Protect NSW Update: “Equality” bill referred to inquiry, conversion bill rammed through parliament

Protect NSW Update: “Equality” bill referred to inquiry, conversion bill rammed through parliament

It’s been a big couple of weeks for NSW. But first, a quick recap for context.

Background: NSW “Equality” Bill and Conversion Bill(s)

On 24 August 2023, Independent MP Alex Greenwich introduced the ‘Conversion Practices Prohibition Bill 2023’ and the ‘Equality Legislation Amendment (LGBTIQA+) Bill 2023’ into the NSW Parliament. Between the two bills, were some of the most anti-women, anti-children reforms we have seen, including:

“Equality” Bill

1. The introduction of self-ID, which will allow anyone to change their legal sex (including children), enabling males to legally identify as female and access women-only spaces;

2. Further liberalised prostitution, which will remove protections for prostituted persons, and further entrench the sexual objectification and exploitation of women and girls;

3. Removing bans on overseas commercial surrogacy, which will encourage the commodification of vulnerable women as wombs for rent and children as products for sale;

4. Allowing children under 16 to consent to medical treatment without parental consent, particularly ‘gender-affirming’ treatments like puberty blockers, which undermines the parent-child relationship and puts the child at risk;

Conversion Practices Prohibition Bill

5. The criminalisation or restriction of care for individuals struggling with gender dysphoria that doesn’t simply affirm a person’s ‘gender identity’.

As a result, we launched our Protect NSW Campaign, asking MPs to oppose both pieces of legislation. Our petition has so far amassed more than 20,000 signatures, and thousands of emails were personally sent to MPs from NSW residents concerned about the bills.

On 28 November 2023, Greenwich’s ‘Conversion Practices Prohibition Bill’ was allowed to lapse, as the NSW Labor Government had promised to introduce its own bill banning ‘conversion practices’. The “Equality” Bill was set down for debate on 8 February and/or 14 March 2024.

NSW "Equality" Bill sent to inquiry!

After significant backlash from the public, including concerns that consultation on the Bill had been rushed and one-sided, Greenwich’s "Equality" Bill did not proceed to debate. Instead, it was referred to Committee for inquiry on 13 March 2024, with report due 3 June 2024. This means its regressive reforms will now receive further scrutiny. We are so grateful to everyone who signed our petition and raised the alarm with MPs about this harmful legislation.

Members of the public have now been invited to provide their views on the Bill in an online survey until 14 April 2024. 

While we are pleased that the Bill has been referred to an inquiry, we are concerned that the survey does not provide enough scope for people to outline their concerns with the Bill, as it merely asks people to select ‘oppose’, ‘neutral/undecided’, ‘support with amendments’, ‘support’, in relation to bulk amendments proposed to multiple pieces of legislation, without any opportunity to explain why.

We are raising our concerns with the NSW Parliament regarding the survey and the seemingly superficial attempt at public consultation, but in the meantime, we encourage as many people as possible to complete the survey, and we encourage people to oppose every amendment proposed in the Bill.

Women's Forum Australia has been invited to make a more extensive submission to the inquiry, and we will be sure to outline in detail our grave concerns with the Bill.

Of further concern, is the fact that earlier this year, Greenwich sent an email around to his parliamentary colleagues noting in an attached 'fact checker' on the Bill, that "Anti-discrimination reforms will be withdrawn pending the Law Reform Commission review of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977" and that "Schedule 3, clause [2] reforms that clarify children and young person’s access to medical treatment are being withdrawn".

Despite this representation by Greenwich to colleagues, the fact that such reforms/amendments are being withdrawn has not been confirmed publicly, nor does this seem to have been taken into account in the public survey. It is concerning that organisations invited to make submissions on the Bill, and members of the public completing the survey, may be wasting their time giving feedback on amendments that are no longer relevant.

NSW Conversion Bill rammed through Parliament 

On 7 March 2024, it came to our attention the Government was planning to introduce its conversion bill the following week. We wrote to Premier Chris Minns and Government Ministers outlining our concerns regarding the Bill’s secretive, exclusive consultation, noting that:

It is unacceptable that Women’s Forum Australia has been excluded [from consultation on the Bill] particularly because of the huge, disproportionate impact that such legislation is expected to have on women and girls.”

Despite the lack of consultation with key stakeholders, on 13 March 2024, the Government introduced the ‘Conversion Practices Ban Bill 2024’, and scheduled debate for less than a week after it was introduced.

