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A reform that must succeed

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Mr MORRIS (Mornington) (12:11): This certainly is an extremely important piece of legislation because these so-called suppression practices and these so-called conversion practices are completely abhorrent, and the obvious outcome of this bill is a ban on those practices.

The notion that anyone is broken because of their sexuality, the notion that anyone is broken because of the way they identify in terms of gender, is complete nonsense. But it is dangerous nonsense. It is nonsense that destroys lives, and it is nonsense that takes lives.

Growing up is hard enough for anyone, but growing up with doubts about your sexuality or growing up with doubts about your gender identity must be that much harder.

The last thing anyone, whether an adult, a young adult or a child, needs is pressure to be something that they are not.

When we look at the figures reported by the National LGBTI Health Alliance, LGBTI young people are 11 times more likely to attempt suicide than others. Almost half of transgender and gender-diverse people, adults and children attempt suicide.

If you compare that almost 50 per cent figure with around about one in 30 for the rest of the population, those figures speak for themselves.

If there is systemic change that the Parliament can make, then we should make it. If there are outside influences contributing to the stress, to the sense of despair that drives people down the path to consider taking their own life, then we must address those issues.

Certainly that I know is the intent of this bill, and I do welcome it.

As the member for Caulfield noted, the opposition believes the bill could be improved by encouraging greater input between now and the next parliamentary sitting, and that of course is the intent of the reasoned amendment.

If time permits, I will return to that a little later. But I do need to say that, in my view, to present the bill in the way that the government has I think is a really wasted opportunity, because there was a real opportunity here in bringing forward the legislation to use that process, to use that occasion, to heal divisions in the community.

Unfortunately the government elected to let that opportunity pass. Wider consultation, as the member for Caulfield said, certainly was an election commitment.

We understand the commitment, and we are keen to see the intent of the bill implemented. But the consultation, to be frank, has not been particularly wide.

When you have that wider consultation and when you have that wider discussion, it does help to drive cultural change. It drives understanding, and that leads to cultural change. After all, that is what this process is about.

There are not many pieces of legislation you see come through a parliament where the parliament is explicitly, in passing the legislation, committing to cultural change in the community, but this is one of them. As I said, it is certainly a good change.

If I go back to the early days of my time in this house, in 2008 the Brumby government proposed a bill that became the Relationships Act 2008. It was only 12 years ago, but in some ways it seems like a world away.

Despite the fact that there were strong views on both sides, it was largely a respectful debate, and in my view it was a debate that broadened the understanding of the Victorian community on matters of sexuality.

It did encourage that discussion, and certainly it encouraged a greater awareness of the issues. I have no doubt that debate and the conversation that ensued from that contributed to the outcome of the marriage law postal survey.

Now, I understand there were issues with the mechanism, and I do not wish to enter into that debate today, but when you look at the outcome, the highest level of support for a yes vote was in the state of Victoria.

The highest participation rate was in the state of Victoria, and that I think is the best possible outcome.

That confirmed beyond all doubt that the overwhelming majority of Victorians prefer tolerance and inclusiveness to intolerance and division.

In bringing forward this piece of legislation the government really had a similar opportunity to that that existed for the Brumby government in 2008.

Unfortunately they have chosen to handle it quite differently.

I should also, however, say I do not for a moment doubt the genuine motivation of many members of the government and many who have spoken today.

I am frankly rather cynical about the motivation of some who seem to be taking the opportunity to manufacture division where little exists. Instead of seeking to fan the flames, there was a real opportunity here to bridge that chasm. It is a shrinking chasm, thankfully, probably a rapidly shrinking chasm, but there was an opportunity here to bridge it, and I think it is deeply unfortunate that opportunity has not been taken.

I want to refer to a couple of issues with regard to the commentary of the second-reading speech. The minister’s second-reading speech talks about the definition of change or suppression practices being carefully crafted and not being designed to capture all religious practices or teachings.

I am a little bit concerned that the speech then goes on to say the definition would likely not capture conduct where, for example, a person goes to a religious leader seeking advice on their feelings of same-sex and so on. The keywords there being ‘likely not capture’.

The speech goes on again to say they would likely not capture conduct where, for example, a person confides in a religious leader regarding their gender identity.

I think the fact that we have legislation in the house where even the minister’s speech says ‘will likely not capture’ means that it is open to interpretation.

I have been very clear for the whole of my time in this place that in my view it is up to the Parliament to make the rules, not the courts, and it does concern me that we have a situation where there is an opportunity for interpretation in an unintended way. That is the risk with that.

I also note that the bill will not allow an adult to consent to change or suppression practices. I understand the reasoning for that, and I certainly support the intent; I do, however, remain uneasy about limiting the actions of an individual in this manner.

So despite the concerns about the process and the somewhat ambivalent language in the second-reading speech, I think this is an opportunity to achieve real and lasting reform.

Whether we elect to deal with the issues of concern here or whether we leave it to the courts to interpret those issues, the legacy of this bill will be significant cultural change.

This is a reform that I have no doubt aligns with the views of the overwhelming majority of Victorians, a reform that will outlaw an abhorrent practice, and while it could be improved and I hope it will be improved, it is a reform that must succeed.