Tasmanian government sets out timeline for laws to ban ‘conversion therapy’

Two Tasmanian independent MPs have raised doubts about a proposed ban on “conversion practices” amid reports the Rockliff Government will bring on legislation before the end of the year.

Both Lara Alexander and John Tucker quit the Tasmanian Liberal Party last month to sit on the crossbench.

Ms Alexander warned that the new laws could criminalise medical professionals and parents who caution children about the risks and downsides in transitioning to another gender.

She said she was particularly concerned about the danger that migrant families and those with strong religious beliefs might be criminalised by the law. Ms Alexander is herself a multilingual accountant who survived Romanian communism, according to the report in The Australian.

“It can have consequences,” she said of the proposed new laws.

“How do we make sure parents feel comfortable that ultimately they can have those conversations with their children, and that those conversations are not being hijacked by government? That is the biggest fear.”

Mr Tucker said he was concerned about the impact any legislation would have on enabling the surgical transition of children.

According to local media reports, the government has announced it will push ahead with a legislative ban on conversion therapy by the end of the year. Community Services Minister Nic Street told a Parliamentary Budget Estimates committee last week that a consultation draft of the new law would be released in 2023.

We know that however they are formulated, legislative bans on “conversion therapy” threaten religious freedom. Last year, the Andrews Government in Victoria introduced one of the most anti-religious laws in the western world. It specifically outlawed prayer and banned Victorians experiencing unwanted same sex attraction or identity confusion from seeking spiritual or therapeutic help.

Such laws inevitably have an impact on freedom of speech and religion. Far from protecting the Australian community, these laws prioritise controversial ideology and deliberately target Christian teaching on sexuality and gender. The result is a “chilling effect” on open discussion of these issues as people self-censor out of fear of the consequences and uncertainty about what the broad language captures.

But in the Tasmanian Parliament last week, Premier Jeremy Rockliff acknowledged some of the concerns of Christians and people of faith, while confirming he was pushing ahead with legislation.

It is encouraging that the Premier said his government would “ensure that we’re not impinging on people's rights to freedom of speech and prayer” with the new legislation, however difficult it is to see how this might be achieved in practice.

But at least there are now independent MPs who will be scrutinising the legislation when it appears.

There are many who harbour profound concerns about Tasmania’s proposed legislative ban on “conversion therapy”.

As Ms Alexander said: “It’s only fair to ensure those that have concerns are listened to as well. Freedom of speech is very important, even though it may be uncomfortable.”