Parents of gender-confused children could be fined $100,000 under Australian state’s proposed conversion therapy law

13, March 2024

Politicians around the western world have been scrambling to put controversial ‘conversion therapy’ laws into place, amid a sprawling campaign by international activist groups.

Despite previously promising not to legislate like neighbouring state Victoria, the Government in New South Wales has caved under pressure from activists, and is now proposing one of the most dangerous conversion therapy laws ever seen.

The Government of the Australian state of New South Wales has faced pressure on all sides. There is fierce opposition to the plans from religious groups who have pointed to the dangers of a new law as demonstrated in Victoria. Official guidance there says “not affirming someone’s gender identity” can be classed as conversion therapy (read more here).

No need to have caused harm

Under the proposals, anyone accused of “suppressing” another person’s gender identity or sexual orientation could be fined $100,000 as part of a civil complaints scheme, regardless of whether any harm has been caused.

As in Victoria, ‘suppression’ is considered by activist groups to include parents urging their children not to transition socially or medically – changing their name, wearing clothes of the opposite gender, or taking dangerous cross-sex hormones, for example. Religious teaching and pastoral care regarding sexual ethics are likewise accused of suppressing people’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

New South Wales’ civil complaints scheme is designed in such a way that an LGBT lobby group could bring a complaint on behalf of those it claims to represent. This can be done merely “because of the way conduct of that nature adversely affects, or has the potential to adversely affect … the interests of the body”.

This opens wide the door for lobby groups to bring legal complaints against parents, gender-critical groups and Christians who oppose radical gender ideology. The civil scheme will have the ability to place orders on those it finds in contravention of the new law, requiring them to pay huge amounts in compensation and to “perform any reasonable act or course of conduct to redress any loss or damage suffered by the complainant”.

Vague definitions

The Bill describes a “conversion practice” as: “a practice, treatment or sustained effort that is – a) directed to an individual on the basis of the individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and b) directed to changing or suppressing the individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity”.

The Bill gives further clarification of these disputed terms in a ‘dictionary’:

“[G]ender identity means the gender-related identity of an individual, which may or may not correspond with the individual’s designated sex at birth”.

What exactly this will mean is a mystery to all. To define ‘gender identity’ as ‘gender-related identity’ could hardly be more meaningless. With some groups claiming there are hundreds of ‘genders’, the Bill must be read as covering them all, however unsavoury they may be. This is not merely about protecting people who have ‘transitioned’ from one gender to another, but protecting disputed gender ideology in its entirety.

“Sexual orientation” is defined in an initially unsurprising way as “an individual’s sexual orientation towards— (i) individuals of the same sex, or (ii) individuals of a different sex, or (iii) individuals of the same sex and individuals of a different sex”. Again, this is fully circular: ‘sexual orientation means sexual orientation’.

Particularly surprising is its final comment – that ‘sexual orientation’ “includes having a lack of sexual attraction to any individual of any sex”. This opens up a whole new area of alternative sexual ‘identities’ to the law, in the form of what groups like Stonewall call ‘asexuality’. Many of these groups in the UK want identities like this to be included in a ‘conversion practices’ law, but few in wider society would recognise what these are.

“Very limited safeguards”

Some very limited safeguards have been introduced into the proposed legislation.

For a practice to be deemed a criminal offence, it must be demonstrated that “substantial” mental or physical harm has occurred. In such a case, a penalty of up to five years in prison would apply. But this vital threshold does not apply to the civil complaints scheme, which would also not require the rigour of a criminal trial.

The Bill also clarifies that certain behaviours do not count as ‘conversion therapy’, but this counts for very little indeed.

For example, the Bill states that “an expression, including in prayer, of a belief or principle” does not count as ‘conversion therapy’ if it is not part of a practice that would be defined as conversion therapy. If that is tricky to read, it’s because it is entirely circular. So, there is no safeguard whatsoever for freedom of belief (which would include gender-critical beliefs as well as religious beliefs).

It gives some examples of what does not count as ‘conversion therapy’:

“[S]tating what relevant religious teachings are or what a religion says about a specific topic” – which would not protect anyone who encouraged or supported someone in adhering to a religious belief.

“general requirements in relation to religious orders or membership or leadership of a religious community” – this would potentially protect churches that establish codes of conduct for their members, but the courts could determine that a requirement relating to sexual orientation or gender identity is not truly ‘general’.

“general rules in educational institutions” – this would protect schools who want to set sensible boundaries around toilets or uniforms, for example, but would not protect parents whose children attend schools with ‘trans-affirming’ policies.

“parents discussing matters relating to sexual orientation, gender identity, sexual activity or religion with their children” – this is an extremely meagre protection for parents. Parents do not merely ‘discuss matters’ with their children, but instruct and guide them. A responsible parent will go far beyond mere discussion and will find no reassurance here if they choose not to go along with social or medical transition.

These supposed protections are woefully inadequate. Their inclusion suggests that any behaviour that goes beyond these descriptions could be caught by the new law. Can churches go beyond stating what relevant teachings are? Can they encourage people to follow them? Can parents go beyond discussion? Can they give direction to their children?

Latest news