National MP Simon Bridges has challenged the Young Nats on "individual autonomy" after the youth wing threw their support behind a ban on conversion practices.
Parliament's Justice Select Committee began hearing the public's views on the law change on Wednesday after receiving more than 100,000 submissions, and among them was Young Nats president Stephanie-Anne Ross.
In stark contrast to the National Party standing alone in Parliament last month as the only party to oppose the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill, Ross said the youth wing fully supported it.
"The Young Nats have publicly advocated for this policy stance since our membership endorsed the banning of conversion practices as a result of a formal and nationwide policy consultation process in late 2019," she said.
"In the Young Nats, we firmly believe in an individual's right to be themselves, empowered by the freedom to choose how they wish to live. For this reason, we are proud to add our voice to this incredibly important conversation today."
Bridges, who has raised concerns about the law change interfering with parenting, asked Ross to justify the youth wing's support when she had just underlined the importance of people being free to choose how they live.
"I get your point about a young person who is vulnerable," Bridges said. "How does it square though, with other things you said about individuals' autonomy and ability to decide for themselves, if we do away with consent for a 40-year-old?"
Ross said since there is no evidence to suggest conversion practices work, no one should be subjected to it, and those who seek it out would probably only do it because of societal pressure or a sense of rejection.
"The Young Nat's stance on that is that obviously we empower people to be who they truly are and we don't believe in the Young Nats that you can change who you are or be converted to be something that you're not," she said.
"I think it is incredibly clear from the medical research and data that we referenced within our submission that these practices don't work and they cause harm, and at 40 years old, even if a person was trying to undergo a conversion practice, I think it would be highly unlikely that they would be doing it our of their own will.
"I think the underpinning of it all is these practices do not work, and why would we allow someone to be submitted to a practice that is going to have negative impacts on them and not do what they believe it's going to do?"
But Ross did suggest the legislation could be clearer.
Under the law change, performing conversion practices intended to change or suppress someone's sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, could result in a prison sentence of up to five years.
"There have been concerns raised during the creation of this Bill surrounding what suppressing entails," she said. "Suppression should be defined within the Bill to provide clarity what it is and what acts can be prosecuted."
Ross also rejected any suggestion the law change infringes upon religious freedom.
"This Bill has caused some speculation that religion is under attack. The Young Nats utterly reject this claim," she said.
"What this Bill expressly prohibits is practices that have the intention of conversion as the outcome. This is not an attack on religion but a protection for vulnerable members of the rainbow community."
One of the main concerns about the ban raised by Bridges is whether a parent could be charged for not allowing their 12-year-old to take hormone blockers.
"What we've made clear is that there needs to be clarity on that," Ross said. "We would support clarity being offered around what is actually going to be prosecuted, especially around the definition of suppressing."
Justice Minister Kris Faafoi recently told RNZ it's unlikely parents would face charges under the circumstances raised by Bridges.
"A parent refusing to give consent to the administration of puberty blockers during a health assessment would not meet the requirements of the criminal offenses in the Bill, nor would a failure to help a child access a health practitioner for that assessment to take place."
It's not the first time the Young Nats have stood alone. The youth wing supported drug testing at festivals in contrast to the National Party which opposed it.