Member for Western Victoria
Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party

Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020

Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (11:01): To begin with, I take offence to those who say that those who oppose this bill are bigots and homophobic. It is like saying that those who oppose a public register of child sex offenders must therefore sympathise with paedophiles. It is a ridiculous statement. In fact our party and previous Senator Derryn Hinch have been consistently publicly supportive of same-sex marriage equality, with Derryn’s vote integral in it passing the federal Parliament. He stood proudly next to Senator Penny Wong at the emotional moment the yes result was announced. When I heard about a bill that sought to outlaw disgraceful, draconian conversion therapies like aversion therapy and electrotherapy, I did not think I would stand here with any opposition to such a bill, especially as an MP who stands here in an effort to protect our children through a strong voice in Parliament. But I need to stand here and put on the record that protecting our children means I need to share concerns about this bill, and these concerns are not just from me or my party but from a broad range of Victorians, including the medical profession, from parents and from those who have been through the process of gender transformations and gender dysphoria themselves. Firstly, I want to restate that conversion practices are repulsive. They have no place in society and should be outlawed. But if that was all this bill was really about, we would not require a vote at all today. Unfortunately this bill is much broader than that, and the unintended consequences remain a contentious issue. The basis for this legislative change emanated from the 2018 report by La Trobe University and the Human Rights Law Centre that features survivors of repressive conversion therapy practices—15, to be exact. There were also others—78, in fact—interviewed through the Free to Change campaign, all who felt that advice and a wait-and-see approach assisted them in their journey to find their true selves and assisted their long-term mental health. Both studies have had a small number of participants, but the point I make here is that there are a significant number of people who have found conversations and practices that this bill seeks to outlaw helpful in their quest to find their sexual identity or gender. This is dialogue not from me but from those who have had direct lived experience. The definition of a change or suppression practice is so broad that this legislation now affects so many instances where permission to receive advice has been granted and where unlawful practices are not taking place. Interestingly the La Trobe report that this bill is based upon does not talk about suppression practices on any occasion; it solely talks about conversion practices. I note that these are different and another example of how the legislation has gone beyond the scope of its perceived intention. Speaking of definitions, there are also many scholarly articles stating that paedophilia is a sexual orientation, and I note that there are also arguments stating that paedophilia is a disorder and not necessarily a sexual orientation. Given the ambiguity with the definitions here and the broadness of definition within the bill, I can see it becoming a bit of a legal minefield. I know that there are acts that deal with physical sexual interactions between adults and children, but what about the treatment programs for paedophiles, who may justifiably argue that this is their sexual orientation and that by receiving treatment their orientation is being suppressed? The defence lawyers could have a field day with this in their attempts to prohibit their paedophile client being directed or referred to undergo a behavioural change program as, if my reading of the clauses in the bill is correct, it would be unlawful to engage in a change or suppression practice for the purposes of changing or suppressing their sexual orientation. Without a clause that explicitly prohibits paedophilia or child sex offending or any adult sexual attraction to children, it is hard for our party to support such a broad-based bill. In regard to consultation, we believe more is needed and that wider research should be conducted before the passage of this bill. Having had correspondence from a wide variety of organisations from both sides, there remain many concerns that have not been addressed by the government. Some of the organisations that we have spoken to, including the Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Association of Australasia, general practitioner representative groups and other experts in this area, stated that they were, surprisingly, not consulted on this bill. The Victorian branches of the Australian Medical Association and the National Association of Practising Psychiatrists were not even offered the opportunity to provide their expertise. According to an article published in the Age newspaper on 2 February, two days ago, written by Annika Smethurst, the president of the AMA’s Victorian branch, Julian Rait, said that while he supported the intention of the policy, he believed that the sanctions were too extreme. He went on to say that he would like to see the penalty brought in line with other jurisdictions, where those who are found guilty of conversion therapy face prison terms of two years or less. I believe that this is subject to some amendments to be brought on later on. Mr Rait went on to say that this bill could be something that discourages health practitioners and that he believes that the Victorian branch of the AMA were not appropriately consulted as they only saw the bill for the first time when it was introduced into Parliament. If these bodies had been consulted, perhaps it would have been made clear from early on that there was concern in the medical profession about their ability to give impartial advice for the overall wellbeing of the patient. One practising consulting psychiatrist with 25 years clinical experience told me, and I quote: … this legalisation is centred on a misguided notion that anything other than an immediate affirmative treatment model is harmful and should be banned. For fear of being discriminated against, she does not want to use her name; however, for the record, this doctor has undertaken extensive research on the topic of childhood and adolescent gender dysphoria. Again, her