ACT Government bans “conversion practices”

On the same day that the Queensland Parliament passed a ban on “conversion therapy”, the ACT Government, following a sham consultation process, introduced the Sexuality and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Bill 2020 into the ACT Assembly.

The Bill

The Bill does not merely seek to apply to health practitioners like the Queensland legislation but very clearly applies to all Canberrans. In addition to potential criminal penalties for those conducting “sexuality and gender identity conversion practices” involving minors or those with diminished responsibility, the Bill creates a pathway for complaints to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) through the ACT Human Rights Commission. If the complaint is upheld by ACAT they can make orders including that the person complained about –

  • not repeat or continue the harmful practice;
  • perform a stated reasonable act to redress any loss or damage suffered by a person because of the harmful practice;
  • pay to a person a stated amount by way of compensation for any loss or damage suffered by the person because of the harmful practice;

Consent is not a defence in any situation and there is no limit on the amount of monetary compensation which can be awarded.

The definition of “sexuality and gender identity conversion practices” included in Bill is “a treatment or other practice the purpose, or purported purpose, of which is to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity” with a necessary carve-out for “affirming” treatment which would otherwise be rendered unlawful.

The ideological nature of the Bill is reflected in its first object, expressed as –

  • to affirm that
    • all people have characteristics of sexuality and gender identity; and
    • no combination of those characteristics constitutes a disorder, disease, illness, deficiency, disability or shortcoming

As one commentator indicated, this object “is an assertion of an apparent fact (whether biological or metaphysical, it is hard to say) which of itself may be disputed by some“, going on to say that –

The language is obscure: what does it mean to “combine” these things? Is it only in “combination” that they must be affirmed? Can one say that there is something wrong in someone living as a “homosexual” (presumably this is a statement of their “sexuality”) when one does not at the same time mention their “gender identity”? Or does this odd formulation mean that no assertion about either or both of these things can be made which suggests that one these things is in any way a “shortcoming”? And is it calling something a “shortcoming” to say (as mainstream religious traditions do) that some sexual activity is a “sin” or “contrary to God’s will”?

These objects reflecting much of the criticism of the Queensland legislation by LGBTIQAP+ advocates that –

“The [Queensland] legislation also fails to address the ideology behind conversion practices.
“The false claims at the heart of conversion practices are grounded in pseudoscientific concepts thoroughly rejected by Australia’s peak psychological health bodies.”
“While often masked as theological, these concepts must be viewed as therapeutically fraudulent”

The Passage of the Bill

CSA and AACS working with other groups and schools in Canberra, including the Islamic School of Canberra, strongly opposed the Bill and generated significant media coverage of the issues involved.  Both the Australian Medical Society – ACT and ACT Law Society, amongst other professional bodies, raised concerns with the Bill.

Despite this, the Government proposed “amendments” to the Bill that merely consisted of a single further example of what does not constitute “sexuality and gender conversion practices” and a not referencing the Human Rights Act 2004 (ACT).  These are the most minor of possible amendments and did not reflect any real attempt to address the widespread community concerns.  Indeed, in the debate on the Bill the Government and Greens ‘double-down’ on their rhetoric, dismissing concerns as being from outside the territory, making outlandish claims of “insidious and clandestine” practices against children and a very emotional statement from the Attorney-General who is a Uniting Church minister.

In contrast the Opposition’s speeches on the Bill reflected a lot of the content of the Christian school media releases and they called a division on the Bill and voted against it.  In the context of “progressive” Canberra with a Territory election in October this was by no means assured earlier in the campaign.  The Opposition also proposed, modest, amendments which were defeated by the Government and Greens.

The Bill was passed on 27 August and commences operation no earlier than 27 March 2021.

CSA is working on materials to assist schools in understanding the possible implications of the Bill.