At 10.37pm on Thursday, February 4, 2021, the Victorian upper house passed the Government’s Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Bill.
The vote was 27 for the Bill and nine against. The affirmative votes included eight Opposition members. While two Opposition members, Liberals Bernie Finn and Bev McArthur, voted against the Bill, and one Liberal Craig Ondarchie abstained or was absent.
Harriet Shing, the ALP member for Eastern Victoria, made an emotional appeal to pass the Bill unamended referring to the “shame at the heart of this legislation” when families and faith communities don’t love young LGBT people and harass or try to force them to change. Then she read into transcript the names of the lower house Opposition members who, she claimed, had voted against the Bill.
David Davis and Ed O’Donohue objected that the Opposition had not voted against the Bill in the lower house, that they had just not voted for it. Perhaps this bullied the Opposition members who voted for the Bill in the upper house into doing so. It was certainly not the position they took with the many individuals and groups that lobbied them during the lead-up to the debate. Those individuals and groups must be feeling betrayed.
The Liberals had said they would not oppose the Bill even if their amendments did not pass but did not indicate they would actually vote for it.
The Government members when speaking for the Bill consistently called for it to be passed unamended. Amendments were proposed by the Opposition and by crossbenchers David Limbrick (Liberal Democrats), Tania Maxwell and Stuart Grimley (Derryn Hinch Justice Party), independent Catherine Cummings and Clifford Hayes (Sustainable Australia). None passed despite these valiant efforts to improve a badly drafted Bill.
The Opposition took the eminently reasonable position of asking for the Bill to be withdrawn for proper consultation and consideration of amendments to meet the very real concerns that had been expressed by many groups.
The Law Institute of Victoria, the Victorian AMA and the Victorian President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP), and faith leaders of all the major religious traditions all wrote to the Premier and Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes of their concerns with the Bill. No amendments were made to meet these concerns.
The Government members appeared to dismiss concerns at the Bill’s overreach. Sonja Terpstra, ALP member for Eastern Metropolitan, referred to the amendments proposed to deal with these concerns as “ridiculous amendments”.
Terpstra described them as “myths” and that they were “rubbish” and “ridiculous”. She said the Bill will not stop people praying despite the fact that Clause 5 (3) (b) specifically includes “a pray-based practice” in the definition of “change or suppression practice”.
Fiona Patten of the Reason Party (formerly the Sex Party) referred to the misinformation and “rantings” of some people in the chamber and denied that it would make prayer illegal.
Patten also referred to the Australian Family Association flyer that informed people that parents would risk complaint of a “change or suppression practice” or of family violence if they want to explore all treatment options before puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones are administered to children.
She claimed to be amused that they had been dropped in her progressive, left-leaning electorate of Northcote. But maybe that is where they were needed. Families in her electorate have children too. They might want to check out all the options and be sure it is the best option for their child before embarking on intrusive and experimental hormone treatment.
The contribution of ALP member for Eastern Metropolitan Shaun Leane was to tell the Opposition and crossbench to “spare us your amendments”. He said deciding to vote for the Bill was just a matter of “don’t be a scumbag”. Presumably any member who voted against the Bill would be a “scumbag”.
The actual provisions of the Bill were not dealt with in any detail. Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes was asked why the Bill makes a practice or conduct even with a person’s consent an illegal “change or suppression practice”. She answered that even if the person thinks such practices will help they will do harm to them, even if it is in the long term!
Pressed further she said the Bill bans the ability of a person to consent to such practices as they are harmful – that it is the same as a person not being able to consent to being supplied drugs, that consent of the recipient does not make the supply of drugs legal.
Most of the Government members prefaced their contributions to the debate with words to the effect that, if the Opposition and crossbench members who expressed support for banning harmful practices did not vote for the Bill without amendments, their words were not genuine.
The members who proposed amendments were not bullied into not putting them forward. But were the Opposition members who voted for the Bill intimidated by these taunts into actually voting for it?
Concerns about the flaws in the Bill grew exponentially during the last few days leading up to the debate, but it was too late to influence the Government. These groups of psychiatrists and doctors, lawyers, religious leaders, feminist and LGB groups who are concerned at the Victorian legislation’s overreach should look carefully at legislation planned for Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania.
No one opposes banning harmful practices. The concern with the Victorian law is its overreach, which could have been remedied by proper debate on the amendments proposed.
Link to Hansard of Thursday’s Legislative Council, which contains the debate on the conversion practices ban Bill.