Matters of Public Importance

Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (17:02): Like the two previous speakers, I come to this debate today in sorrow—not in joy or anger or pride or any of that, but in sorrow. After that last contribution from the member for Burwood, I am quite astounded. This is quite possibly one of the most pointless debates that this chamber has seen this year. The member for Burwood and others on that side are trying to build up some picture of a homophobic straw man on this side that simply does not exist.

I just reread my contribution to the debate on this bill last year and was reminded of the stories that I told—the story of my friend Patrick McIvor, who went through, effectively, gay conversion therapy and how his experience and his story actually told me how important this was. It is ironic today, I guess, that I also saw just before a video, a tweet, from a young man called Josh Cavallo, who is a football player at Adelaide United, coming out and telling his story and being brave and talking about how relieved he was and how happy he was when he came out because he had spent so much of his life compressing and concealing what he actually was. It reminded me of the line that some of those opposite have just used, and I will say it again, that probably the most important part of this legislation that we are discussing today is not necessarily even what it actually did itself but the fact that it sent a message to young gay and lesbian—LGBTIQ—people right around this state: you are who you are. That is completely fine. You are not broken, and you do not need fixing.

Those of this on this side, I can say, to a person, 100 per cent support that, and we 100 per cent supported the notion of outlawing gay conversion therapy. But as I said in my speech at the time, it is not as simple as just saying—you cannot put up a sign out the front of a shop saying—‘Pray away the gay here’. If it were, it would be simple and the legislation would be one page long. But the conversion therapies that I talked about that my friend Patrick McIvor actually went through were far more subtle and far more insidious than that and therefore far more difficult to legislate away. When I hear the member for Burwood saying that some of us on this side want to rip it up again and want to take this away—even in the depths of the arguments that we have had in our party rooms that has never, ever been the issue.

And if you actually listened at any stage to the debate that we had last year, it was about the detail of the legislation and getting that right. As the member for Kew has pointed out, this was not just the Liberals and Nationals saying this; there were some serious organisations with some serious gravitas with some very serious concerns, the AMA most particularly. We had the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the National Association of Practising Psychiatrists. The Law Institute of Victoria talked about how this bill was badly written. I will just finish with a letter from the then president of AMA Victoria, Julian Rait, to our shadow minister at the time, which finished with:

We are vehemently opposed to conversion practices. AMA Victoria’s concerns are not motivated by politics or morality, only that the Bill as currently drafted has the potential to be detrimental to clinical practice.

I think the member for Kew went into some detail about their specific concerns about the ability of doctors, psychiatrists and other health professionals to legitimately treat people and help them with issues of gender and of sexuality. That in no way says that we support gay conversion therapy, and this straw man argument that those opposite are trying to put up is just ridiculous. We moved a series of amendments. We moved initially a reasoned amendment because we thought that the government needed to actually go away and get this right. That was rejected. We moved a series of amendments about the AMA’s concerns, about the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ concerns, about the concerns of families about whether they could talk to their children.

Now, whether those issues are legitimate or not, time will tell, but this matter of public importance (MPI) that basically says the protections in the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021 should not be revoked, removed or amended is undone by the bill’s own content, which says that it will be reviewed after two years. Not anyone is ever suggesting that a piece of legislation is flawless, and that seems to be what we are getting from those opposite, that you should not even be questioning this legislation. This government itself in the legislation has said, ‘We will review it after two years’. That is entirely appropriate, as it is for any legislation, and we think that those issues that we raised at the time, that we moved as amendments in the upper house after our reasoned amendment failed, should be addressed in the review that will come about starting in February 2023, whoever is in government. It would be pretty silly to look back on the language of this matter of public importance if the Labor government is re-elected and then start to review the bill. I mean, that is really what we are talking about here, and so it is quite extraordinary for those opposite to suggest that there is a problem and the Labor Party has the solution. If you do not support the Labor Party’s solution, then you obviously do not want to address the problem. That is the sort of fount-of-all-wisdom attitude that brings this government down.

I go back to what I quoted in my speech on the bill at the time. It was an Age editorial, and as I said at the time, it is not often that I quote Age editorials. In fact it is very rare that I even read them. But the Age editorial at the time talked about some concerns put forward by the Catholic archbishop, and it said:

… addressing the concerns put forward by Archbishop Comensoli and other faith leaders regarding how the bill will work in practice can only strengthen the legislation in the final analysis, and avoid its use as a wedge issue between or within political parties.

Now, I think the Labor Party should be thinking. When the Age editorialises to that extent, it should be actually having a serious think about its position. It went on to say:

Meanwhile, though it may be impossible for the government to satisfy the bill’s opponents on every point, reaching out to them now will ensure that the government is able to proceed in good faith.

Amen to that—in good faith. We have heard the member for Oakleigh, the member for Northcote and the member for Burwood all say we should not be having this debate. We agree. What are we having this debate for? The member for Oakleigh said, ‘Let’s put this to bed’. Well, we did not put this MPI on the agenda. Our position has not changed. We said all this, and we raised our concerns about the legislation back in December and February of this year—and yet the government puts this up for base political reasons.

Look, I get, particularly with the MPI, that party politics goes on all the time, but with this one in particular, after I spoke—and I spoke in a pretty heartfelt way about the story of my friend as well—I had Labor members tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘Well done; well spoken’. But shortly afterwards they came in here when it came to voting on the bill—and no-one opposed the bill—and they sat there mute while the member for South Barwon called a division. Now, that is the bit that the member for Burwood just left out. He read out the votes, which actually were not tallied as a division. But those votes were only read out because the member for South Barwon call a division deliberately to try and wedge the opposition, not because of concern about the LGBTI community.

A member interjected.

Mr D O’BRIEN: Well, the member for Burwood well knows, and anyone listening to this should understand, there is no vote taken if no-one opposes legislation. There is no vote taken. That was a very cynical and frankly appalling piece of work that the government did at the time. I was frankly quite offended by it, particularly after those members had said, ‘Gee, you spoke well’, and then they went and pulled that stunt. This particular MPI—well, it is not as bad as that, but it is that lack of good faith that the government is undertaking here, because it is boiling it down to politics, and I think the LGBTI community should not be subjected to that. We had legitimate concerns about the drafting of the bill. It should be completely fair for us to raise those concerns at the same time as opposing gay conversion therapy.

Stay up-to-date

Subscribe to Danny’s regular newsletter to stay informed about issues relating to Gippsland South.