HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [6.20 pm]: It has been an interesting week. Nationally, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory have moved towards banning gay conversion therapy. I want to make a few comments about how we are not tracking here in Western Australia. I want to express my disappointment that the Western Australian Labor government has not taken action, as it said it would, to ban gay conversion therapy and to protect Western Australians from the harm that is caused by people who are offering counselling and psychotherapy when they are, frankly, simply not qualified to offer those sorts of services. Many people do not realise that the appalling and dangerous practice of conversion therapy is, unfortunately, still legal in Western Australia. When people realise that, they are quite rightly shocked. Any suggestions that people need to be fixed because of their sexuality are hurtful, cruel and simply wrong. That message undermines all the excellent work that is happening around inclusivity and the celebration of diversity within our community.
In recognition of the significant harms that have been caused by conversion therapy, we have started to see some welcome progress both in Australia and internationally to stamp out this abhorrent practice. In the United States, conversion therapies directed towards minors have been banned in 20 states. The United Kingdom government has pledged to ban gay conversion therapy. Instagram and Facebook have now moved to block the promotion of conversion therapy. Within Australia, the Australian Capital Territory introduced a bill last Thursday to outlaw conversion therapy for minors. Under that proposed legislation, people will face fines of up to $24 000 and 12 months’ imprisonment for performing sexuality or gender identity conversion therapy on a child or an individual with impaired decision-making ability. Last October, the Victorian government began public consultation on similar legislation. When it was announced, Daniel Andrews called the practice “bigoted quackery”, and I agree with that assessment. I think that is exactly what we are talking about.
Unfortunately, although Queensland became the first state to pass laws banning gay conversion therapy, its legislation remains inadequate. It has been widely criticised for targeting only official health and mental health providers, which sort of defeats the purpose because it leaves out religious organisations. Effectively, that misses the point. Nevertheless, I think it is fantastic that progress is being made in other states at least, albeit slowly. This work sends a very important and positive signal. It is hugely disappointing that Western Australia is still lagging behind other jurisdictions.
Almost a decade ago, sitting over there, I raised in this place concerns about the great degree of harm that unregulated and untrained counsellors and psychotherapists can cause to the mental health of their clients. I asked the then Minister for Health whether he had any intention to address this issue. I am bitterly disappointed that nothing has changed since I raised that question a decade ago. Last week, 10 years after I first asked the question, I asked the current Minister for Health why Western Australians are still not protected from harm caused by untrained and unregulated counsellors and psychotherapists. The government has clearly been well aware of the dangers of no regulation in this space for a long time, yet it has continued to fail to take any sort of decisive action.
This problem will not go away on its own. It has to be addressed. In 2018, La Trobe University and the Human Rights Law Centre co-authored a report on conversion therapy in Australia. It found that up to 10 per cent of LGBTIQ Australians are still vulnerable to harmful conversion therapy practices. At the time, at least 10 organisations in Australia and New Zealand were advertising the provision of conversion therapies. I found particularly concerning the research finding that rather than receding, conversion therapies and ideologies are now being mainstreamed within some Christian churches. According to the report, ex-gay and ex-trans ideology, counselling and pastoral activities are still being promoted in the messages and teachings of many churches, mosques and synagogues through print and digital media, and through some Christian radio programs. Not surprisingly, attempts to “pray away the gay” are not only ineffective, but also cause deep confusion, distress and self-hatred amongst a long list of lasting psychological impacts. We know that LGBTIQ children and young people already experience poorer mental health outcomes and have a greater risk of suicidal behaviours than their peers. That makes them particularly vulnerable to the terrible practices of conversion therapy. I think that protecting LGBTIQ young people from harmful practices such as conversion therapy is incredibly important, and I am not alone. It is one of the top concerns to come out of an advisory group that was set up to advise the Western Australian Commissioner for Children and Young People in his work.
This is a really important issue. People’s lives are ruined when they deal with the charlatans who are working in this space. I have already raised my concerns about the government’s lack of commitment to address hate crimes against the LGBTIQ community and the lack of work being done by the police to support that community. We cannot continue to allow attacks against people based on their sexuality or their gender identity. In failing to ban conversion therapy, the government has yet again failed this community. This gap has been recognised for a very long time. Frankly, it is really disappointing that it is still waiting to be fixed. I do not want to understate how important it is for us to do that. People are losing their lives. This is contributing to the suicide rate of our young LGBTIQ community members. I would like to see some progress in this area. It is happening in other states. We need to lift our game and do something here as well.