Simon Bridges says banning conversion therapy is an attack on free speech

Simon Bridges says he is concerned banning conversion therapy would pander to what he says is a growing cancel culture and would be an attack on free speech. 

Bridges, the ex-National Party leader and current spokesperson for Justice, said on The AM Show he wanted to see the details on a proposed Labour bill to ban the controversial practice of conversion therapy.  

He said forcing anyone to do something against their will is wrong - including conversion therapy - but he had concerns around making it illegal. 

"I personally do have a wider concern. That is freedom of speech. That is in a liberal society, in a tolerant society, we have been very tolerant of different views. 

"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."

Bridges was responding to questions about the National Party's stance on banning the often harmful practice of trying to convert LBGTQ people to heterosexuality.

Conversion therapy is based on a belief that people with diverse sexual orientations or gender identities are abnormal and should be changed so they fit within hetero-normative standards.

The treatment, which has been linked to severe mental health issues, uses psychological or physical interventions in an effort to convert sexual orientation or gender identity. It is primarily used within religious sectors. 

Newshub reported in 2018 the practice is offered in New Zealand for $200 an hour, despite is being banned in several US and Australian states, Canadian provinces, Switzerland, Brazil, and Taiwan.  

Labour MP Marja Lubeck put forward a Member's Bill in 2018 to ban the practice. The bill hit a roadblock last year when a select committee, much to the ire of the LGBTQ community, recommended the practice didn't need to be banned.  

The issue resurfaced this year after current National Leader Judith Collins was asked at caucus if the party supported the proposed ban or not. 

A reporter asked Collins - who has previously spoken out against conversion therapy - if National had a position on it.  

"No, we have not," she replied. 

Bridges refused to be pushed on whether National wanted the practice banned, saying he wanted to see more detail, but said he had no problem with people having the right to preach about something that was controversial.  

"On the notion of a Christian or Muslim councillor preaching a certain thing in a voluntary way, I personally have no problem with that. 

Labour minister David Parker, who was on The AM Show's political panel with Bridges, said they were still doing the policy work. But he disagreed with the National MP's view.  

"There is no medical science behind the idea that you can change someone from either gay to heterosexual or heterosexual to gay. It is crazy voodoo nonsense. 

"It causes damage and traumatises people, Parker said."

AM Show co-host Mark Richardson - a fervent National supporter - also disagreed with Bridges.  While he backed his call to protect free speech he didn't think conversion therapy fell into this category. 

"This [conversion therapy] is a practice, this is something that is going on that unfairly harms people. It is not just words, it is a practice. 

"I do believe people should be able to voice their opinion on things. But this is a ridiculous practice and I expect politicians to act on that."