Commissioner welcomes step towards new legislation to prohibit conversion therapy

news
18 January 2021

The Government’s Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020, currently before the Legislative Council, has been welcomed by Victorian Health Complaints Commissioner (HCC) Karen Cusack.

The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020, passed by the Legislative Assembly in early December 2020, will prohibit conversion therapy from being offered or provided to any person. It will legislate to:

  • Denounce and prohibit change or suppression practices;
  • Establish a civil response scheme within the Commission to promote understanding of the prohibition of change or suppression practices, consider and resolve reports of change or suppression practices, and investigate serious or systemic change or suppression practices;
  • To prohibit engaging in change or suppression practices, including by creating offences in relation to engaging in change or suppression practices and other related activities;
  • Amend the definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity in the Equal Opportunity Act; and to include sex characteristics as a protected attribute under the EO Act.

The new legislation comes after an Inquiry into Conversion Therapy Practices throughout Victoria by Commissioner Ms Cusack, which revealed overwhelming evidence of the significant and long-term harm caused by the practices.

The Report of the Inquiry into Conversion Therapy made the following recommendations:

That the Victorian Minister for Health considers introducing:

  • legislation to prohibit conversion therapy/practices, and
  • a redress scheme for survivors of conversion therapy/practices which may include resourcing for counselling/support services for those survivors.

Background

Ms Cusack said she was heartened and reassured by the Government’s acceptance of the Report’s recommendations. When introduced, the new law will impose harsh penalties on those who negligently cause physical or psychological injury through attempts to suppress or change another person’s sexuality.
“It is pleasing to see our recommendation to ban these abhorrent practices being enshrined in legislation in Victoria,” Ms Cusack said.
“I would like to again thank those who came forward to my office, as part of the inquiry.”
“The many people who came forward and bravely told their harrowing stories of being subjected to conversion therapy, or ‘ex-gay ideology’, showed enormous courage and our inquiry was only possible because of them.
“What we learned, from the people who trusted us with their stories, was that the trauma suffered by people who have been subjected to the practice can be deep and all-consuming, even many years after the conversion therapy ‘treatment’ has ceased,” Ms Cusack said.
“It has been well documented that conversion therapy/practices can cause long-term psychological harm and distress to people who have undergone these so-called ‘therapies’ and … these practices are widely condemned for the harmful effects they cause. The Government’s Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 is welcomed.”

Commissioner Cusack said that without legislation to prohibit these practices, and in the absence of complainants coming forward with specific and current information, it was difficult for regulatory bodies, including hers, to regulate those providers who offered conversion therapy/practices.
“As our inquiry found, there are still psychologists, counsellors and counselling services offering conversion therapy/practices, despite the overwhelming evidence of the significant and long-term harm caused by conversion therapy/practices,” she said.
At the time of the official Health Complaints Commissioner Inquiry, there was no legislation in Australia that specifically prohibited conversion therapy or practices.
However, during the inquiry Ms Cusack said that she had received enquiries from the Northern Territory, the ACT and Queensland Governments, with both the ACT and Queensland Governments having since introduced legislation to ban conversion therapy.