LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL JUNE 8, 2016
Homosexual Convictions Apology
The Hon. T.A. FRANKS ( 17:03 :35 ): I move:
That this council—
1. Congratulates the Parliament of Victoria on its formal apology for previous laws against homosexual acts made on 24 May 2016; and
2. Calls on the South Australian government to formally apologise for laws that criminalised homosexuality in the state, acknowledging these laws validated hateful views, ruined people's lives and forced South Australians to suffer in fear, silence and isolation.
This motion calls on the South Australian Government to make a formal apology for historical convictions of homosexual acts. It congratulates the Parliament of Victoria for their recent formal apology, which was made by Premier Andrews and other members of the Victoria parliament on 24 May of this year. It also calls on the government in South Australia to formally apologise for laws that criminalised homosexuality in this state and acknowledge that those laws validated hateful views, ruined people's lives and forced South Australians to suffer in fear, silence and isolation.
As all members would be very well aware, this is part of a raft of government initiatives in this great year of progress; in fact, a year declared the year of progress for LGBTIQ South Australians (2016), where South Australia now leads the world and has actually eradicated each and every law that discriminates against people on the basis of their gender identity or their sexuality. We are leading not just the nation but indeed the world in this state and that is something to be very proud of.
Members would also be aware that I say all of that in utter jest because like many in this state if we cannot laugh about the way that we now lag on law reform to do with sexuality and gender identity then we would cry. We would cry for the pain and the isolation and the discrimination that we continue to preside over in this state. Indeed, where South Australia once (over 40 years ago) did lead the nation and the world in areas of law reform, we now lag in the area of equality for those on the basis of their sexuality and of gender identity.
We used to lead and when we led the way, and were the first state in this nation to decriminalise homosexual acts, we now lag behind other states on a whole raft of areas that Premier Weatherill, quite rightly, at the beginning of 2015—well over a year ago, some 13 months ago now—got up and presented in his Governor's speech to this parliament that he would redress, that he would change.
Of course, we do have a review of the laws in which we still discriminate against people on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity but, my goodness, we are still lagging. As I have said, waiting for Godot has nothing on waiting for Jay Wetherill's law reforms on the basis of sexuality and gender identity for equality to actually come to fruition in this place. We have yet to see one single piece of legislation pass this parliament as a result of the Premier's speech in February 2015.
We have seen activists on the streets and we have heard fine words in the parliament, but while this government puts itself forward as a friend to those who want to see equality for LGBTIQ South Australians and it puts itself forward as that friend, it continually refuses to stand up for them. On one recent occasion where we did see this government stand up for those South Australians we saw, quite rightly, the striking out of the recorded convictions for historical offences of homosexuality.
But how did we see that done? Did we see that done with the raising of a rainbow flag, with a formal apology in the way that Premier Andrews has just this past month done in the Victorian parliament? No, we saw it done in the dying days prior to the 2014 state election, suddenly arriving on our desks in these chambers with barely a whimper. There was certainly no fanfare, certainly no formal apology and, indeed, it passed quietly and almost without note.
We should have been proud of that day. We should have seen ministerial decrees congratulating this parliament on a step forward and a recognition of the ruined lives that these convictions for homosexual acts have wreaked upon many generations of South Australians. We should have seen an important and powerful day in our parliament but what we saw was simply a few speeches in this place, no championing, no rainbow flag raised and certainly no Premier's apology for those actions.
We could take the lead from Victoria. They have stood up and taken this issue on with courage and with leadership. I quote the words of Premier Daniel Andrews in his apology this past month. It is entitled 'Righting the wrong: apology for unjust and prejudiced laws against homosexual acts', dated 24 May 2016. The words of that motion were as follows:
That this house apologises for laws that criminalised homosexuality in this state — laws which validated hateful views, ruined people's lives and forced generations of Victorians to suffer in fear, silence and isolation. These laws did not just punish homosexual acts; they punished homosexual thought. They had no place in a liberal democracy; they have no place anywhere. The Victorian Parliament and the Victorian government were at fault. For this, we are sorry. On behalf of this house, we express our deepest regret.
That is from the Premier of Victoria. That is what we should be seeing here in this state from our Premier. We should be seeing that and hearing those words for those South Australians like those Victorians who were convicted of homosexual acts and homosexual thoughts, Victorians like Peter who states:
When I was arrested, I didn't know what on earth was going on. The police didn't advise me of my rights. I wasn't given an opportunity to call my parents, let alone a lawyer. I was told it would be 'best for me' if I signed a statement the police had written. When I finally got a lawyer, it was too late. I had pleaded guilty. I was convicted of a homosexual offence. I was only 17. Looking back, I did take on the guilt and shame. It was like holding a terrible secret. There was not another person I could talk to for several years. I just shut down. I fled overseas to escape, and I removed myself from my family, until I found a way to accept myself with pride.
