Opinion: National's U-turn on conversion therapy ban flawed and contradictory

OPINION:  Last night, National voted against a piece of legislation that could stop an archaic, insulting, and downright dangerous practice that tells people in my community they’re wrong and broken for simply existing.

People holding flags supporting the LGBTQ+ community.

What baffles me was the party has time and time again preached that it is against conversion therapy, its youth wing is publicly calling for the ban, one MP even said she wanted to have the conversation about it in the bill's next step - so why vote against its first hurdle? 

During last night’s debate, Labour MP Louisa Wall said National was sitting on the "wrong side of history". She's not wrong. 

In the same debate, National MP Louise Upston said that "National wants to support this bill".

Yet the party voted against it.  

ACT MP Nicole McKee said they had "some major concerns about some of the clauses in this bill". 

Yet the party voted for it. 

If you recognise banning conversion therapy is "the right thing to do", as National leader Judith Collins did just this year , it's unfathomable to think you'd rather allow it to continue than progress it onto its next step to discuss the specifics. 

National’s Barbara Kuriger’s speech last night almost indicated they were going to vote ‘yes’. She says there is “no place for conversion therapy practices” in New Zealand and says the parliamentary process is meant to better legislation.

“That is why we are standing here today saying that we do not support conversion therapy, but we're not in a place yet where we can support this piece of legislation. We want to. We want you to help us,” she said, calling for an “adult discussion” at select committee.

“We want it gone; we just want to make sure that in the process of finding ourselves in a place where we could move to support this bill—and I'm telling you today, and other members of our caucus have told you, we want to support this bill.

“We just want to make sure that we have the best piece of legislation that is possible to be able to support this bill.”

National seemingly want this bill to be discussed, debated, tweaked. They want conversion therapy to not have a place in New Zealand. Then why not vote in favour, citing its concerns, to push it ahead to select committee to address those concerns?

It's used that very reasoning to vote 'yes' in first readings before.  It did it for Zero Carbon Bill in 2019 ; then-leader Simon Bridges saying during the first reading the party was "deeply concerned about the wider economic impact of the bill".

The first reading in Parliament is only the first step for a proposed law. Enough votes in favour during the first reading means the bill goes to the select committee stage, where feedback can be given and amendments recommended, before it goes to its second reading. 

If most votes are not in favour, it means the bill doesn't progress. 

Yesterday, the ACT Party said it took issue with a specific part of the bill. It voted 'yes'. 

Yesterday, the National Party said it took issue with a specific part of the bill. It voted 'no'. 

Due to the sheer numbers of supporters (ACT, Labour, Te Paati Māori and Greens), the bill to ban conversion therapy passed its first reading regardless . National's block vote against did not impact that. 

Let's look at why National says the bill needs to be changed.  

In last night's debate, Bridges claimed it would criminalise "good parenting". 

He then describes such a case of "good parenting”. “But under this law, if a mum tells her 12-year-old son or daughter, ‘Taihoa (hold on), before you go on puberty blockers or other hormone treatment, wait till you're 18.’, that mum will be breaking the law.”

He raised concerns about kids realising they were "wrong" to think they were trans. I hope he holds the same concerns for the kids who were "wrong" to think they were cisgender. 

But the bill  explicitly excludes "providing acceptance, support, or understanding of an individual; or facilitating an individual’s coping skills, development, or identity exploration, or facilitating social support for the individual". Surely providing understanding, facilitating identity exploration, comes under "good parenting"?

The bill also requires actions to "cause harm or serious harm". It requires approval of the attorney-general before a case makes it to court. It must be "performed with the intention of changing or suppressing their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression". 

There’s no doubt there’s disagreement within Parliament about the best way to handle the conversion therapy ban. People are welcome to their political opinions and discussion should be had to ensure our legislation is the best it can be.

In my view, National's reasoning for rejecting the first reading of the bill to ban conversion therapy is flawed and contradictory, sending a dangerous message to the rainbow community. Instead of supporting a bid to protect them, it appears to have thrown them under the bus.

Breanna Barraclough is the digital initiatives editor at 1 NEWS and is writing in a personal capacity.