Public submissions on proposal to ban conversion therapy highest ever received

Anna Whyte
Source: 1News

The number of public submissions on the proposed law to ban conversion therapy has broken the New Zealand record for the highest ever received on a proposed law, with 106,700 submissions counted so far. 

1 NEWS spoke to various groups who are pushing the Government to outlaw the practise.

And officials are still counting. 

The sheer number could see the select committee hit the road to allow people to submit in person - depending on the Covid-19 outbreak situation. 

Justice Select Committee chair Ginny Andersen said it would take about two weeks for the 41 staff members to process the submissions that closed last Wednesday. 

"We know approximately 3000 want to be heard to come and submit," Andersen said. 

The submissions received on the End of Choice Life Bill was 39,159, with the committee hearing oral evidence from 1,350 submitters around the country. 

She said the committee agreed, alert levels permitting, they would go to the main centres where high numbers of submissions came from. 

Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington saw the highest amount of submissions to the conversion practices bill. 

National's Simon Bridges, who is on the Justice Committee, said with "more submissions by a massive margin than received for any other piece of law in Parliament’s history, it’s clear more time is needed" to consider the bill. 

"Due to the Covid-19 lockdown and the unprecedented numbers who want to be heard, the submission process should be extended to take until at least the end of the year, and it may in fact have to go into 2022 to make sure the work is done properly," Bridges said in a statement. 

On if there would be an extension in light of the high number of submissions, Andersen said the process would be discussed, however the full analysis into the submissions including those for and against and the geographical location would be needed. 

Andersen said also said they needed to establish how many submissions were replicated templates and that there was general agreement that it was unlikely those would be heard in person by the committee. 

Of the more than 100,000 submissions, only 36 were sent in as paper copies, showing how social media and online activity had changed the way Kiwis engage with democracy, Andersen said. 

"I'm keen to crack on," Andersen said, with the first submissions by organisations beginning via Zoom at 9am Wednesday and going through to the end of workday on Thursday. 

On if there was an indication of the ratio of support for the bill, Andersen said it was currently hard to tell, as each one needed to be read to determine whether it was for, against or abstained.

"It's quite a reasonable amount of analysis to be read though," she said. 

The first reading of the proposed law to ban conversion therapy passed in August. 

If passed into law, it could see someone imprisoned for up to three years in jail for performing conversion therapy on someone under 18 and up to five years where it has caused serious harm, irrespective of age. 

Labour's youth wing's submission stated it believed the threshold for harm was too high for people aged over 18 - pointing out it was unclear if the scope for 'serious harm' could leave out negative impacts such as depression or anxiety.

It also expressed concern over the inclusion of the person performing conversion practices having to have had intention of changing or suppressing sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. It said proving intention could be "extremely difficult". 

Young Nats asked for the definition of 'suppression' within the bill , to provide certainty and clarity for parents. 

"This bill needs to ensure that a balance is struck which allows parents to be able to make decisions for their child, but also explicitly prohibiting parents being able to subject their child to conversion practices."

Earlier this year, the Government announced proposed laws to fulfill its 2020 election promise after pressure had come on Labour to ban conversion therapy. 

The proposal makes it a criminal offence "to perform conversion practices on a child or young person aged under 18, or on someone with impaired decision-making capacity".

Someone performing conversion therapy on a person under 18 could receive punishment of up to three years in jail. 

A person could get up to five years in prison if they have performed conversion therapy on a person of any age and it has caused serious harm.

It also would allow for civil redress.

To be considered conversion therapy, it must: "Be directed towards someone because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, and performed with the intention of changing or suppressing their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression".

Calls to ban sexual orientation and gender conversion therapy came in 2018 after  TVNZ's Sunday investigated therapy offering to "cure" people.

It revealed that conversion therapy in New Zealand was readily available.

Labour MP Marja Lubeck then introduced a  Member's bill in 2018 , after a  20,000-strong petition  led by the Green and Labour youth wings was delivered to Parliament. It was never pulled from the ballot.

Earlier this year, the Green Party, fed up with the time it was taking the Government to ban conversion therapy, launched a petition for priority to be placed on outlawing the practice.

It received more than 157,000 signatures. National also  gave its support to banning conversion therapy . Faafoi said at the time the Government was aiming to have it banned by February 2022