Submission re Queensland Criminal Law (Historical Homosexual Convictions Expungement) Bill 2017

Update: 15 July 2017

 

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

 

The Queensland Parliament is considering the issue of the decriminalisation of homosexuality but, rather than treating LGBTI people the same as their cisgender heterosexual counterparts, it discriminates against gay and bisexual men, leaving them with criminal records that they would not have were it not for their sexual orientation.

 

No, we’re not talking about the Goss Labor Government’s fundamentally flawed decriminalisation Bill in 1990 which, while decriminalising sex between men over the age of 18, imposed an unequal age of consent for anal intercourse – an injustice that was only remedied in September last year.

 

Instead, we’re talking about 2017, as the Queensland Parliament, and the Palaszczuk Labor Government, appears intent on making the same mistake.

 

As I wrote in my submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry (see the full text at the bottom of this post), the Criminal Law (Historical Homosexual Convictions Expungement) Bill 2017 will only deliver justice for some gay and bisexual men affected by past homophobic criminal laws, not all.

 

For men punished because of the unequal age of consent between 1991 and 2016, and for those who were convicted before 1991 but would not have been had they engaged in penis/vagina intercourse, this legislation simply perpetuates the injustices they have already suffered, leaving them with inappropriate criminal records.

 

This problem was raised by several people in submissions to the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee as part of their inquiry into this Bill (myself included). Unfortunately, rather than listen to the community, Committee members have chosen to listen to the unconvincing arguments put forward by the Department of Justice and Attorney-General (see below for an analysis of their responses on this issue).

 

In their Report, tabled yesterday (14 July), the Committee recommended only that the legislation be passed; it did not make any recommendations to amend the Bill to ensure that all Queenslanders adversely affected by past criminalisation of homosexuality can apply to have their records expunged.

 

This Report means it is now highly unlikely the Queensland Parliament will fix the mess created by the provisions of the Bill, a mess that compounds past mistakes and once again means gay and bisexual men are treated worse because of who they are.

 

This discrimination is enough to invoke a bad case of déjà vu. The only question is, will it take Queensland Parliament another quarter of a century to realise the error of its ways and amend the expungements scheme, in the same way it finally amended the age of consent? Because that is too long to wait for justice, for men who have waited long enough already.

 

Update: 8 July 2017

Following publication of the 13 submissions received by this inquiry (including mine, reproduced in full below), the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney-General responded to the issues that had been identified. Their letter can be found at the Inquiry website here.

 

Given my submission was the first received that raised serious concerns about the failure of the Bill to expunge the convictions of people prosecuted because of the unequal age of consent between 1991 and 2016, as well as the omission of people aged 16 and 17 prior to 1991, the Department addressed these issues in response to my submission (on pages 2-4).

 

Unfortunately, its response was underwhelming, and in some places seems to have completely missed the point of the expungement scheme.

 

First, the Department’s weakest argument against including people convicted due to the unequal age of consent between 1991 and 2016 was that “[t]he scheme would cease to be historical in nature and it may be considered inappropriate for such recent convictions to be expunged administratively…”

 

To which the obvious response is that it should not matter when an injustice occurred – whether it was 1978 or 2008 – it should be remedied.

 

Second, and of much greater concern, the Department argued that “[e]xtending the scheme to convictions for consensual anal intercourse with 16 and 17 year olds between 1991 and 2016 would mean that the scheme may extend to people who are currently serving sentences relevant to those convictions.”

 

The Department is effectively conceding that there may be people who are currently being punished for offences that would not have applied were it not for Queensland’s discriminatory treatment of anal intercourse for the past quarter of a century. That is not a justification not to extend the scheme – that is a reason to examine those convictions to determine whether they should be immediately overturned.

 

Third, the Department argued that including convictions between 1991 and 2016 due to the unequal age of consent “would require the decision maker to go behind the exercise of recent prosecutorial discretion”. To support this, the Department specifically cites the Director of Public Prosecution’s Guidelines as they existed at 30 August 2016.

 

There are two problems with this particular argument:

 

  • They are suggesting that people should rely on the ‘discretion’ not to prosecute, not just in recent years but also in the much less accepting (and more homophobic) 1990s. I am surely not the only person who harbours fears that at some point in the past 25 years this ‘discretion’ would have been exercised against gay and bisexual men;

 

  • Even the August 2016 guidelines are problematic. They state that “[a] child should not be prosecuted for sexual experimentation involving children of similar ages in consensual activity.” With all due respect, that is not the relevant criteria – the question is whether the people involved would have been convicted had it involved penis/vagina intercourse. Which means that an offence between a 16 or 17 year old and someone aged 18-plus that occurred between 1991 and 2016 should be included (even if that makes some parliamentarians feel uncomfortable).