The police locked me up in Richmond and got two confessions out of me. I was 18. The years went by, and I got over it, but it always came back to haunt me. When I wanted to go overseas, when I applied for a liquor licence, when I wanted to start my own business, there was that dreaded question: have you ever been convicted of a criminal offence? It took me years of part-time study to become a chartered accountant, and when I was almost finished, I got that question again. Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offence? I lied, of course. I wasn't going to let all those years of study go to waste. The phone rang a few years later. It ' s a call for you, it's personal. It was an inspect or from the St Kilda Police Station. He'd found me out. With that question always lurking over our heads, we always had to ask ourselves: just how far can I go today?
The final story that I will share with this chamber is from Noel who states:
Max was singing an aria from La Traviata when the police arrived. A few of the crowd managed to scramble and get away. I didn't. I was the youngest person in the room. I was very naive. I knew having sex with men was against the law but I didn't understand why it was a crime. At the first hearing, I stood in the dock and the judge said , 'You have been charged with the abominable crime of buggery. How do you plead? 'The maximum sentence was 15 years. The day-to-day routine inside Pentridge Prison was menacing and dangerous. And I was always worried about Mamma. She was abused by her next-door neighbour for having a son like me. Of course, I was crucified in the Melbourne press. Afterwards, only two people would talk to me. I couldn’ t go to dance class or get a job. I was a known criminal. It’s ironic when I think about it. Eventually I would have been forgiven by everyone if I had murdered Max, but no - one could forgive me for having sex with him.
These are three Victorian men who have had their Premier, their government and their parliament now apologise for ruined lives—quite rightly so. An apology is a powerful thing; it can heal old hurts. We have seen it in other areas.
I want to thank my staff member, Meredith Hennessey, for some of the contribution she has made to my speech today, in particular for drawing my attention, which I will now share with members of this place, to an excellent guide to what makes an effective apology. It was created by Marsha L Wagner, an Ombud Officer at Columbia University. Members are welcome to have a copy of the full text, but I will highlight her advice:
1.A specific definition of the perceived offence.
2.Acknowledging that the perceived offence caused harm.
4.Recognition of wrongdoing.
5.A statement of regret.
6.A promise not to repeat the offence.
7.An explanation of why the offender acted this way.
I hope the government and members here find these words useful. Certainly, it would seem that I have had to resort to bringing a motion to this parliament to get the Premier to take this issue on, and I hope that members of the government benches will take this seriously, and take this motion seriously, and that we will see a formal apology in this parliament.
As I raised in question time just recently, in February 2015 I wrote to the Premier after acknowledging his fine words in his speech in that Governor's Address-in-Reply, and also acknowledging that he was calling for law reform across the board on the basis of gender identity and sexuality, and to correct the current discriminations. I also asked if he would make a formal apology, given we had passed into law, just before the 2014 election, a bill that is now an act, which sees the spent convictions of those who suffered under that both discriminatory and despicable part of our history, which could convict people for homosexual acts.
I asked the Premier for a response. I received a note from the Premier's office saying that my correspondence was being taken into consideration and that I would receive a reply. Well, we have not seen a formal apology, and I certainly have not had a reply to that correspondence, so I bring this motion to this place.
We have waited well over two years since the Spent Convictions Act with regard to homosexual acts was passed in this place, and we have we waited 13 months since the announcement of the legal processes to be reviewed to ensure that we have equality on the basis of sexuality, and an end to sexuality and gender identity discrimination in the state, so I think we have waited long enough. It is time for the Premier to make that formal apology and for this parliament to start to take real leadership. Not more words that do nothing, but in fact to start passing pieces of legislation that do bring this up, that do see 2016 as the year that we do celebrate leading, not just the nation but also the world, in eradicating discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender identity, and a formal apology is a very important part of that.
Because without those actions, these pretty words, these platitudes, do nothing for those we purport to call our friends. I call on the government to follow the lead of Victoria in apologising for the hurt that our laws have caused to innocent people. I do so regretfully, as it is an indication that we have failed these people, but I also do so noting that if we do nothing then we are in no way the friends we purport to be. Finally, I would like to paraphrase the powerful words of Malcolm X, who stated:
If you stick a knife nine inches into my back and pull it out six inches, that is not progress. Even if you pull it all the way out, that is not progress. Progress is healing the wound the blow made. We haven't even begun to pull out the knife, much less heal the wound. We won't even admit the knife is here.
I call upon the government today, that if you continue to dawdle on making real and meaningful progress on ending discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender identity, you might as well be plunging the knife in further, and you should at least admit that the knife is still there. With those few words, I commend the motion to the chamber.
Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. T.J. Stephens.