The Liberal Party wants the Victorian government to pause progress on its bill banning gay conversion therapy to consult with religious groups over the summer break.
Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien says his party supports the ban in principle, but remains concerned elements of the bill could restrict religious freedoms.
“There have been concerns raised about aspects of the bill,” Mr O’Brien told reporters on Tuesday, following a party room meeting.
“The impact of the role of parents and their children. Impacts on the role of faith communities and their ability to teach their religions.
“We’re going to call on the government to pause on the bill and use this summer to consult with those communities. There are legitimate questions raised by people who all agree conversion therapy should be outlawed.”
The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill before the Legislative Assembly outlaws any therapy that attempts to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The bill goes further than a similar law passed earlier this year in Queensland in that it prohibits harmful practices not only in healthcare settings but also in religious settings.
It expressly bans “carrying out a religious practice including but not limited to, a prayer based practice, a deliverance practice or an exorcism”.
Mr O’Brien said the party reserved its position on the bill in the upper house, where the government will need opposition or crossbench support for it to pass.
He also refused to say whether a conscious vote would be allowed.
The meeting was the party’s first in-person since the start of the pandemic.
Five backbenchers had reportedly demanded Mr O’Brien hold the meeting in person rather than via Zoom, so they could express their discontent about the party’s direction.
“It was great to be able to get everyone in the same room. We had a very positive, very constructive meeting. It was a great way to finish off the year,” Mr O’Brien said.
Prior to the party room meeting, Liberal MP Tim Smith said the party should not allow a conscience vote on the matter.
“This is pretty cut and dry. You are what you are. I read reports about people praying, or some such to stop people from being gay or some rubbish. I mean this is nonsense,” he told reporters.
“You know I prayed 20 years ago that I’d be 6-foot-4, well I’m 5-10.
“This is actually quite insane. It’s demented. You are what you are … We are all made in the image of God. Can I make that point as a very, very bad Anglican.”
Equality Minister Martin Foley said the government wasn’t criminalising faith teachings.
“We are criminalising deliberate practices that torture and target individuals for being who they are,” he said.
“This legislation is long overdue. It is about the shared values all Victorians have about being decent, and respectful to each other.”
The government has been consulting with organisations on a ban since October 2019. Victoria’s parliament is in its final sitting week of the year.