Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:48): We have heard today people say, ‘I oppose conversion practices and suppression practices, but’ and ‘We are against conversion practices and suppression practices. However’. There should be no buts and there should be no howevers on this bill today. This is good legislation. I thank Ms Terpstra for outlining some of the main points of the legislation and some of the misinformation that has been going on, and I might touch on that later. These laws will protect people from harm. That is probably one of the most important reasons we are all in this chamber today. This bill will save lives. This bill is about respect, this bill is about equality and this bill is about fairness. This bill will, I hope, start to end the significant sense of shame that so many people spoke to me about, that so many people of faith spoke to us about.
I was at the Pride March when the Premier announced that this bill would come to this chamber, and that was actually a couple of years ago, so it has taken a while to get here. Right now I thank all the people that helped it make it here, and in particular I thank the survivors, because this was not an easy journey. Many of you have told your story not once but many times, and that has been difficult. The journey itself was difficult, then getting to the point that you could express that was even more difficult. I admire your courage and your commitment and everything that you did and everything that you went through, and what you have done will help others to not have to go through what you had to go through. You will prevent others from being harmed in the way that you were. I would like to especially thank the gender and sexuality commissioner, Commissioner Allen, for their advocacy and leadership in shepherding this campaign, in shepherding this bill.
I met with survivors, as I said, and I spoke to religious leaders and I spoke to organisations, including the Australian Christian Lobby. I am not sure why, but we seem to meet once a year for some reason or another—they seek me out, for some reason or another. I also spoke to doctors and I spoke to academics. But again it was the conversations with survivors and the families whose children did not survive that have led me to give my absolute support for this bill. I know for some this bill does not go far enough, but I want this bill to go through in the form it is in now.
I thank all the people who wrote to me and phoned me about my concerns. Yes, you are right, Ms Terpstra, I did receive hundreds—actually I received thousands—of emails and certainly my office received hundreds and hundreds of phone calls patched through from the Australian Christian Lobby Canberra office. They patched them through to me. To be honest, in doing that, it sharpened my consideration of this bill. It actually made me go back and double-check. Did this bill actually ban prayer? Oh, no, it did not actually. But it sharpened my consideration and it led me to actually ask more questions about the bill. I thank the minister’s office for the assistance and the constant back and forth in responding to our queries about this.
But I can tell you: you did not convince me that this bill is not right and you convinced me that this bill is needed. In fact you showed me that these practices and the beliefs that back these practices, that instil these practices, which I thought were obsolete, are still alive and kicking in our society. This is not something from back in the good olden days, as Mr Finn would say. This is not in our past, this is in our now. This is happening now, and we heard that. This has to stop, and this bill will help stop it.
This bill will not be everything. As we know, as we all know, legislation is just part of the process. We set up the legislation, but in that, that is about changing attitudes, that is about changing opinions, that is about educating the community. It is sad to say in 2021 that we still need to educate the community, that we still need to say that our LGBTIQ brothers and sisters are not broken, that they are equal in every respect, that they do not need to be changed. In fact for those in opposition to the bill—almost 100 per cent; there were a couple of people who opposed the bill for different reasons—for nearly everyone their reference point against this bill was that homosexuality is wrong, that anything but heterosexuality is wrong, that they may purport to love the sinner but hate sin. Frankly, this is all based on a very narrow—very narrow!—interpretation of a couple of lines in the Bible.
I will quote a few of the survivors, but I would like to also quote Reverend Avril Hannah-Jones, who is a minister at the Uniting Church. She said:
One of the most painful things that can happen to a queer person of faith is being told that they have been somehow mismade by God, that somehow their sexuality or their gender identity was a mistake.
Mr Bourman mentioned, actually in a very respectful way, consent—that people should be able to consent to conversion practices. You cannot consent when you have got a congregation and you have got a pastor always telling you that you are absolutely wrong, that you must be fixed. I say now, again: no LGBTIQ person needs to be fixed. As one survivor said:
“The idea that via exorcisms, casting out demons and other spiritual processes God will somehow change my sexual orientation from gay to straight, I was so brainwashed by the teachings of the church, so desperate not to be gay and so terrified of eternal damnation that I willingly signed up to the program.”
Is that the type of consent we are talking about? That is. That is why this bill is worded in the way that it is. The reason people want to consent to some of these practices is because they are told they will not go to heaven and that they have to leave the congregation. This is not free will. This bill will not mend the past, and I know that for many survivors the journey to self-love and to renewing your spirituality will not be a straight line and you may never, ever come to the end. You should not have to choose between your sexuality and your spirituality.
The misinformation that has gone on about this bill is not just in the emails that I received, not just in the rantings of some of the people in this chamber—and in fact I think it was disappointing to hear such misinformation being spouted in this chamber—but Martyn Iles, the head of the Australian Christian Lobby, came out to say that this bill:
” … is the biggest attack on religious freedom in Australia’s history.”
In Australia’s history! I think he also said, and I think the Christian lobby also believe, that the safe access zone legislation was one of the biggest attacks on religious freedom. Then again, I think he also said that about the anti-vilification bill that I put forward in this house some time ago, and I think he also said it about marriage equality. He went on to say that this bill:
” … could put people like you and me in jail. It will certainly see criminal action against Christian parents. It could even outlaw the teaching of the Bible.”
