NSW Conversion therapy laws threaten religious freedom

Laws to ban so-called conversion therapy practices in New South Wales, which were due to be introduced in mid 2024, will now be fast-tracked and put before the parliament before the end of the year, following intense pressure from LGBT groups. 

The state government has been engaged in a closed consultation process with ‘select’ stakeholders and had planned to introduce the bill to parliament once that process was concluded. This timeline has now been brought forward following negative media reports about the government’s plans.

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has been campaigning against the proposed laws, urging members to contact the state parliament to directly voice their concerns.

To date, more than 8000 calls have been made by ACL supporters to members of state parliament, expressing concerns that the laws would “criminalise parents, clinicians or pastors who seek to help vulnerable gender dysphoric children avoid irreversible harm caused by treatments such as puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and devastating surgery”.

Despite these concerns, it would appear that the New South Wales government is prioritising the representations made by LGBT groups over and above all other stakeholders.

The proposed laws are likely to be similar to those in force in Victoria:

“A leaked discussion paper shows the government wants to make illegal any activities attempting to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and this would be elevated to a crime if these practices were likely to cause harm. It also proposed to criminalise taking someone out of the state for conversion practices”.

Conversion therapy laws threaten religious freedom rights and restrict the rights of parents to care for their children in accordance with their values and beliefs. 

While claiming to ban conversion therapy practices, there is little evidence that conversion practices are still occurring, even according to the 2018 La Trobe Report, the lead report on which the Victorian conversion therapy laws were based. 

That report:

“...co-authored by the Human Rights Law Centre, focuses mainly on religious “gay conversion” stories, going back as far as the 1980s, as told by 15 interviewees recruited through social media, newspapers and LGBT networks.  Only two of them were transgender, one was non-binary and none was under 18.

The report admits: “Without further research, it remains unclear where and to what extent trans conversion therapy is actually promoted and practised in Australia”.

Instead, these laws target Christian teachings on sexuality and gender, and blatantly prioritise controversial ideology over and above all other beliefs.

The accelerated time frame for their introduction to parliament now means that this issue is now urgent. 

HRLA urges all those concerned about these laws and their impact on religious freedom to contact their local MPs and make their views known.

In addition, an evidence-based parliamentary inquiry should be conducted to scrutinise these laws to ensure that the relevant experts and the general public have an opportunity to attend public hearings and make submissions.