New NSW conversion therapy laws threaten freedoms

This week saw a new version of so-called “conversion therapy” laws introduced into the NSW parliament. The Conversion Practices Ban Bill 2024 is a successor to NSW MP Alex Greenwich’s 2023 Bill and, from the perspective of religious freedom and human rights, offers a small improvement on Greenwich’s Bill.

HRLA’s concerns remain, however, with the new Bill still smuggling in assumptions about what constitutes “conversion therapy” and the rights of parents and religious leaders to form their own children in their faith and values.

The Bill is also a small improvement on the Victorian equivalent, which is one of the most extreme examples of this type of law in the world. As Neil Foster notes in a piece analysing the new Bill on his Law and Religion Australia site, there is an exemption written into the legislation for “expressions of religious faith”.

Foster highlights the examples given in the Bill for what might constitute such expressions and concludes:

“Simply presenting the teaching of the Bible on sexual morality, and the goodness of God’s creation of us as either of one biological sex, or the other, will not be prohibited, whether in sermons, small groups, or private conversations.”

This provides some relief for Christians. It is a fundamental element of religious freedom that teaching the faith and private parent-child discussions should be outside of the remit of these kinds of laws.

However, the fact remains that the very premise of these laws remains deeply flawed and continues to threaten freedom of religion and speech. The underlying assumption that “gender transition” is a positive thing that should be encouraged is contestable. The law’s premise, that Christian teaching on sexuality, sex, and family is somehow “harmful”, is not accepted by many Australians. Preserving the freedom of people of faith to discuss these matters openly is essential.

HRLA will continue to work with religious organisations who are concerned about these laws and will monitor the progress of the Bill to ensure that, if it passes, critical freedoms are preserved.