Conversion Practices Ban Bill 2024

20 March 2024

Ms JODIE HARRISON (Charlestown—Minister for Women, Minister for Seniors, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault) (16:45): I speak in support of the Conversion Practices Ban Bill 2024. At the outset, I state that I am a trans‑inclusive feminist. I reiterate what others in this House have said: that there is nothing wrong with trans people. They are not broken, and they do not need to be fixed. This principle should be universally true to us all, and I look forward to a day when that is the case. What is wrong, and what must be fixed, is the very premise of conversion practices themselves. The evidence is that conversion therapy and suppression practices are dangerous, damaging and, quite frankly, in some cases deadly. These practices have been known to trigger complex trauma, post‑traumatic stress disorder, negative mental health outcomes and suicidal thoughts. While there is no evidence that these practices are effective at changing sexuality or gender identity, there have been cases where vulnerable people have concealed their sexuality and gender identity as a result.

The harm of these practices has been acknowledged by expert bodies including the Australian Medical Association, the Australian Psychological Society, and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, to name a few. Putting aside the dangerous nature of conversion practices, I would like to put on record some facts about the New South Wales LGBTQ+ community. They add colour to our lives. They make us stronger and brighter and happier because of who they are. This State would be a darker place without them. It has been a privilege for me to have known and cherished so many wonderful LGBTQ+ people over the course of my life.

There is one example I would like to share with the House. In my former role serving as Mayor of Lake Macquarie, I went to a meeting arranged by ACON in my local area. It was a meeting that I will always remember. The parents of a group of young trans men told me about the challenges that their boys faced. I can tell the House that these loving parents held very genuine fears for their children. They were not concerned about their boys' gender identity, but they were terrified about the world that they were living in—one where, too often, LGBTQ+ people are bullied and mistreated simply for living their own authentic lives. These parents spoke with me because they did not want the vicious cycle of trauma, discrimination and harassment to continue for their boys. We all knew that these young men were not broken, but that had not stopped others from perpetuating the myth that they were.

Like all LGBTQ+ people, these young men should be celebrated for who they are, not converted into what they are not. This bill draws a line in the sand on that principle. In the years that have passed since I met with those families, there have been some welcome social advances for the LGBTQ+ community. Marriage equality was passed into law in 2017. Every jurisdiction in this country settled on the commonsense decision to abolish the abhorrent gay panic defence. But we cannot say that New South Wales is leading the way on LGBTQ+ rights while we continue to lag behind other States in banning conversion practices. We now have a chance to change that. We can send a clear message to our LGBTQ+ families, friends, neighbours and work colleagues in our electorates and across New South Wales. That message is this: We see you. We love you. We know who you are. There is nothing about you that needs fixing.

I acknowledge this is an emotional issue, and in some people's minds a complex issue, which has drawn significant input from stakeholders and the community. I acknowledge Anglican Bishop of Newcastle, Peter Stuart, who I had the privilege of meeting last year to discuss this topic. Earlier this year Peter wrote in support of LGBTQ+ equality. There is a misconception that people of faith lack empathy for LGBTQ+ people in this debate. Often I see nothing but goodwill and understanding from people who practise their religion. Many people of faith are victims of discrimination, whether they adhere to Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or any other religion. Discrimination against people based on their religion is just as wrong as discrimination on the grounds of their gender identity or sexuality. They are not mutually exclusive concepts.

I have heard from all sides. I acknowledge the Attorney General's extraordinary work in putting together the bill, which balances the complexities in this area of reform. I also recognise the work of the Minister for Health and his input from a health point of view. I recognise those Ministers' staff and their agencies. I also recognise the member for Sydney for the openness with which he has engaged with all members in Parliament to help us understand how this affects people's lives on a real, day-to-day basis.

On one hand, the bill provides the New South Wales LGBTQ+ community with protection from harmful practices. On the other hand, it upholds freedom of expression and religious belief as important pillars of our democracy. Let us be clear about what the bill does: It sets out a clear definition of what constitutes a conversion practice. That is a practice, treatment or sustained effort inflicted on an individual on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity, which is intended to change or suppress that part of their self. The bill also clarifies what is not a conversion practice, carving out appropriate and carefully considered exclusions. The bill does not outlaw religious belief, religious teachings or religious practices. It does not impact on personal prayer and reflection. It does not prevent anyone from seeking religious or spiritual guidance of their own free will. It does not interfere with educational institutions' ability to make general rules. It does not prohibit parents from talking to their children about their own views on sex, sexuality, gender and religion.

Let us be clear about why the bill is necessary: Conversion practices cause harm. Survivors of conversion practices have reported the physical, mental and emotional damage they have suffered. The consequences can vary, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. In some cases, victims take their own lives. It can take survivors a lifetime to heal. To address this issue, the bill has two components. It outlines criminal offences in which a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment may apply to individuals engaged in conversion practices. There are also ancillary offences for people who seek to circumvent the prohibition in the bill. It also sets up a civil regime to manage complaints against individuals or organisations engaged in conversion practices.

The bill prohibits sending a person outside New South Wales for the purpose of conversion practices or the engagement of someone interstate to deliver conversion therapy. The civil complaints scheme allows for a victim to make a complaint to the Anti-Discrimination Board. The President of the Anti-Discrimination Board is empowered to investigate and conciliate complaints brought under the bill. The President can also refer complaints to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal [NCAT] in certain circumstances—namely, if the complaint cannot be conciliated or if the president considers that the complaint needs to be considered by the tribunal. Referral will only occur with the consent of the complainant. The bill allows NCAT to make orders should a complaint be substantiated, including orders for damages and to stop the respondent from continuing or repeating unlawful conduct. This will empower NCAT to put conversion practitioners out of business. [Extension of time]

I circle back to those parents I met as Mayor of Lake Macquarie many years ago. I thank them and their brave and resilient sons for sharing their story with me. The bill will not be a panacea for all the unacceptable prejudice that LBGTQ+ people face daily. In fact, I heard of some very recent harassment experienced by a trans person, which I found abhorrent and confronting and which they live with every single day. I thank everyone, particularly members of the LGBTQ+ community who have spoken to me about this matter. My views will not always align with every stakeholder, but I respect the input of all people who come to this debate with goodwill. There is no escaping the fact that this State is lagging behind other States and Territories in this area, including Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland, of all places.

We have an opportunity to bring our State's laws in line with community expectations. We have an opportunity to listen to the voices of those who have been impacted by conversion practices, including those who can no longer speak for themselves. We have an opportunity to say this to communities that have been, and continue to be, marginalised: We see you. We love you. We know who you are. There is nothing about you that needs fixing. I am proud to support the bill and to be a member of the New South Wales Labor Government, which is delivering on this important election commitment and this step forward for equality. I commend the bill to the House.