Dan Andrews and Michael O'Brien
Dan Andrews and Michael O'Brien (Images: AAP/David Crosling; James Ross)

You would think supporting a crackdown on an extreme practice like gay conversion therapy would be a no brainer, yet Victorian Premier Dan Andrew’s plan to outlaw the practice has driven a split within the state’s Liberal party.

Labor has introduced legislation that would ban religious groups including churches using prayer to “change” LGBTIQ people. But some religious leaders say the laws are too far-reaching and are a threat to religious freedoms.

The issue will come to a head inside the Liberal Party today as MPs meet to decide whether to support the legislation. Already there are signs some are against the new law.

Here’s where the major players stand.

Dan Andrews

This is Daniel Andrews’ latest legislative push against the authority of the church, having already introduced assisted dying legislation and mandatory reporting rules for church confessionals.

Andrews, himself a Catholic, has also spoken out in support of the alleged victims of George Pell. Andrews says gay conversion therapy is “quackery” and has “no place in this state”:

“Gay, bi and trans people don’t need to be ‘cured’ — because there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them. And if you think otherwise, maybe there’s something wrong with you.”

Michael O’Brien

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien has also previously described gay conversion therapy as “quackery” but is yet to say whether the Liberals will support the new bill in parliament.

In 2019 O’Brien told ABC radio he had voted yes in the marriage equality vote and believed gay conversion therapy was wrong.

“It’s quackery. So let’s not be in any doubt about where I stand and where my Victorian Liberal Party stands,” he said.

In regard to whether his colleague former federal Liberal vice president Karina Okotel was “a gay conversion therapy advocate”, O’Brien said: “My understanding is Ms Okotel doesn’t support gay conversion therapy, but that’s neither here nor there.”

Karina Okotel

Influential party figure and religious hardliner Karina Okotel has long supported gay conversion “counselling”.

In March 2018, according to The Australian, Okotel emailed the Menzies-Warrandyte Young Liberals, asking them to move a motion at party state council which would amend the Health Complaints Act to allow health practitioners counsel people “out of same sex attraction”.

In February 2019, Okotel expressed her support on Facebook for an article against Andrews’ conversion therapy stance. “At its heart, this is an attack on personal freedom — if a competent adult wants to seek counselling out of same-sex attraction, why shouldn’t they be allowed to?” Okotel reportedly wrote.

Ahead of the vote this week she emailed all Victorian Liberal state MPs suggesting it should be legal for people to attend prayer groups to “change” their sexuality but illegal for groups to use extreme measures such as shock therapy.

“When did the government become in charge of our sexuality?” she wrote.

Tim Smith

Notorious attention seeking MP Tim Smith has used the legislation to attack Okotel, reportedly blasting off a reply all in response to her email: “You should have been expelled from the Liberal Party, and your poorly timed intervention provides me with the opportunity to ask Michael O’Brien why you are still a member of our party.”

Presumably that means he supports Andrews’ legislation.

Catholic Archbishop Peter Comensoli

Archbishop Comensoli told The Age that the laws are too far reaching. “Who I pray to, how I pray, what I pray for, and most particularly, who I pray with is not of concern to any government,” he said.

Pastor Teash Taylor

Pastor Teash Taylor from the St Kilda Baptist Church told The Age that reforms had “the potential to be life saving”.