With that sort of misinformation out there—and that was represented in nearly every single email that my office received in opposition to this bill. It was that misinformation being perpetrated by people who should know better. Martyn Iles, I have no doubt, has read that bill. I have no doubt he knows that that is rubbish—that that is not true.
Then today to again hear this deliberate misinformation being spouted and spread in this chamber—I mean, for Mr Grimley from Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party to conflate paedophilia with this bill was absolutely disgusting and absolutely unforgivable. If you support victims—as the Hinch party continually tells us that they are here for the victims—then how can you not support this bill? How can you vote against it? What alternative facts are you taking heed of? Freedom of speech and freedom of religion do not allow you to cause harm. So let us be clear: this bill will not stop you from being a homophobe. It will not even stop you from preaching hate. You can still share your views of Sodom and Gomorrah; you just cannot single out an individual.
You have freedom of religion, and this bill does not at all restrict that, but freedom of religion has its limits, and that limit is when it harms someone else. Expressing your beliefs through genital mutilation is such a limit. Expressing your beliefs through an exorcism to release the demons of sexuality is another. I cannot understand why some in this house who stand up for victims of crime will not support this bill. The perpetrators of this abuse may believe they come from the right place, but that does not reduce the harm they cause.
Let us not forget that these are the same people who for decades practised a different form of suppression—that is, they suppressed the information about child sexual abuse happening in those religious institutions. They are still doing it. Archbishop Comensoli, one of the biggest, loudest opponents to this bill, is still saying that the sanctity of the confession trumps the reporting of child sexual abuse. This is not religious freedom, this is about religious privilege, and your religious freedom does not trump the rights of our community to live safely and without harm.
After a royal commission found that Australia’s churches perpetrated nearly 5000 sexual assaults of young children and tried to hide it, I do not know why we are even asking them about their positions on sexuality and on sex, frankly.
Mr Meddick: Irrelevant!
Ms PATTEN: They are irrelevant, and that is exactly why they are trying to do it here, to inject yet another dose of aberrant and I would say deviant sexuality into our lives.
This bill, as I say, will not prevent you from being a homophobe, I am afraid. It will not stop you from being nasty. But to suggest, as Mr Hayes did and Mr Finn did, that prayer will become a criminal offence is wrong and it is harmful. Frankly, to say things like that in this chamber when you know better says a lot about you. It is spreading fear about this bill, as we have seen, by distributing disinformation. We saw the Australian Family Association deliver pamphlets on this bill in Northcote, of all places, saying things like, ‘Parents will go to jail’ and ‘This is an affront to our freedom of speech and our freedom of religion’, as Mr Finn tried to put today.
The Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee was clear on this, and I thank the Attorney-General for actually making available her response to the SARC questions. It was very clear. As I say, this does not prevent you from being a homophobe. This does not prevent you from saying, ‘All gays will go to hell’. It is not true—well, I do not know. I do not actually think there is a hell. Just as a quick aside, I was sent a copy of a letter. I do not know if others got it. It was an open letter to Premier Daniel Andrews and it was from the Noosa Temple of Satan. I know Mr Finn thought I might be Satan’s little helper—
Mr Finn: Not might!
Ms PATTEN: Well, maybe I am, because the Temple of Satan actually supports this bill. As a little bit of light relief, they said:
‘We see demonic possession as being crucial to helping us maintain a stable membership base …’
This is why they wanted to outlaw exorcisms, so the demons could stay within those bodies and they could continue to grow.
‘The performance of exorcisms to drive Satan out of people’s souls is a direct threat to our aims.’
Mr Meddick: Are they a registered charity?
Ms PATTEN: No, they are not a registered charity. I know that the Liberals have put up amendments—and again I go back to this. ‘We are opposed to conversion and suppression practices, but how about we defer this bill?’. As Ms Terpstra quite rightly pointed out, this has been through lengthy consultation processes: the Health Complaints Commissioner; 12 months of consultation through Engage Victoria; and we saw the La Trobe University study. This is not a new conversation; this conversation has been going for some time. I do not actually see how the Legal and Social Issues Committee spending another two months in consultation will make any difference to this bill or will change it.
I know that some concerns have been voiced by the AMA and by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, and I appreciate that the Liberals have put some amendments forward in response to that. I actually think the better way to deal with those concerns is through the committee process, and I will be asking the Attorney-General a number of questions in that area.
I would just like to finish on a couple of points in regard to wanting further consultation. I got a text message from a Uniting minister, Minister Peter Macleod-Miller, and he told me their starting point is the need to change orientation or for our LGBTIQ community to be given a second-class seat at the community table. It is like a group of butchers commenting on the benefits of vegetarianism. That was quite esoteric for an Anglican minister.
Ms Lovell interjected.
Ms PATTEN: I apologise; he is an Anglican minister, Peter Macleod-Miller, from the Albury Anglican Church. But I will leave the last quote to Mr Comensoli—that is, Daniel Comensoli, Archbishop Comensoli’s nephew—and he said this bill will save lives and foster a more inclusive and affirming Victoria for the LGBTIQ+ community. There is nothing to fear in this bill being passed. I commend this bill to the house.