New Victorian law is an attack on fundamental freedoms that puts everyone at risk

Unfortunately, on 4 February 2021, the Victorian parliament passed the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020 and it will shortly become law. Because fundamental flaws of the legislation were not addressed with amendments, the new law is a trap ready to spring on any Victorian who does not subscribe to fashionable ideology on sexuality and gender and who has the temerity to share their views.

The crosshairs are particularly focused on Christians and others who have deep convictions on sexual ethics.

As the Bill was being rushed through Victorian parliament, the grave flaws of the legislation were repeatedly pointed out:

  • It is a solution in search of a problem – aversion therapy for sexuality and gender issues is a thing of the past and there is no evidence that it persists;
  • It will cause harm to members of the LGBT+ community who are prevented from getting help for unwanted desires and feelings;
  • It uses ideologically motivated language that betrays its social engineering goals, as it legislates contentious LGBT dogma and denounces opposing convictions;
  • It is openly anti-religious and targets prayer and other religious practices;
  • It is so poorly and ambiguously drafted that it could impose sanctions on almost anything as a prohibited “change or suppression practice”, even practices which are requested or consented to;
  • It violates the most basic principles of good lawmaking which require very specific legislative drafting in the narrowest terms possible for provisions that impose criminal liability;
  • It is fundamentally inconsistent with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic) which requires government to use the least restrictive means possible to achieve an outcome when limiting or suppressing fundamental human rights.

HRLA has previously written about the serious threat which this legislation poses to personal and religious freedoms (see this link and this link).

Regrettably, the legislation will have implications for a broad range of organisations and individuals, including, for example:

  1. Parents: The parents of a child who experiences gender dysphoria will face removal of their child if they do anything less than affirm their child’s gender confusion and enthusiastically set them on a pathway of social, hormonal, and medical intervention that will make them medical patients for life. If, for example, parents advocate “watchful waiting” during youth and adolescence, or seek to investigate whether other medical conditions or past traumas may be underlying the gender dysphoria, those parents face significant penalties under the new provisions. Despite their loving counsel and best intentions, they could even face prison time or “re-education” by the Victorian Human Rights Commission.
  2. Churches: The traditional teachings of churches may now be targeted in extraordinary ways. A church which teaches a traditional Christian sexual ethic and counsels members struggling with unwanted attractions to align their behaviours accordingly, could be subject to a host of punishing outcomes. A new civil response scheme established within the Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has been given broad powers to pursue, investigate, sanction, re-educate, punish and suppress churches, organisations and individuals. The Commission could not only start an investigation of its own volition, but also draw in wide groups of churches, compel them to provide the Commission with information and then provide directive resources which would mandate what teachings on sexuality and gender a church is allowed to teach to stay on the right side of the legislation. This could effectively require churches to teach principles about sexuality and gender identity which are contrary to long-standing Christian doctrines.
  3. Religious schools: Many religious schools who believe and teach traditional Biblical principles of sexuality and gender are at risk. They will face enormous pressure to adopt an affirming position in relation to issues such as students with transgenderism. Otherwise, those schools face investigation by the Human Rights Commission and subsequent re-education, directions and sanction and ultimately deregistration and closure. The Human Rights Commission will have the power to provide directions on what any school must teach and practice in relation to sexuality and gender.
  4. Social and Political Commentators and Media: The legislation’s reach extends beyond Victoria to encompass people all around Australia. Non-Victorians face potential investigation by the Victorian police and being hauled before the Human Rights Commission for conduct which is not prohibited in their own state. For example, a social commentator located in Queensland who shares stories online about LGBT people who have de-transitioned or who now identify as heterosexual which causes mental distress to a member of the LGBT community faces sanctions. They could be investigated, dragged to Victoria and charged with criminal offences under the legislation as if their conduct had occurred within Victoria.

The flawed design of the civil response scheme under the Bill will allow activists to weaponise the regime to subject churches, religious schools and Christian individuals to legislated cancel culture where they don’t like their teaching of Christian sexual ethics that conflict with the latest fashionable ideology on sexuality and gender.

The legislation sets a very low bar for allowing the Commission to receive and investigate anonymous complaints. There are also strict secrecy provisions that can be used to obscure investigations from public scrutiny.

Unfortunately, this is not just a hypothetical possibility, but a very real one. Activists are already using other grievance regimes in Australia in this way. For example, HRLA has recently assisted Katrina Tait, a Queensland mother of four. She was targeted by an LGBTQ activist using NSW vilification laws because of views she shared online regarding drag queen story time (see her story at this link and this link). Dr. Jereth Kok, a GP with over a decade of experience in the medical profession has already experienced this weaponization of anonymous complaint processes. Dr. Kok was investigated and suspended from practice by the Medical Board of Australia following two anonymous complaints about his online posts relating to his Christian convictions and political views (see his story at this link and this link).

Ultimately, only time will tell the full implications which this legislation will have for the freedoms of Victorians and other Australians. Sadly, the threat which it poses to freedoms is now an officially legislated one.

In the meantime, HRLA will continue to advocate for and vigorously defend in Tribunals and Courts the religious freedoms of people across Australia, including those in Victoria who now face increased risk to their religious freedoms as a result of this staggeringly dangerous legislation that is a fundamental attack on religious freedom.