Closed consultation process for NSW conversion practice bans

So-called “conversion practices” are set to be banned in New South Wales with the establishment of a working group tasked with developing a legislative model for the state, similar to laws already passed in Victoria, the ACT and Queensland.

The laws are expected to be broader than just banning harmful practices, and may impact fundamental freedoms and intrude into Christian ministry, family life, and medical services.

Media reports indicate that NSW will adopt the same flawed and opaque procedures employed by other jurisdictions when enacting their own laws. The impacts on fundamental freedoms of religion, speech, and movement are potentially significant.

The state government has undertaken a “closed consultation” with select stakeholders instead of an open, transparent process. The discussion paper prepared by the working group is not available to the general public, despite the fact that the laws would impact a wide variety of groups in the community.

While the Department of Communities and Justice has stated that “[i]t is not the intention of the reform to ban the teachings of a religious leader or expression of a religious belief through sermon”, media articles have reported that “relationships of LGBTQ people with parents, friends, work colleagues, schools, health professionals and religious groups will all be covered by the proposed laws”.

The real area of concern is how far the proposed laws will go in preventing prayer, parental support and even ‘talk’ based help. Laws in other states restrict numerous rights, including an individual’s right to seek and receive counselling or Christian ministry, to self-autonomy and choice in their family or private life, and the freedom of others to provide support when requested.

The Human Rights Law Alliance’s concerns with the Victorian laws (in particular) are well documented. Despite claiming to target harmful and non-consensual practices such as electroshock and aversion therapy, these laws are in fact openly anti-religious and go as far as targeting prayer and other religious practices. The laws use ideologically motivated language that betrays their social engineering goals, legislating contentious LGBT views and denouncing opposing convictions.

It is disappointing that the New South Wales government has chosen secrecy over transparency as it commences this process, the results of which will potentially impact a wide cross section of the community in New South Wales. People of faith, counsellors and medical practitioners, faith groups, pastors, schools and families are all potentially affected by the proposed law.

It is imperative that laws as radical and far reaching as these are subject to scrutiny by way of an evidence based parliamentary inquiry that includes public hearings and opportunities for the public to make submissions.

Every person in New South Wales should be afforded the opportunity to contribute to, and be consulted about, such radical laws.