On 18 March 2024, we wrote to Members of the NSW Parliament outlining our concerns regarding the content of the Bill and the process surrounding it.

Concerns regarding content

The said purpose of the Bill is to “ban practices directed to changing or suppressing the sexual orientation or gender identity of individuals”. While technically a government bill, it is well known that the Bill has been developed closely with Greenwich.

As noted in correspondence to MPs, Women's Forum Australia opposes all coercive conversion therapy practices, including historical cruel physical and emotional 'treatments' inflicted on people to change behaviours and tendencies (such as aversion therapy, shock therapy, lobotomies, castration, and drug treatments). But this Bill goes far beyond targeting such practices.

In addition to the Bill’s unhelpfully vague if not contradictory exemptions, the most concerning thing about it is its ill-conceived inclusion of ‘gender identity’ in its definition of ‘conversion practices’, which colours every other provision in the legislation.

By inappropriately conflating 'gender identity' with sexual orientation under the proposed definition of ‘conversion practices’, the Bill fails to recognise that gender identity is synonymous with gender dysphoria, a distressing condition where a person believes their body is incongruent with their biological sex, and which is often the result of underlying mental health issues, trauma, and other social factors. Seeking to assist a person to not be gender dysphoric and to embrace their biological sex should therefore not be considered a ‘conversion practice’.

As we highlighted to MPs, women and girls are significantly overrepresented in those presenting with gender dysphoria. By including ‘gender identity’ under its definition of ‘conversion practices’ the Bill appears to ignore the social phenomena that have given rise to the rapid increase in gender dysphoria, the mounting medical evidence against the ‘affirmation only’ approach to gender dysphoria, the irreversible harms resulting from puberty blockers, hormones and surgeries, and the regrets of detransitioners (many of whom are women whose tragic experiences have culminated in lawsuits against medical professionals).

Indeed, the Government’s Bill effectively enshrines the ‘gender affirmation’ approach as the gold standard for those presenting with gender dysphoria, with minimal public debate.

This is even more concerning in light of what is rapidly unfolding on the international stage, where the UK and other jurisdictions are shifting away from the ‘gender affirmation model’ of care, which is facing intense scrutiny.

Just recently, the NHS made the landmark decision to ban puberty blockers for children at gender clinics in the UK because “there is not enough evidence to support [their] safety or clinical effectiveness”.

The week prior to this, we witnessed the bombshell leak of the WPATH files, which contain highly disturbing messages among doctors from a supposed leading authority on transgender health privately acknowledging the harmful impact of ‘gender affirming’ practices on children, including sterilisation, loss of sexual function, and cancer.

Attempts were made by faith groups involved in the roundtable discussions with the Government to negotiate exemptions and protections in the Bill. Some such exemptions were implemented, but we are of the view that many were not clear enough or strong enough to offer the protection people hoped for. As discussed further below, amendments to strengthen protections as well as to remove ‘gender identity’ entirely from the Bill, were all voted down by the Government.

The inclusion of ‘gender identity’ in the Bill leaves open to prosecution and persecution parents and others who may seek to support gender-confused children and to steer them away from ‘gender affirming care’ including life-altering puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and transgender surgeries. Such actions could be considered attempting to ‘change’ or ‘suppress’ a person’s ‘gender identity’ for the purposes of the Bill, which could result in jail time or heavy fines. Of particular concern is that while a threshold of harm must be met to engage the criminal offence scheme, no such threshold exists to trigger the civil complaints scheme.

Concerns regarding process

If the harmful content of the Government’s ‘Conversion Practices Ban Bill’ wasn’t bad enough, the process surrounding it was arguably worse.

In our correspondence to MPs on 7 and 18 March, we explained how unlike other select groups who had been invited to participate in closed roundtable meetings and give feedback on multiple drafts of the Bill, Women’s Forum Australia – in addition to other women’s, children’s, parents and LGB groups – had been shut out of the consultation process.

We recommended that ‘gender identity’ be removed from the Bill, and that if such an amendment could not be agreed upon, that the Bill either be sent to an independent inquiry or that Members of the Legislative Council’s ‘Selection of Bills Committee’ support Libertarian MLC John Ruddick’s call to refer the Bill to a parliamentary committee for an inquiry.