 

Fourth, the Department argued that “if the scheme was extended to convictions for consensual anal intercourse with 16 and 17 year olds between 1991 and 2016, it would arguably be unfair to continue to restrict the scheme to convictions involving only homosexual activity.”

 

This is perhaps the only legitimate concern raised by the Department. Although it seems to me that, of the three possible options to deal with this issue, they have chosen the worst. These are:

 

  • To leave the scheme as is – which strands some gay and bisexual men without legal address, despite being punished because of laws that Minister for Health Cameron Dick conceded were “a source of discrimination against young people on the basis of their sexual orientation” (in his 2nd Reading Speech for the legislation that finally repealed the unequal age of consent).

 

  • To extend the scheme to gay and bisexual men affected by the unequal age of consent between 1991 and 2016, but not to anal intercourse between men and women. This may be prima facie discriminatory, but it does recognise the disproportionate impact of these laws on same-sex attracted people (who also did not have other lawful options for penetrative intercourse).

 

  • To widen the scheme to include non-LGBTI people who were also punished due to the differential treatment of anal intercourse between 1991 and 2016. This may substantially extend the scope of the scheme, but I would argue that it would be preferable to include these offences than to leave some gay and bisexual men with unfair and inappropriate criminal records, for sex offences, for the rest of their lives.

 

Fifth, and finally, is the worst of the arguments proffered by the Department: “[t]he Department notes that any expansion of the scheme would likely to [sic] increase the cost of the scheme.” That is not a reason to perpetuate injustice against gay and bisexual people who have been persecuted because of their sexual orientation under fundamentally unjust laws – that is a reason to provide additional funding (which, based on the Department’s letter, would likely be relatively modest).

 

Overall, then, I am extremely disappointed by the Department of Justice and Attorney-General’s response to my submission, which appears to be motivated more by staunchly defending the provisions of the current Bill than in grappling with the fact that, if passed, it would still leave some gay and bisexual men living with the consequences of past injustices.

 

Hopefully, the members of the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee are more persuaded by the submissions of myself, and others such as long-time campaigner John Frame that raised similar concerns, and propose amendments to address these outstanding issues. Their report is due by Friday 14 July, and I will provide a further update based on their recommendations.

 

Original Post

The Queensland Palaszczuk Labor Government has introduced legislation to establish a process whereby (some) people affected by the historical criminalisation of homosexuality in that state can apply to have those criminal records expunged.

This Bill is currently being considered by the Queensland Parliament Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee. My submission to their inquiry is published below. For more details on the Bill, and the Committee’s examination of it, click here.

 

Acting Committee Secretary

Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee

Parliament House

George Street

Brisbane QLD 4000

c/- lacsc@parliament.qld.gov.au

 

Friday 26 May 2017

 

Dear Committee

 

Submission re Criminal Law (Historical Homosexual Convictions Expungement) Bill 2017

 

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission in relation to the above-named Bill.

 

I support this legislation in principle, given it is aimed at redressing historical injustices experienced by members of the Queensland lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

 

This Bill builds on the apology, delivered by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk in Queensland Parliament on 11 May this year, in which she said:

 

“This Legislative Assembly offers its unreserved and sincere apology to all those persons who suffered from prejudice as a result of the discriminatory laws passed by this House, and we acknowledge that your pain and suffering continues.

 

“We acknowledge that shame, guilt and secrecy carried by too many for too long.

 

“Today, in this Legislative Assembly, we place on the record for future generations our deep regret and say to all those affected, we are sorry that the laws of this state, your State, let you down.

 

“To all those affected we say sorry.”

 

These noble sentiments were also reflected in the second reading speech for the Criminal Law (Historical Homosexual Convictions Expungement) Bill 2017 itself given by Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath:

 

“As this parliament apologises this afternoon, we should never forget that this abuse, this discrimination and this hatred was within our lifetime, and it was done in our name. We have seen important law reform since that time, over many years, in many stages. That includes significant reforms passed in the current Palaszczuk government, some with bipartisan support. Despite these important legislative changes, the pain and anguish caused by that earlier discrimination has never been removed for those affected Queenslanders. I am very proud to be a Labor Attorney-General finishing the important work that the Goss government started, and I am determined to get it right.”

 

Unfortunately, while I support both of these statements, on a practical level I cannot support the Criminal Law (Historical Homosexual Convictions Expungement) Bill 2017 in its current form.

