Equality advocates are meeting to oppose the new Queensland government’s plan to criminalise surrogacy arrangements for gay couples, single people and some straight couples.

Fears have been raised after indications that a gay couple entering an unpaid surrogacy arrangement could be liable for a prison sentence of up to three years.

Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie told Parliament last week: “We will be introducing amendments similar to those introduced by the honourable member for Southern Downs [Lawrence Springborg] when he was the shadow minister. We will be repealing the provisions in the Surrogacy Act that deal with same-sex couples, de factos of less than two years and singles.

“That was a clear commitment given many years ago when that original debate took place. The government will proceed to amend the Surrogacy Act.”

The new Queensland Premier Campbell Newman had said shortly before the March election his party would “not be making any changes” to the surrogacy law. He since admitted that statement was a “mistake” as his MPs had in fact “dealt with” the issue in 2010, the year laws allowing gay couples and single people to have a child through surrogacy were passed.

Australian media are reporting a meeting of lawyers and surrogacy advocates in Brisbane last night on how to oppose the move to criminalise new altruistic surrogacy arrangements. It is understood that existing legal arrangements will not be affected.

Lawyer Stephen Page said the changes proposed by the Liberal National Party, if they are in line with those previously proposed by LNP Health Minister Lawrence Springbord, would punish gay couples and mothers who have a child through surrogacy with a prison sentence of up to three years, the Australian Gay News Network reports.

He said: “Mr Springborg’s Bill provided that only those people who have entered into an eligible surrogacy arrangement could proceed and that those who entered into a surrogacy arrangement that wasn’t an eligible surrogacy arrangement committed an offence punishable by up to 3 years imprisonment.

“If the changes become law, then the likely outcome is that some couples will continue to defy the law and undertake traditional surrogacy irrespective of the changes and others will simply move interstate where there are not discriminatory laws.”

Paul Martin, Principal Psychologist at the Centre for Human Potential Brisbane said: “Taking existing rights away from will impact negatively the mental health of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Queenslanders because it will send the damaging message that they are still second-class citizens unworthy of equal recognition.”

Sam Everingham, the President of Surrogacy Australia told PinkNews.co.uk today that half of the 1000 families it represents are gay couples or single gay men.

He said: “As an organisation, we are appalled that the Queensland government has chosen to wind back the rights of same-sex and single parents to access surrogacy, imposing a potential three year criminal sentence on such parents who create a family in this way.

“The creation of families should be a time of joy and celebration and instead Queensland same-sex couples are living in increasing fear of prosecution as they work around the law to create families. Many are moving interstate for instance and/or accessing overseas surrogacy arrangements.

Mr Everingham suggested the proposed changes to the law could breach the national Sex Discrimination Act as well as Australia’s international human rights obligations. Surrogacy Australia’s attempts to meet with the Premier had so far been unsuccessful.

He added: “The government’s proposed changes risk worsening mental health outcomes for a gay and lesbian community that was only just beginning to feel it had equal rights under Queensland law.”