National's support for ban on conversion therapy a 'consensus' decision, despite concerns - Judith Collins

Judith Collins says National's decision to come out against gay conversion therapy was a "consensus" decision made by party's caucus, despite freedom of speech concerns from a high-ranking member.

After a week of saying the party had no position on the matter, Collins on Tuesday said after googling the pseudoscientific practise and talking to her party's youth wing, she decided to oppose it. 

"I certainly didn't know anything about it until it was first raised with me during the election campaign," she told The AM Show on Wednesday.

In October last year, ahead of the general election, Collins promised to do some research on the practise, which is already banned in a number of countries and parts of Australia. But she clearly didn't - when quizzed by reporters a week ago, Collins reiterated the party still had no position and was yet to discuss it.  

"It was raised again and I thought I'd find out about it," she told The AM Show. "Also the caucus wanted to meet and discuss it, so we came out with a consensus opinion which everyone signed up to - which is that we would support a ban on conversion therapy, which apparently has been debunked by all the medical people who know anything about people's sexuality. It's something we shouldn't be supporting."

Despite the National Party's tardiness, Collins has actually publicly opposed conversion therapy before. In September last year - before mainstream journalists began asking questions, and weeks before Labour announced its support for a ban - Collins told Gay Express parents should show "unconditional love" and tell their kids to "be who you are".

"That’s the best thing any parent can do. Not trying to convert your child to anything else."

Judith Collins.
Judith Collins. Photo credit: The AM Show

Simon Bridges, who until last year led the party, said last week he opposed a ban on conversion therapy becuase it would be an attack on free speech.

"We are, with this, moving down a track to a situation where it is actually cancel culture. If we don't like it we are going to criminalise it and I do worry about that."

National health spokesperson Shane Reti in September said the party didn't support a ban at that time, but was open to it if the differences between counselling and conversion therapy were made clear  - also the conclusion of the justice select committee in 2018. Four National MPs served on the committee of eight.

"We've identified some of the issues that we've had with it, but we certainly wouldn't rule out that if they could be worked through, across the house, it could land in a place that would have our support," Dr Reti said at the time. 

Conversion therapy has not yet been discussed in the House, Hansard records show. A Member's Bill proposed by Labour MP Marja Lubeck in 2018 hasn't been drawn. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is aiming for legislation before the House by the end of the year, but won't promise an exact timeline, saying it's important to get it right.  

"If we don't draft this in the right place; if we don't get the law right we won't have the positive impact we need to have."