In March this year, Northern Territory Attorney-General, Natasha Fyles, introduced a bill to allow people charged under unjust laws against homosexual acts to remove the convictions from their criminal records.
Dr Dino Hodge, a long-time LGBTI community advocate, said, "If this bill passes, it would mean closure. It would mean full equality when it comes to laws which criminalised us for who we are. After 30 years, we have finally achieved the justice we had been seeking."
Lee Carnie, lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said, "Sex between consenting adults should never have been criminalised. This is an important step towards addressing the wrongs of the past."
The Bill has been welcomed by LGBTI advocates who remember the impact of these archaic laws well past decriminalisation.
"There were even cases of continuing police persecution after decriminalisation, when community attitudes had changed but police practices had not. Gay couples who were harassed and charged by the police, but the charges were dismissed by Magistrates, because the police had gone out of their way to harass people for being gay and having consensual sex in private. Those men were highly traumatised, they paid a lot of money to get legal representation and sadly they left the Territory afterwards," said Dr Hodge.
The Bill would allow people with charges and convictions for consensual same-sex activity to clear their names and remove the need to disclose these past convictions on employment or volunteering checks or visa applications.
"These unjust convictions did great and continuing harm. This reform will allow people to clear their names and also remove the barrier that came from having to disclose convictions when wanting to volunteer, drive a taxi, apply for a job or travel overseas. It’s great to see the NT Government moving forward to ensure equality for all," said Lee Carnie.
All other states and territories have introduced similar bills. The WA Government is currently considering a similar bill which has passed the lower house but is yet to pass the upper house.
Advocates called the NT Chief Minister to also deliver a state apology for the far-reaching impact of laws which criminalised same-sex activity in the Territory.
"While expungement is welcomed, there is also a need for an apology to help heal past wounds still felt acutely today by so many people," said Dr Hodge.
For interviews or further information, please call:
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519
Photo: long-time LGBTI community advocate, Dr Dino Hodge (centre), with Hon Sandra Nelson MLA, and Hon Chansey Paech MLA