Apology for Historic Gay Convictions

MrHIBBINS (Prahran) — I rise as the Victorian Greens LGBTI spokesperson to support this motion and to support this parliamentary apology for laws that criminalised homosexuality and for the harms they caused. Laws that target or discriminate against LGBTI communities and individuals have no place in Victoria. In Victoria laws that criminalised homosexuality were in place until the 1980s.

As former Victorian Premier John Cain  Jr, said, when debating the Crime (Sexual Offences) Bill 1980 as a member of the shadow cabinet, these laws were based on a mixture of religious beliefs, ancient taboos, prejudice, authoritarianism and, to some extent, ignorance. Those laws saw members of the Victorian community targeted and prosecuted because of their sexuality, and convictions hindered people’s employment prospects, their ability to travel overseas and to volunteer for our community. It meant that same-sex attracted people were forced to hide who they were or risk conviction. There were some instances where information gained from victims of crime was then used to target and prosecute that victim of crime, and instances where young people — sometimes vulnerable young people — were targeted under these laws. 

One inquiry — I think either during the 1960s or 1970s — found that laws criminalising sex between members of the same sex provided for widespread harassment, humiliation, intimidation and even blackmail of persons who were ‘so inclined’. The laws created in Victoria allowed a culture within institutions — as has been described by previous speakers — in particular Victoria Police, which saw same-sex attracted people targeted, harassed and entrapped. Thankfully we welcome that the culture in Victoria Police has changed to one that now embraces equality, as evidenced by Victoria Police’s gay and lesbian liaison officers and their prominent place in Victoria’s annual Pride March. 

Throughout today’s debate and of course the greater and wider debate that happened previously over expunging these convictions, we have heard stories — I am sure we have all read case studies — of those who were convicted under these laws, the circumstances under which they were convicted and the effect that it has had on their lives. 

But this law has also affected those who lived under these laws, and who were at risk of conviction. This was a law of oppression. We should also recognise that there are many who we have not heard from, who have been carrying the burden of an unjust conviction, fearful that years down the track or decades down the track it might be dredged up doing something we all take for granted: applying for a job, offering to volunteer, getting a working with children check, travelling to a new place overseas. I also note and welcome that there is provision in the act that was passed by the previous Parliament for family members of those who have passed away to expunge their record of homosexual convictions. 

It is an understatement, and one that previous speakers have stated, but it needs to be restated: LGBTI equality law reform over the past decade has come slowly, and when change has come it has come with caveats and has not gone as far as it should. When this law reform to remove the criminalisation of homosexuality was achieved in 1980, as also noted by the member for Oakleigh, it contained an amendment to criminalise for soliciting ‘for immoral sexual purposes’, which again was continually used to target same-sex-attracted Victorians until it was repealed some years later. The law also failed to provide for the expungement of historical convictions, and that was recommended by a previous advisory council in 1977. Obviously it is welcome that it has occurred, but it took some decades after it was first recommended. 

I do not want to go back over the debate from 1980, but incredibly, just to give an illustration of the views of that time, the second-reading speech of the Crimes (Sexual Offences) Bill 1980 included the following passage: 

The government does not accept sexual relationships between persons of the same sex as an acceptable alternative lifestyle. Nothing in the bill is intended to give any support to such attitudes. The government simply believes that they are not matters for the criminal law. 

I can see that the statute book is changing for the better, and I think society and the views of people within this place are changing as well. Thankfully, no government holds that position. Certainly no party in this place, in the Legislative Assembly, holds those views today. A more contemporary example of laws simply not going far enough as they should was in the recent changes to adoption law, which allowed same-sex couples to adopt. It was a long overdue change, which unfortunately came back to this place with the amendment that allowed certain faith-based adoption agencies — state-funded agencies, mind you — to refuse services to same-sex couples. The point I am making is that LGBTI law reform, as I said, has moved slowly, has not been as full as it should have been and has come with caveats. I would suggest that LGBTI law reform needs to be complete, it needs to be comprehensive and it needs to move quickly within this Parliament — the 58th Parliament — and not be left up to future parliaments or future governments to address. 

This is because LGBTI organisations and individuals have been working for many years to achieve law reform. Issues and reforms that may appear new have actually been worked on for years, and they have only been considered or implemented when they were long overdue. I want to join with other members in acknowledging and thanking all those organisations and individuals that have put in the hard policy yards. In my experience as the Victorian Greens LGBTI spokesperson, the policy work and the policy briefs from those in the community have been completely comprehensive: they will tell you exactly where and in what act the law needs to be changed, and going hand in hand with that policy work has been their tireless advocacy. I thank and acknowledge them. 

I also want to acknowledge members of Parliament who have worked to achieve the law reform, in this instance over decades, to end laws criminalising sex between members of the same sex, to provide for the expungement of the convictions under those laws and for the parliamentary apology today. Last but not least, I want to recognise my predecessor in the seat of Prahran, Clem Newton-Brown, who championed this issue in his term. As Clem would know, and I was pleased to see Clem in the gallery today, and as any previous member of Prahran would know, the Prahran electorate is famous for its vibrant and celebrated gay community. It is an inclusive and welcoming community, but such inclusivity should not be confined to places like Prahran. 

Whether you live in the inner city, the suburbs, in regional Victoria, whether you work in the private sector, the government sector or the community sector, whether you attend a government school, an independent school or a faith-based school, all Victorians deserve equal protection under the law from discrimination, and the right to have a community and a culture that affirms equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. The Victorian Greens equality bill, of which there is an exposure draft out, does just that by removing the current exemptions in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010. I note that my federal colleagues have proposed a similar amendment to the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984. I also note that many speakers make comments about the need for marriage equality. I think it would be appropriate for this house, the Legislative Assembly, to move and pass a motion in support of marriage equality. 

The Victorian Greens strongly support this parliamentary apology for those who suffered because of these unjust laws. As the Victorian Leader of the Greens, Greg Barber, said in his speech to the apology motion: 

We pledge to continue our commitment to ensure equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities under the law and ensure that Victoria’s laws protect individuals who face discrimination — not people or organisations who wish to discriminate — as is currently the case under the Equal Opportunity Act. The Greens pledge to ensure that Victoria’s laws prevent harm, not facilitate harm. 

We know the harm discrimination causes our LGBTI communities, particularly our young people, with increased incidences of suicide and mental health issues. We cannot condone, let alone facilitate, such harm as our laws do by allowing this discrimination. Our laws should affirm values of inclusivity, freedom and love, not prejudice, oppression and hate. Earlier this year, during the Midsumma Festival, I put up the suggestion that Victoria should be known as the rainbow state — an inclusive, welcoming state for LGBTI communities. It could be one of the many reasons so many people are moving to Victoria, but this needs to be reflected in our laws. 

This parliamentary apology for people who suffered under unjust laws — the criminalisation of homosexuality — is a landmark for LGBTI communities in Victoria and for this Parliament. It is a chance for healing for those who suffered under these laws, it is a chance for this Parliament and the state of Victoria to make amends for the wrongs of the past, and it is a chance to look forward to further reform of Victorian laws to create equality for all under the law. We apologise. We say sorry for these unjust laws and for the harms they caused.