 

That is because the Bill fails to address all relevant historical homosexual convictions, and instead only offers redress for one subset of the people affected by the criminalisation of homosexuality in Queensland.

 

This failure is based on two key flaws in the proposed expungement scheme.

 

The first flaw is that the Bill is limited to offences committed before 19 January 1991 – which is when the Criminal Code and Another Act Amendment Act 1990 came into effect.

 

As noted in the Explanatory Notes for the Bill, this is intended to “maintain the nexus between the proposed expungement scheme and decriminalisation.”

 

Such a ‘nexus’ would be appropriate if the legislation that implemented decriminalisation was itself non-discriminatory.

 

However, as current members of the Queensland Parliament are no doubt aware, the Criminal Code and Another Act Amendment Act 1990 was fundamentally unjust, in that it continued to subject anal intercourse to a higher age of consent (18 years) than other forms of sex (16 years).

 

This discriminatory approach primarily affected the gay and bisexual male community, and meant that for the following 25 years young same-sex attracted men in Queensland were disproportionately exposed to potential criminal sanctions for penetrative intercourse.

 

This discriminatory approach was only remedied in September last year, with the passage of the Health and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2016. In introducing that legislation, Minister for Health Cameron Dick stated:

 

“The Goss Labor government in 1990 decriminalised homosexuality, but that government introduced an anal intercourse law. The age of consent for consensual anal intercourse was set at 18 years.

 

“The expert panel of health experts asked to consider the implications of the current law advised me that the disparity in the age of consent for different sexual activity has adverse impacts on young people and recommended a consistent age of consent. Queensland cannot continue to discriminate between forms of sexual intercourse, particularly when we know that young people feel compelled to withhold information about their sexual history from health practitioners for fear of possible legal consequences, whether for themselves or their partner. This can have serious implications for their medical treatment, particularly as unprotected anal intercourse is the highest risk behaviour for transmission of HIV. It also has the effect of stigmatising same-sex relationships which in itself can be harmful for an individual’s wellbeing.”

 

Minister Dick concluded his speech by noting that:

 

“The Palaszczuk government is committed to improving sexual health outcomes for all Queenslanders regardless of their sexual orientation or preferences. The bill demonstrates this by standardising the age of consent for all forms of sexual intercourse, reflecting community expectations and removing a source of discrimination against young people on the basis of their sexual orientation…[emphasis added].

 

The Palaszczuk Government was right to identify that an unequal age of consent specifically discriminated against young people on the basis of their homosexuality and bisexuality. They, and the Queensland Parliament more generally, were also right to remedy this injustice by passing the Health and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2016 to finally introduce an equal age of consent.

 

Which makes it all-the-more puzzling why they have made the wrong decision in limiting the operation of the historical homosexual convictions expungement scheme to offences that occurred before 19 January 1991.

 

By tying the Criminal Law (Historical Homosexual Convictions Expungement) Bill 2017 to the ‘act’ of decriminalisation, they have effectively tied the Queensland expungement scheme to legislation that itself was discriminatory.

 

In doing so, they have developed a scheme that would deliberately exclude people who were charged or convicted for offences between January 1991 and September 2016 who would not have been were it not for their sexual orientation.

 

Those charges and convictions were also unjust, and that injustice should be addressed through this expungement scheme. To do otherwise – to exclude people adversely affected by the unequal age of consent which existed for a quarter of a century – is simply to perpetuate this discrimination.

 

It would also leave Queensland out of step with other Australian jurisdictions – with the equivalent NSW scheme allowing people charged or convicted because of the unequal age of consent which operated there between 1984 and 2003 to apply for those records to be expunged. Queensland should follow suit.

 

Recommendation 1: The Criminal Law (Historical Homosexual Convictions Expungement) Bill 2017 should apply to charges and convictions that were caused by the unequal age of consent for anal intercourse between January 1991 and September 2016.

 

The second, related flaw of this legislation is that, even for criminal offences committed prior to 19 January 1991, the right to apply to have these records expunged is limited to acts in which both parties were aged 18 years or over.

 

The rationale for this decision was explained in Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath’s second reading speech in the following way:

 

“[T]he criteria for the expungement of a Criminal Code male homosexual offence in the bill has regard to the age of consent at the date of decriminalisation on 19 January 1991 – that is, 18 years. This retains the expungement scheme’s nexus with the decriminalisation of consensual adult homosexual activity and confirms that the scheme is only applicable to historical charges and convictions. It also ensures that there is no discrimination between people charged or convicted with offences between 1991 and 2016 or people charged before the age of consent for sexual activity other than anal intercourse was changed in Queensland in 1976 from 17 years to 16 years.”