professional advice on the bill was not sought. Many of these medical indemnity organisations and experts have called for an inquiry into gender issues so that they can offer their realworld experience and advice, and we would absolutely support this. On the issue of informed consent, the bill certainly blurs many lines. I could not go further on the issue without talking about the Tavistock case in the UK, as mentioned by Mr O’Donohue. For those who are not familiar, the UK clinic was successfully sued by Keira Bell, a detransitioning transgender woman, very recently. Bell said that the clinic should have challenged her more in her bid to become a man medically. She was just 16 years old when she commenced intense medical treatment. The UK’s High Court of England has publicly criticised the trend towards affirming medical transition without question or hesitation. This decision means that it is now highly unlikely for those under 16 to be able to give informed consent to use puberty blockers. There has been an interesting comparison by many around informed consent that we give our children, including that we only allow them to drive cars, drink alcohol and give their medical consent once they turn 18, but for some reason this legislation allows those under 18 to make big medical decisions that are potentially irreversible. Speaking of consent, a huge issue in this bill falls with three words, and I quote: ‘whether with or’. In part 5, clause 1 of this bill, it essentially states that a change or suppression practice can happen with or without the affected person’s consent. If a young girl seeks her parents’ advice about going down the path of transgenderism or generally changing her gender and her parents give her feedback that she should wait a few years before making that decision, then under this bill and given the broad definition of ‘suppression’, she could potentially sue her parents later on. It is as simple as that. I know this is a key concern of many. I was surprised to find out that a number of studies say that around 80 per cent of those experiencing gender dysphoria resolve these feelings of changing gender by reverting back to their original gender post puberty. This would indicate that if the legislation were to pass and if each of those individuals going through gender dysphoria were to commence medical interventions, there could be long-term implications where they are likely to have resolved their feelings. We are seeing this with detransitioning individuals across the globe. A concern that has repeatedly been raised in this bill is about medical practitioners’ rights. There are already limited services for LGBTIQ+ people who seek advice for gender dysphoria, mental illness and related help. This should come as no surprise, as this community is significantly more likely to require such social services. Given that there are limited services for LGBTIQ+ people to receive psychologist assistance and even medical intervention, why would we seek to possibly reduce the capacity to assist those who actively seek out counselling? I have had conversations directly with medical professionals who are very honestly reconsidering their work in Victoria in consulting with children experiencing gender dysphoria for risk of possible legal action in the future. This is because when a professional genuinely believes the young—or mature—person should explore counselling or other advice before changing their gender, for their own welfare, they could very well be defined as suppressing that person’s gender. It is therefore no wonder some medical practitioners are worried about the bill’s application once passed. The ultimate losers out of this situation are the children, who will no longer have access to some medical and counselling assistance as is the case now. Our biggest concern, as mentioned earlier, is the possibility for this bill to allow paedophiles and sex offenders to refuse treatment in order to not have their sexual orientation suppressed. Given the bill moves away from a prescriptive list of gender terms and instead focuses on how an individual identifies themselves, this is a concern in the context of how a paedophile or sex offender defines their sexual orientation. The explanatory memorandum for this bill makes things pretty ambiguous, stating that the definition of ‘suppression or conversion practices’ is, and I quote: … intended to capture a broad range of conduct, including … more formal practices, such as behaviour change programs … Ms Maxwell and I would be negligent in our duties if we did not question this explanation and the broad definition of what a suppression practice is. Whilst not all behaviour change programs will change a paedophile’s desires, they have been proven to be quite effective, and we hope every person in this place agrees that a paedophile or any sex offender attending a behaviour change program or treatment as ordered by the court or a health professional should not have a choice and should not be unlawful. Based on all of these arguments, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party would absolutely support a referral to a committee to make sure we get the balance right. In the meantime we would most definitely support a bill that prohibited physical conversion therapies like aversion and electrotherapy, or suppression where informed consent has not been given. Lastly, I stand here today and acknowledge the hurt and struggle each person in the LGBTIQ+ community has endured. The decision to oppose this bill was not taken lightly. It is not meant to offend, and it is certainly not a reflection of mine or my colleague Ms Maxwell’s views on the LGBTIQ+ community. To all of you: please know that we respect you and have heard your concerns that you have respectfully raised during this process. You are who you are. We do not advocate for change or suppression practices that seek to cause harm to you. In finishing, Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party absolutely supports the abolition of conversion practices, including electrotherapy aversion and other inhumane practices that seek to harm a vulnerable individual. We support the right for LGBTIQ+ individuals to identify as they see fit. However, this bill goes beyond the intention of this and includes far wider complexities. The intention of this bill by the government is to be commended. It is the mechanism within the bill that we oppose, not the purpose.


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