The Queensland Government has followed the lead of Victoria and the ACT in proposing a ban on conversion therapy.
The Health Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 introduced by Minister Stephen Miles into the Queensland Parliament on 28 November prohibits health service providers from performing “conversion therapy” which is defined as “a treatment or other practice that attempts to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity”. A breach of the law will result in penalties including up to 18 months imprisonment.
Health service providers under Queensland law are not only registered heath practitioners but also any individual that provides “a service that is, or purports to be, a service for maintaining, improving, restoring or managing people’s health and wellbeing”, Health Ombudsman Act 2013 (QLD). Whether this is intended to include counsellors, not being psychologists who are registered health practitioners, or other staff within schools is not directly addressed, although the Minister does indicate, see Hansard here, that it would cover “unregistered health practitioners such as counsellors, naturopaths and social workers“.
While media coverage of the proposals once again refer to “giving electric shocks or nausea-inducing drugs” there remains no evidence that such appalling practices are occurring within Australia.
As a recent New Zealand Parliamentary Committee concluded, “[i]t is important that anyone with questions about their sexuality or gender identity feels comfortable seeking advice. This may be from a professional counsellor, family and friends, or within their religious community” going on to make clear that any “ban on conversion therapy should not prevent anyone from seeking or providing such advice“.
There is no question that the abhorrent practices of the mid 20th century, with lobotomies, chemical castration with hormonal treatment, aversive treatments including the application of electric shock to the hands and/or genitals as part of the treatment regime promoted by prominent mainstream psychiatric practitioners must be condemned, more so if undertaken coercively.
Great care must, however be taken in implementing any ban to ensure that legitimate questions can be addressed as identified by the New Zealand Parliamentary Committee.
The Bill has been referred to the Queensland Parliament’s Health, Communities, Disability Services and Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Committee before debate expected to occur in the New Year. We anticipate making a submission to the Committee to seek to ensure that Christian and other faith-based schools can continue to help and support students as they navigate through these issues.