The Liberal Party in Victoria want the Dan Andrews government to delay the vote on the bill banning conversion practices that seek to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

The split in the party’s stand came to the fore at a meeting of the MPs on Tuesday. After the meeting opposition leader Michael O’Brien said while the party supported the ban on “coercive conversion therapy”, it had concerns about the role of parents and faith communities.

“The idea you can change someone’s sexuality by converting them is just nonsense,”O’Brien told reporters. “There is absolute support for the idea of banning these sorts of coercive conversion therapies. There is no place for that in Australia in 2020.”

O’Brien said concerns had been raised about certain aspects of the bill and further consultations were required.

“The impact of the roles of parents and their children… Impacts on the roles of faith communities and their ability to teach their religions… We’re going to call on the government to pause on the bill and use this summer to consult with those communities. There are legitimate questions raised by people who all agree conversion therapy should be outlawed.”

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 Liberal MP from Kew, Tim Smith, emerged as a strong supporter of the ban.

“I read reports about people praying, or some such to stop people from being gay or some rubbish,” Smith said. “I mean this is nonsense. You are what you are. You know, I prayed 20 years ago that I’d be 6″4, well I’m 5″10. This is quite insane. Like it’s demented. You are what you are… We are all made in the image of God. Can I make that point as a very, very bad Anglican.”

Matt Bach, Liberal member for the Eastern Metro Region and Shadow Assistant Minister for Education, Early Childhood, Higher Education, Training and Skills also supported the ban on conversion practices.

“The whole idea of gay conversion practices is medieval, and deranged. My religion teaches me that all of us are made in the image of God. No one should ever be made to feel ashamed of simply being who they are,” Bach posted on Twitter.

Liberal MPs in Queensland and ACT voted against the respective bills banning conversion practices earlier this year.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously stated law against conversion practices is “not an issue for me.” Last year Morrison said he would prefer to focus on things that the federal government had control over.

“I don’t support gay conversion therapy, don’t recommend it, never have but it’s ultimately a matter for the states,” Morrison said.

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 The Andrews government does not have the numbers to get the bill passed in the upper house and requires the support of the opposition or the cross benchers. It was not clear after the meeting of the Liberal MPs whether the party would allow a conscience vote.

Independent MP Ali Cupper and Reason Party MP Fiona Patten have said that they will support the bill banning conversion practices.

The Change and Suppression (Conversion) Prohibition Bill bans the so-called ‘conversion therapy’ and 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 upto $200,000. In case of injury the maximum prison term is five years and/or a fine of up to $100,000.

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. In certain circumstances conversion practices could be considered as a form of family violence. The Bill provides a mechanism for a civil response scheme within the VEOHRC to support survivors.

Groups like the Australian Christian Lobby are opposing the bill calling it “the most dangerous and draconian bill we have ever seen in Australia.”

Survivor groups have supported the bill terming it a “world leading legislation.” 

If you are in Victoria, you can write a letter to your local MP asking them to support the bill with this handy online resource prepared by Equality Australia.

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