Submission to the consultation draft of the Justice Miscellaneous (Conversion Practices) Bill 2024 

Si Gladman / 21 February 2024

This is our submission to the Tasmanian Department of Justice’s consultation into the draft Justice Miscellaneous (Conversion Practices) Bill 2024.

Find out more about the consultation process here. 


This is a submission by the Rationalist Society of Australia – Australia’s oldest freethought organisation promoting reason, evidence-based policy and secularism – to the consultation draft of the Justice Miscellaneous (Conversion Practices) Bill 2024.

We support the Tasmanian government’s commitment to ban harmful sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices in Tasmania. But we are concerned that the proposed legislation currently does not get the balance right in adequately addressing conversion practices particularly in religious settings. We note, too, that such concerns have been raised publicly by LGBTIQ rights advocates.

Legislation that continues to allow a range of conversion practices to take place in religious settings would only serve to perpetuate serious harms and inflict further trauma on members of the LGBTIQ community.

We understand that conversion practices are, in Australia, most common in religious settings, with these practices including, according to researchers at RMIT University, counselling for “sexual brokenness”, prayer, scripture reading, fasting, retreats and “spiritual healing”. The impetus for reform in Australia and across the world has been largely driven by the negative experiences of LGBTIQ people in religious settings. In the United Kingdom, a 2018 survey of LGBTIQ people showed that faith organisations were the source for most of their experiences with conversion practices (51 per cent).

Of course, we acknowledge that most religious people reject these practices and support LGBTIQ rights – as demonstrated, for example, in mainstream religionist support for marriage equality and opposition to discrimination against LGBTIQ students and staff in religious schools (as outlined by social researcher Neil Francis in his Religiosity in Australia series). But there remain some religious groups that hold “conversion ideology” and conduct activities that specifically target LGBTIQ people through practices beyond formal therapy. According to Amnesty International, people who hold this ideology view LGBTIQ people as ‘broken’ and fixable “through celibacy, heterosexual marriage, consistent long-term devotion, spiritual mentoring, avoidance or suppression of all LGBTQA+ influences and ongoing conversion practices”.

We agree there is a need to protect the “expression of an opinion, idea or belief, including a statement of religious principle or parental guidance” – as outlined in the ‘fact sheet’ for the Bill. But we are concerned that the legislation does not provide enough protection for LGBTIQ people in religious settings where an intent to change or suppress their LGBTIQ identity is present. 

According to the fact sheet for the Bill, conduct that would likely not constitute a conversion practice includes: “Support or guidance that may be provided to a person…in religious or spiritual settings.” It also states: “It will not limit ordinary faith-based practices, such as prayer or sermons.” These appear to leave the door open far too much to a range of conversion practices, in formal and informal religious settings, that are already known to cause serious harms and life-long trauma. A better balance needs to be struck so that LGBTIQ Tasmanians are not subjected to such practices in, for example, religious support groups and prayer groups, and other forms of spiritual interventions, such as in home meetings or camps.

International law is clear that claims of religious freedom are not a justification for harming the “health …or fundamental rights and freedoms of others”: see International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art 18(3). The Report of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2020 identifies the following rights recognised by international law that conversion practices (including those undertaken in religious settings) violate:

  • non-discrimination
  • right to health
  • prohibition of torture and ill-treatment
  • right to freedom of conscience and religion and freedom of expression
  • rights of the child

The Independent Expert’s Report made clear recommendations that conversion practices should be prohibited in all settings, including in religious settings. One specific action called for was: 

  • “Banning practices of ‘conversion therapy’ from being advertised and carried out in health-care, religious, education, community, commercial or any other settings, public or private.”

Rationalist Society of Australia

All the more reason.