On 19 March 2024, Ruddick moved to refer the Bill to a committee for a two-month public inquiry, as up until this point, consultation on the Bill had been exclusive and behind closed doors. The cross-party Selection of Bills Committee voted 7-6 in favour of the motion.

However, later that day, the Government with the help of the NSW Greens, used their numbers in the Legislative Council to overturn the referral and kill the inquiry (against standard procedure), 21 votes to 20.

So on 20 March 2024, a mere five sitting days after it was introduced, the Bill was rushed through the Legislative Assembly.

On the morning of 21 March 2024, Labor MLC Penny Sharpe moved to suspend the hard 10pm adjournment time so that the Government could ram the Bill through the Legislative Council. Members of the Opposition and Cross Bench opposed the motion, but the Government had the numbers to pass it 21-20.

As a result, exhausted MPs were forced to debate the Bill from 11pm on Thursday evening until 6.30am on Friday morning 22 March 2024, which is when the Bill passed the Legislative Council (see the Hansard transcript here).

The Government refused to entertain even one of the critical, sensible amendments that were moved, including Ruddick’s amendment to remove ‘gender identity’ from the Bill. This is despite his powerful speech given in favour of the amendment.

Indeed, from when Greenwich’s conversion bill was introduced last year, through to when the Government introduced its own conversion bill, and rammed it through parliament, the Government has ignored concerns that the Bill would embed gender conversion for minors in law, and multiple MPs, including Premier Chris Minns, shamefully refused to meet with detransitioners and other concerned stakeholders.

We worked closely with cross-party MPs opposed to the Bill in the meagre one week we had between its introduction and debate (many of whom referenced us in their speeches during debate on the Bill), but a predetermined outcome by the Government meant we were fighting a losing battle. The reality is, that the Government had the numbers with the Greens and others, to effectively do whatever it wanted.

While the outcome is deeply disappointing and concerning, it is important that opposition to this Bill and the process surrounding it, is now firmly on the record for when the gender medicine scandal blows up even more than it already has, and we need to point to who should be held accountable.

It is also worth noting that while still far from ideal, the Bill is not as bad as what would have passed had the Government supported Greenwich’s original version of the legislation (for example, while we do not think them robust or clear enough, provisions in sections 3(3) and (4) of the Bill provide varying exemptions for health practitioners, parents and religious communities).

We are grateful to the MPs who stayed throughout the night to move critical amendments (despite being unsuccessful) and who gave powerful speeches outlining their concerns with the Bill and the process surrounding it including: John Ruddick (Libertarian), Damien Tudehope, Susan Carter, Tim James, Rachel Merton, Natasha Maclaren-Jones, Aileen MacDonald (Liberal), Mark Banasiak and Robert Borsak (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers), Tania Mihailuk and Mark Latham (One Nation), Rod Roberts (Independent).

We are also grateful to the sole four MPs who put their names on the record as voting against the Bill: John Ruddick, Mark Banasiak, Tania Mihailuk and Robert Borsak.

Many Liberal and National MPs left before the end of the debate at 6.30am, and so their votes were not recorded. They knew they could not have won the debate knowing that the Government had the numbers to pass the Bill. However, it is unfortunate that they did not put their names on the record as voting against the Bill and disappointing that their parties did not take a uniform position against it.

Stay tuned for how you can continue to support our campaign against the (anti) “Equality” Bill

No matter how hopeless things may seem, we will continue to call out those who undermine the safety of the most vulnerable in our society, and fight for women, children, families and our broader culture against a dangerous ideology that seeks to erode biological reality, women's sex-based rights, genuine health care, and the parent-child relationship.

We will be keeping you updated as to how you can help us raise a louder voice against Greenwich's (anti) "Equality" Bill over the coming weeks. In the meantime please make sure to:

1. Sign our petition against the Bill, if you haven’t already. We have updated our Protect NSW Campaign petition to now focus solely on the “Equality” Bill.

2. Participate in the inquiry into the Bill by completing the Government survey, opposing the Bill’s proposed amendments.

Thank you for your ongoing support to protect women, children and the NSW community!

Women’s Forum Australia is an independent think tank that undertakes research, education and public policy advocacy on issues affecting women and girls, with a particular focus on addressing behaviours and practices that are harmful and abusive to them. We are a non-partisan, non-religious, tax-deductible charity. We do not receive any government funding and rely solely on donations to make an impact. Support our work today.

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