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Speech: Spent Convictions (Decriminalised Offenses) Amendment Bill

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:38): I rise today on behalf of the Greens as their gender and sexuality spokesperson to speak briefly in firm support of this bill. This is an important piece of legislation that will make a tangible difference to the lives of many people. The Greens have always stood for these rights, and we know that acceptance, celebration and legal rights for people of diverse sexualities is essential for genuine social justice and equality, so naturally we welcome this bill.

I cannot help note that not only are these amendments overdue but we should not be having to make them in the first place. Making homosexuality illegal was state-sanctioned discrimination, which holds a legacy of some deep distress and significant harm. The public at the time were legitimised in their homophobia because our laws actively facilitated it.

Newspapers would report openly on people who had been prosecuted for homosexual offences, outing and humiliating them. The impact of this has been cumulative and ongoing—people lived their lives making compromises to stay safe, to stay hidden, people who lived in fear, people who were unable to take certain paths in life because of the risk of that exposure—all because our state criminalised people like them out of bigotry, all because of who they might love or be attracted to. Who knows what lives they may have led had they not been told that they were, by their very own nature, illegal and criminal.

Indeed, laws that criminalised homosexual activity were removed a long time ago, but there are still many people living with that criminality and criminal records for crimes that should never have existed. Many people are still living with the memories and experience of the subsequent stigma and alienation that they faced. The stigma of these charges and the convictions that followed have haunted many individuals and have seen them forgo employment and travel opportunities as a result of that criminal record.

While we have taken steps to remedy this, it is still clear that we have further to go. I remember back in 2013 when we first passed legislation that ensured historical convictions for offences constituted by homosexual acts were no longer criminal offences and could be spent. This was the last day of a particular parliamentary session and I remember that we got the legislation quite late in the piece and, from my perspective, it was a very welcome piece of legislation if, even at that time, it was very much overdue. I am only sorry that it was not something that was done sooner.

At the time we were a leading jurisdiction for those historic homosexual convictions to be spent; however, since we passed that legislation we have seen that further reform is still needed. I am glad to see the government bringing it forward following that round table in 2019. In particular, it is good to see that the bill removes the requirement for a person to complete a 10-year crime-free period before they can have that historical homosexual offence spent.

How this ended up in the legislation in the first place is questionable, given its innate inappropriateness. Regardless of what else a person might have done in their life, they deserve to have that conviction spent for something that should not have been an offence in the first place. We have seen some of the other flaws in our legislation come to light following reviews and they are now being fixed in this piece of legislation before us.

As it stands, the current legislation has a definition that excludes minors, some of whom were actually victims of what we would now call grooming. To not only have these convictions on their records but to then be unable to have those convictions spent is hugely distressing, demeaning and immoral. It is heartbreaking to think about what some of these men—and very young men then in particular—have gone through in their time.

These historic offences have caused great harm and, while I know that spent conviction reforms such as these do not make up for the harm done, I do hope that they can bring these men and their families some comfort. In particular, I am glad to see that the amendment bill will allow for their next of kin or legal representatives to apply to spend the historical homosexual conviction of a deceased or incapacitated person.

Finally, it is good to see that other offences, not just those of a sexual nature, will now be able to be spent—people who were convicted for conduct such as showing affection with a person of the same sex in public, or wearing inappropriate clothing for their sex. I would say it is hard to believe that some of these things were still offences in our living memory, but we know that some of these attitudes do persist today, even if they are no longer reflected in our laws.

It may no longer be illegal to hold hands in public but it still can actually be just as dangerous, given the prejudice that these laws gave succour to, and the injustices and indignities that were brought about by these discriminatory laws. They have lingered, stigmatised and affected different parts of people's lives, and today we take another important step into righting those old wrongs. I commend the bill to the council.

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