Health Complaints Commissioner progresses conversion therapy inquiry

04 September 2018

In May 2018 the Health Complaints Commissioner (HCC) commenced an inquiry into conversion therapy, or ex-gay ideology, under section 103 of the Health Complaints Act 2016 following a referral from the Minister for Health.

Historical cases of the controversial practice of conversion therapy, which is the practice of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity using psychological or spiritual interventions, have been reported in the media in recent months.

However, complaints received by the HCC all relate to the practice of conversion therapy prior to the HCC’s establishment in February 2017.

Commissioner Karen Cusack said the HCC had made “significant progress” on the inquiry.

“The inquiry focuses on understanding what the practice of conversion therapy involves and who is carrying it out,” Ms Cusack said.

“One of the first things undertaken was to develop a terms of reference, which is available on our website.

“We have an investigator working exclusively on the inquiry, which has been particularly important in ensuring a single point of contact for victims.”

Ms Cusack said the HCC was reaching out to survivors of conversion therapy through support groups, and engaging with churches, religious groups and counselling services to establish what advice or referrals they openly support or suggest in relation to conversion therapy or ex-gay ideology.

She encouraged anyone who’d recently experienced conversion therapy to come forward, confidentially if they wished, to report their experience.

 “What is clear from those who have already come forward is that the trauma suffered by people who have been subjected to the practice can be deep and all-consuming, even many years after ceasing the conversion therapy ‘treatment’.

“I understand these issues could be raw and very distressing for people to discuss but I assure victims that my staff will treat anyone who comes forward with sensitivity and confidentiality.”

Ms Cusack said on completing the inquiry, the HCC would provide a report to the Minister for Health with its findings and possible recommendations.

 “The Health Complaints Act 2016 includes a very broad definition of what a ‘health service’ is and, while the practice of conversion therapy has not yet been tested under the Act, the definition is such that it may include this damaging practice,” she said.

“There is currently no legislation in Australia that bans conversion therapy or ex-gay ideology.”

Anyone with a recent experience of conversion therapy, or who has information about the practice, is invited to call the HCC on 1300 582 113 or email [email protected] to assist with the inquiry.