A number of groups, including the Human Rights Law Centre, have been providing advice to the State Member for Prahran, Clem Newton-Brown, to assist him to develop a proposal to expunge convictions for historic gay sex offences. While homosexuality was finally decriminalized in Victoria by the Hamer Government in 1981, the legacy of those laws still haunts many men, who live with the stigma and shame of a criminal conviction. They are also precluded from certain jobs and volunteering opportunities, live in fear of discrimination by employers or others and are restricted from travel to certain countries.
In late 2012 it was reported that the Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark had asked Mr Newton-Brown to develop a proposal for reform for him to consider. Clem had been inspired by Noel Tovey’s story after reading his auto-biography. The Labor Opposition leader, Daniel Andrews, announced at Pride March that the ALP would act on this issue quickly if they were to win office in the 2014 State election.
Thankfully, there is a useful precedent for legislators to work with. The United Kingdom has recently enacted legislation to disregard historic convictions for consensual gay sex. The UK model involves ‘disregarding’ convictions for ‘gross indecency’ before the decriminalisation of male to male sexual conduct in 1967, as well as convictions for those affected by the lower age of consent for homosexual sex, before it was brought into line with the age for heterosexual sex. Of course, there will complexities involved with identifying the offences in Victoria, the relevant records systems, and working through the logistics of exactly how it could be achieved in a technical and legal sense. The Government will also need to tread carefully and work closely with the LGBTI community to progress this reform respectfully and sensitively, considering the deep hurt and distress that has been suffered by those affected.
The developments coincide with the recent announcement by the Napthine Government of a new GLBTI Ministerial Advisory Committee. Minister for Health, David Davis, has appointed 22 Victorians to advise the Government on GLBTI health and wellbeing issues. The announcement was welcomed by the GLBTI community, despite an unexplained delay of 2 years since the Coalition first committed to establishing the committee at the 2010 election. Concerns have also been raised over whether this Committee will be able to address human rights and justice issues, such as the project to expunge gay sex convictions. The former Labor Government maintained two GLBTI advisory committees, one of which dealt with justice related issues.
Anna Brown is the HRLC’s Director of the Strategic Litigation