 

The question of what to do about the relevant age of consent prior to 1991 goes to the heart of the purpose of the expungement scheme.

 

If the purpose is simply to address offences prior to January 1991 that were decriminalised following the passage of the Criminal Code and Another Act Amendment Act 1990, then the approach adopted in the legislation, which limits the relevant age of consent to 18 years for all offences, admittedly has some internal consistency.

 

However, if the purpose of the expungement scheme is instead to provide redress to people who were charged or convicted primarily because of their sexual orientation, then I would argue that it must go further.

 

On a practical level, if this legislation is aimed at removing the stain of homophobia and biphobia from past laws, and above all from the criminal records of those who bore their impact, then the relevant test should not be how those acts were treated in 26-year-old legislation that, as we have seen above, was itself inherently flawed.

 

Instead, I believe the test should be whether the relevant act would have been criminalised if it involved consensual intercourse between a man and a woman, and specifically penis/vagina sex. Such a test goes to the core issue, which is discrimination – that the law treated gay and bisexual men differently to heterosexual people.

 

If this principle is adopted, then the scheme would allow people to apply with respect to:

 

  • Charges and convictions where both parties were 17 and over prior to 1976 (when the age of consent for penis/vagina sex was reduced to 16) and
  • Charges and convictions where both parties were 16 and over from 1976 onwards.

 

In this way, the legislation would actually better reflect the view, expressed in the Explanatory Notes, that:

 

“It is also an acknowledgment that the age of consent has changed over the years in accordance with changing societal values and expectations…”

 

That is because it would be based on changing societal attitudes to the age of consent for heterosexual, non-anal, intercourse, and therefore removed from discriminatory attitudes towards anal intercourse, and especially intercourse between men.

 

Further, if this principle was adopted, it would also provide philosophical consistency between those offences before January 1991 and those between January 1991 and September 2016 – provided Recommendation 1 is also adopted, the relevant age of consent would be 16 years for both.

 

Finally, this approach would also be more consistent with the position adopted by other jurisdictions – with section 105G of Victoria’s Sentencing Act 1991 setting out the relevant test as:

 

“on the balance of probabilities, both of the following tests are satisfied in relation to the entitled person:

(i) the entitled person would not have been charged with the historical homosexual offence but for the fact that the entitled person was suspected of having engaged in the conduct constituting the offence for the purposes of, or in connection with, sexual activity of a homosexual nature;

(ii) that conduct, if engaged in by the entitled person at the time of the making of the application, would not constitute an offence under the law of Victoria.”

 

Queensland should similarly ensure that the primary purpose of its expungement scheme is to provide redress for gay and bisexual men who were charged or convicted for offences for penetrative intercourse that would not have applied to penis/vagina sex between men and women.

 

Therefore, the relevant age of consent should be the same as that which applied to heterosexual, non-anal, sex: 17 before 1976, and 16 from that point onwards.

 

Recommendation 2: The Criminal Law (Historical Homosexual Convictions Expungement) Bill 2017 should apply to charges and convictions for offences where both parties were 17 and over before 1976, and 16 and over from 1976 onwards.

 

As stated earlier, I support the stated intention of the Queensland Government in developing, and introducing, this legislation: to provide redress for past injustices against members of the LGBTI community.

 

However, as I have explained above, I believe this admirable objective is imperfectly realised in the Criminal Law (Historical Homosexual Convictions Expungement) Bill 2017 as currently drafted.

 

That is because it would only achieve justice for some of the people adversely impacted by the past criminalisation of male same-sex activity, and not all.

 

If the purpose of the expungement scheme is to provide redress for the homophobic and biphobic application of the criminal law – and I suggest that this is the most appropriate objective – then it should apply to:

 

  • Offences between January 1991 and September 2016 where both people were aged 16 and over
  • Offences between 1976 and 1991 where both people were aged 16 and over, and
  • Offences before 1976 where both people were aged 17 and over.

 

In my view, this would be the closest approximation of treating all people – LGBTI and non-LGBTI alike – equally.

 

It would also ensure that more people, who have been subject to discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, and who continue to experience the consequences of this mistreatment, have access to expungement.

 

As observed by Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath in her second reading speech:

 

“We know that this is a deeply hurtful and deeply personal issue for many Queenslanders forced to live with the impact of discriminatory laws for far too long. We know that past convictions have meant there are various circumstances in which convictions or charges for criminal offences have been required to be disclosed.

