Some Ballarat residents awoke last week to find flyers in their mailbox from the Australian Family Association claiming Victoria’s new Bill to ban conversion practices would “restrict parents’ rights”. The pamphlet asked Ballarat residents to ring up their local MP demanding that they seek changes to the Bill.

On January 30, a motley crew organised by the Australian Christian Lobby gathered on the steps of the Victorian Parliament building under the banner ‘Multi-faith & Multicultural March for Freedom’. The protestors – mostly without masks – were opposing the ‘Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020’ that they claimed threatened “to crush their basic human rights and freedoms, parental rights and religious liberties.” The Lobby also had a double page advertisement in the Herald Sun recently against the Bill.

Déjà Vu For The LGBTQI Community

For many in the LGBTQI community, as well as survivors of conversion practices, the scaremongering campaign seems oddly familiar. It harks back to the 2017 national same-sex marriage vote when some of these same groups or affiliated organisations and individuals had led the ‘No’ campaign.

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The conservative campaign has intensified in recent days as the Parliament resumes on February 2 and the legislative council takes up the Bill for a vote.

The lower house approved the Bill on December 10, with the Labor and Greens voting in favour of the law to ban conversion practices that seek to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Liberal party MPs had abstained. 

In the legislative council, there are 17 Labor MPs, 11 opposition MPs and 12 crossbenchers. The Bill needs to be passed in the council, before it can become law. 

Survivors Pen Letter To Dan Andrews

Survivors have hailed the Victorian law as “world-leading legislation”. In a letter addressed to Premier Daniel Andrews on January 30 – the same day as the Melbourne protests – survivor groups including the Brave Network and SOGICE Survivors and faith groups like Uniting Network (LGBTQI committee of the Uniting Church in Australia), Equality Voices and Rainbow Catholics Australia, reiterated their support for the Bill. 

“It has been with great dismay that we have noted conservative opposition has hit the inboxes and phone lines of MPs on what would appear to be a regular basis and in significant numbers. This coordinated response has only served to be a catalyst in strengthening our resolve, highlighting the need for the Bill,” the signatories to the letter said. 

Ban Against Conversion Practices Vital

“There is evidence to show that a large number of those groups [opposing the Bill] are perpetrators of conversion practices. Precisely why we advocate for this Bill to remain as strong as it is and safely passed into law.”

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The signatories wondered as to what conduct were parents, teachers, church leaders, employers, and medical and psychological practitioners currently engaging in that they fear will be prohibited by the Bill. “If they are behaviours that are directed at an individual on the basis of the individual’s sexuality or gender identity, and are for the purpose of changing or suppressing that individual’s sexuality or gender identity, then we hold that these particular concerns expressed in the interfaith letter further demonstrate the Bill’s proportionality and appropriateness and, indeed, how vitally needed it is,” the letter stated. 

Rejecting claims that the Bill was an overreach into people’s rights, the letter emphasised that “the bill carefully balances the protection of religious freedoms with the protection of the rights and freedoms of LGBTQA+ people”. 

Victoria’s World-Leading Law

The Victorian Bill against conversion practices has been called a “world leading legislation” by activists and survivors. 

The law makes it a criminal offence to 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 and/or a fine of up to $200,000. In case of injury the maximum prison term is five years and/or a fine of up to $100,000. 

The Victorian law will cover all settings, including health and religious organisations. There are penalties for people who may try and take someone outside Victoria to subject them to conversion practices. Advertising such harmful practices will invite criminal prosecution and fines of up to $10,000. 

Equality Australia has an online resource which you can use to write to your local MP to support the Bill.

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