Senate debates

Wednesday, 17 March 2021


Gender Dysphoria

7:20 pm

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

State governments in Australia are giving experimental, life-altering medical treatments to children and refusing to produce data demonstrating the extent of these practices, details about the cohort of children who are affected or any evidence about the long-term outcomes of these practices. In any other field of medicine, that would cause a major scandal and prompt immediate investigations. But when it comes to the treatment of children with gender dysphoria, some as young as five years of age, states apparently feel empowered to operate in secrecy and to actively avoid any public disclosure or external expert oversight.

In June last year, the Health Chief Executives Forum, a body consisting of each Australian jurisdiction's top health bureaucrats, commenced an audit and review of the care and treatment of children and adolescents experiencing gender dysphoria. The context in which this audit and review was to occur was that, according to data sourced under FOI, the number of Australian children and teenagers presenting to gender clinics and being treated with puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones has skyrocketed in recent years. This is consistent with international trends in which teenage girls in particular are driving massive increases in children seeking medical alterations to their bodies. Many experts have observed that children with childhood trauma, girls with autism spectrum disorder and same-sex-attracted teenagers make up a significant portion of young people seeking to transition medically to a different gender.

In December last year, after being contacted by doctors and psychiatrists concerned at the lack of data available on this trend in Australia, I wrote to the chair of the Health Chief Executives Forum, requesting public release of the data and responses provided by states and territories. I noted in my letter: 'The release of the data provided by states and territories would enable experts and practitioners to better understand this trend and study the underlying causes. It is evident that a significant amount of policy development in this area has occurred without public transparency, independent scientific oversight or adequate collection of data and evidence.'

Let's remember what concerned psychiatrists are saying about the practices of gender clinics in the UK, where some level of transparency and scrutiny has actually been applied. US psychiatrist Professor Stephen Levine says:

There is no other field of medicine where such radical interventions are offered to children with such a poor evidence base.

Dr David Bell, a recently retired senior psychiatrist at England's Tavistock youth gender clinic, says treatments are:

… not fit for purpose and children's needs are being met in a woeful inadequate manner, and some will live on with the damaging consequences.

He says that children have been very seriously damaged. And England's health regulators in the High Court have publicly canned the Tavistock clinic both for failing to keep adequate data and for failing to produce evidence that supports their practices.

In that context, with all that information available to them, how did Australia's state governments respond to my request to be transparent and release the data they had? The response I received from the chair of the forum explained: 'In June 2020 the Health Chief Executives Forum asked member jurisdictions to provide advice on this issue. Jurisdictions operating gender clinics were asked to provide information of referral pathways, the clinical services provided, what clinical guidelines are adhered to, what data is collected and whether any long-term monitoring is undertaken.' So far, so good. But, after outlining what information was sought from the states, the letter goes on to say: 'No information about the number or nature of patients was collected. After discussion, members agreed the Health Chief Executives Forum would not progress this work.' So they started a review and didn't collect any information whatsoever about how many children they are treating, what sex those children are, what other conditions or trauma—if any—the children are dealing with or what the long-term outcomes of their treatments are. Shouldn't alarm bells be going off everywhere when the nation's most senior health bureaucrats start an investigation into something, fail to collect any data and then abandon their investigation without any findings?

In some cases, these are the same bureaucrats in charge of gender clinics which are apparently delivering an unknown number of experimental treatments to an unknown number of children with unknown results. And their response was that they decided the audit review wouldn't progress. How is it acceptable that, in this one area of medicine, silence and secrecy is seen as commendable, while transparency and investigation is frowned upon? If these state governments are confident in their practices, what have they got to hide?


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