Exclusive: NSW government to exclude ‘religious counselling’ from gay conversion laws, says faith leader

Si Gladman / 26 January 2024

The New South Wales government has given religious communities a guarantee that its proposed conversion therapy laws will not impact “religious counselling”, according to a member of the state’s new Faith Affairs Council.

In a letter posted on Facebook and dated 3 November 2023 (see below), Shia leader Ali Alsamail, of the Ahl Albait Islamic Centre, listed the commitment from the government as one of his community’s achievements of the previous six months.

Dr Alsamail’s statement said the state’s Attorney-General – who is Michael Daley – had given the commitment that “religious counselling would be excluded from the proposed laws relating to ‘conversion therapy’.”

The comment suggests that the Minns government will appease religious groups over equality and LGBTIQ rights groups.

Equality Australia wants New South Wales to follow the lead of other states and ban conversion practices in all settings, including religious settings.

In coming into power early last year, the Minns government said it was committed to delivering on an election promise to outlaw gay conversion therapy. Late in the year, however, it postponed introducing legislation into parliament, with a number of stakeholders calling for more time to ensure that legislation would strike the right balance.

Independent member Alex Greenwich has put forward an alternative bill modelled on Victoria’s laws that ban conversion therapy in all settings, including religious ones.

Dr Alsamail is among 19 religious clerics who have taken up positions on the government’s new Faith Affairs Council. The body has exclusive access to government ministers and has so far advocated a wish-list of items for the benefit of religious communities, including government support for “establishing multifaith prayer rooms in government hospitals and other buildings”, and “government chaplaincy programs”.

As reported by the Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA), the Minns government rejected the application of atheist community leader Steve Marton, who wanted to represent the state’s rapidly growing non-religious and ex-religious community. Atheist groups condemned the decision as “unexpected religious discrimination”.

The Faith Affairs Council includes another Islamic leader who, according to The Australian, has preached inflammatory views on homosexuality.

State upper house member Abigail Boyd has also raised concerns in parliament about the appointment of a Hindu Council of Australia representative.

The RSA wrote to the members of the Faith Affairs Council in December to urge them to advocate for Mr Marton to be added to the body. However, the RSA has not received a response.

In October, Premier Chris Minns and a number of government leaders attended the launch of a new multi-faith lobby group called Faith NSW.

In November, the RSA revealed that Faith NSW would lobby the Faith Affairs Council to advocate against gay conversion laws that affect the freedom of religious communities to practise their faith.

In South Australia, Labor MP Ian Hunter is calling for his government to ban “insidious” gay conversion practices in the state. In a speech in parliament in November, he said a “strong religious narrative” characterised such practices.

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Si Gladman is the Campaigns & Communications Coordinator for the Rationalist Society of Australia. He also hosts ‘The Secular Agenda’ podcast.

All the more reason.