Rights groups today welcomed the passage of the Criminal Records Amendment (Historical Homosexual Offences) Bill 2014 through the NSW Parliament, which follows the passage of similar legislation in Victoria last week. Commenting on the significance of the announcement, NSW GLRL Convenor, Justin Koonin said that members of his community had been waiting a very long time for justice.
“This act of Parliament sends a powerful message of support to the community, and recognises that consensual sex between men should never have been criminalised. We hope the Bill will go some way to redressing the harm that these unjust convictions have caused over the years,” said Dr Koonin.
Until 1984 in NSW, gay men were convicted and even imprisoned for so-called ‘unnatural offences’ such as ‘the abominable crime of buggery’ and ‘indecency between male persons’. The Bill establishes a scheme enabling people convicted of consensual homosexual conduct, prior to decriminalization in 1984, to have their criminal records extinguished. The new scheme will also cover people convicted under unequal age of consent laws, which were in place until 2003.
The Bill today passed both Houses of Parliament unanimously. Community leaders welcomed the leadership of the NSW Parliament and those who initiated the reforms.
“We thank all members of Parliament who supported the legislation, and in particular the Member for Coogee, Bruce Notley-Smith MP and The Hon. Trevor Khan MLC for their leadership on the issue,” said Dr. Koonin.
Community organisations offering services and support to affected individuals highlighted the importance of the scheme being accessible, fair and supportive of applicants.
Mr. Dan Stubbs is the Director of the Inner City Legal Centre, which would be providing legal support to applicants.
“This important reform finally removes the stigma of a criminal conviction from the histories of many gay men. However, these men have already lived through significant trauma at the hands of the State so it’s crucial that the scheme is confidential, accessible and fair, enabling decision makers to consider all relevant evidence to the benefit of applicants,” said Mr Stubbs.
Mr. Nic Parkhill, ACON CEO, commented, “In welcoming the passage of this important Bill, we acknowledge the discussion may bring up some long lasting trauma and shame for individuals involved and that those going through the application process may require some support. ACON stands ready to assist with counselling services.”
The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Advocacy & Strategic Litigation, Anna Brown, who has been providing legal assistance to men who have been unfairly burdened by unjust criminal records for out-dated crimes, warmly welcomed the passage of the legislation.
“After raising the injustice faced by my client with the NSW Government just over a year ago, it’s fantastic to see how far we’ve come in such a short space of time. Erasing these manifestly unjust convictions will help end the stigma, shame and practical difficulties they have inflicted for decades,” said Ms. Brown.
One NSW man affected by a historical conviction and client of the Human Rights Law Centre is Tim*. When Tim applied for a job, he had to get a police check and was horrified to see an undated “indecent assault” conviction listed and withdrew his job application. Tim is immensely relieved that the black cloud he has been living under has finally been lifted.
“I don’t see what I did as any different to a couple that goes car-parking, like on Happy Days, but I’ve been punished for what I did for decades. I would feel closure to a horrible experience in my past and finally able to move forward without the anxiety of thinking that my conviction could be disclosed,” said Tim.
The NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby, Inner City Legal Centre, ACON, and the Human Rights Law Centre will continue to work with Government and monitor the implementation of the scheme.
*Not his real name.
For further comment, please contact:
Justin Koonin Convenor, NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby
Mob: 0414 269 339
Dan Stubbs Director, Inner City Legal Centre
Mob: 0437 253 243
Nic Parkhill CEO, ACON
Mob: 0417 474 219
Anna Brown, Human Rights Law Centre
(“Tim” is not available for interviews but Anna is able to speak about the experiences of her clients)
Mob: 0422 235 522
For legal and procedural assistance, please call the Inner City Legal Centre on (02) 9332 1966.
For counselling and support, please call the ACON intake and assessment officer on (02) 9206 2000.
For updates on the Victorian scheme please contact the Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby (firstname.lastname@example.org)