGBTQI support and advocacy organisations, and faith organisations.

“We’re sending a clear message: no one is ‘broken’ because of their sexuality or gender identity. These views won’t be tolerated in Victoria, and neither will these abhorrent practices,” Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said in a statement.

The Bill allows for criminal prosecution of those who subject others to practices aimed at changing or suppressing their sexual orientation or gender identity that cause injury or serious injury. If these practices cause serious injury the offender can face up to 10 years in jail. If Victorians try to subject people to these practices outside Victoria with a view to avoid harsh penalties in the state, they could face a jail term of up to two years. Advertising such harmful practices will invite criminal prosecution and fines of up to $10,000.

There will also be a mechanism for a civil response scheme within the VEOHRC to support survivors.

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 Victorian Commissioner for LGBTQI+ Communities Ro Allen pointed to the importance of the law for the community. “It will save lives,” said Ro Allen, adding, “LGBTQI+ Victorians are to be celebrated and valued – just as we are. We’re not broken and we don’t need fixing.”

Chris Csabs from Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Change Efforts (SOGICE) Survivors welcomed the Bill saying it was a “big step” as the legislation aims to stop harm from occurring.

Calling it a “powerful Bill”, Nathan Despott from the survivor-led advocacy group Brave Network said that “the Victorian Bill is vastly better than any Bill developed in Australia to date.”

Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia hoped that the Bill would receive broad support in the Victorian Parliament. Both in the Queensland and ACT parliaments, the Liberal party had voted against the respective anti-conversion practices Bill. The Liberal Party in Victoria have not made their position clear yet.

“While no law can fix a complex social problem on its own, this Bill is a great step towards ending the incredible harm caused by attempted LGBTQI conversion practices. Of course there remains much more to do to ensure LGBTQI people are protected from harm including removing broad exemptions that allow religious institutions to discriminate against LGBTQI people, and ensuring that intersex children are not subjected to unnecessary surgeries or medical treatment,” said Brown.

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 Victorian Greens have said they will support the Bill, while seeking further clarity and improvement in the civil response.

“We’re pleased that the state government has listened to the calls of survivors over the years and introduced strong legislation that will help stamp out conversion practices wherever they occur,” said Sam Hibbins MP and Victorian Greens LGBTIQA+ spokesperson.

“The Greens look forward to supporting the bill in parliament. We will listen to survivors and closely look at the details of the Bill to ensure there is adequate funding to provide survivors with counselling and redress, as well as financial penalties for people found to have delivered conversion practices.”

Australian Greens LGBTIQA+ spokesperson, Senator Janet Rice called on the Federal government  to ensure the demands of survivors are met. “I’ll be taking this issue to Canberra next week to advocate for federal action,” said Rice.

Thorne Harbour Health called upon the Victorian community to show their support for the law by contacting their local MP.

“By passing this legislation, Victoria has a chance to lead the way globally in protecting the human rights of our sexually and gender diverse communities from incredibly harmful practices based on false and misleading claims,” CEO Simon Ruth said in a statement. “Difference is not a defect. LGBTQA+ people are not ‘broken’ or ‘disordered’. It is vital that we stop so-called practitioners, whether in informal or formal settings, from performing practices that traumatise participants.”

Premier Dan Andrews added his support to the bill and posted on Twitter. “Let’s be clear: there is absolutely nothing wrong with being who you are. And there’s everything wrong with dangerous conversion practices that tell gay, bi and trans people they need to be ‘cured’. This bigoted quackery destroys lives.”

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