 

“Forcing the repeated disclosure of those convictions and charges to potential employers, public administrators and others has caused people inconvenience and embarrassment and, worst of all, has forced them to continually relive the trauma associated with their arrest, charge and conviction. This has inhibited people from pursuing employment opportunities, volunteering in their communities and fully participating in civic life right up until today. It hurt those individuals, affected their friends and family, and prevented their full involvement in, and contribution to, our community. In doing so, it not only impacted individuals; it lessened our community more broadly.”

 

I wholeheartedly agree. But I also humbly suggest that these statements don’t just apply to ‘adults’ charged or convicted for offences committed before 19 January 1991 – they also describe the injustice experienced by people who suffered because of the discriminatory age of consent between January 1991 and September 2016.

 

Similarly, these sentiments reflect the adverse treatment of gay and bisexual men charged or convicted for penetrative intercourse before January 1991 who would not have been had it involved penis/vagina sex.

 

Both of these groups deserve justice too. That can and should be delivered through these two amendments to the Criminal Law (Historical Homosexual Convictions Expungement) Bill 2017, changes that strive to fully remove the stain of homophobia and biphobia from Queensland’s laws, thereby lessening the awful impact of discrimination on generations of gay and bisexual men.

 

Thank you for taking this submission into consideration as part of this inquiry. If the Committee would like to clarify any of the above, or to request additional information, please contact me at the details provided.

 

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

Palaszczuk

Premier Palaszczuk’s apology was welcome, but the Bill which gives it practical effect should cover all people adversely affected by historical convictions, not just some.

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Submission to QLRC Review of Expunging of Criminal Convictions for Historical Gay Sex Offences

Update: 17 January 2017

The Queensland Law Reform Commission’s report on ‘Expunging criminal convictions for historical gay sex offences’ was tabled in Queensland Parliament on Tuesday 29 November 2016. You can find a copy of the report, which was actually completed in August 2016, here.

After tabling the report, Attorney-General the Hon Yvette D’Ath expressed the Palaszczuk Labor Government’s commitment to progressing legislation to create an expungement scheme.

As reported by the Brisbane Times (‘Government outlines path to expunging historical gay convictions’), Ms D’Ath said:

“This is a chance for some closure for Queenslanders who continue to be hurt by the legacy of decades-old discrimination, wrongs inflicted by a past regime, from a very different Queensland from the modern state we enjoy today…

“As a parliament, we should apologise to those Queenslanders for these historic wrongs and for the hurt that followed them in the decades since.”

The recommendations included in the QLRC report, which is the starting point for legislation that is expected to be introduced in the first half of this year, appear reasonable.

The QLRC also notes, on page iii, that:

“At present, the age of consent is generally 16 years but is 18 years for sodomy. If the age of consent for sodomy were changed to 16 years prior to or in conjunction with the commencement of the proposed expungement legislation, applications for expungement in respect of eligible offences would be decided by reference to the age of consent of 16 years.”

This is obviously welcome (given it was included in my original submission – see below), especially now that the age of consent has in fact been equalised.

However, the report also recommends that expungement should apply with respect to:

“an offence under sections 208(1), 208(3), 209 or 211 of the Criminal Code, as in force prior to 19 January 1991 (the ‘date of legalisation’) except as constituted by heterosexual activity”.

When read together, there is a risk that these two recommendations will create the perverse situation that a gay or bisexual man, who was successfully prosecuted for male-male intercourse involving at least one party who was 16 or 17 years old will be able to have that conviction expunged where it occurred before 1991 – but will not be able to do so if it occurred between 1991 and the (long overdue) equalisation of the age of consent in 2016.

This is an issue that Attorney-General D’Ath specifically, and the Queensland Government generally, must address – because nobody should be subject to a criminal record in 2017 simply because of their sexual orientation, and that applies irrespective of whether the conduct occurred before ‘legalisation’, or ‘equalisation’.

 

Original post:

The Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC) is currently undertaking a review into the possible establishment of a scheme to expunge criminal convictions for historical gay sex convictions in that state. Details of the review, including a Consultation Paper, can be found here.

Submissions response to that paper are due on Tuesday 29 March 2016. The following is my submission:

The Secretary

Queensland Law Reform Commission

PO Box 13312

George St Post Shop QLD 4003

lawreform.commission@justice.qld.gov.au

Tuesday 22 March 2016

To whom it may concern,

Submission on Review of Expunging of Criminal Convictions for Historical Gay Sex Offences

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission in response to the Consultation Paper on this important subject.

In this submission I will attempt to answer the nine separate questions asked in the Consultation Paper[i].

I will also make two additional recommendations addressing issues that, while not specifically raised in the Paper, are closely tied to those that are and, I believe, must be addressed at the same time.

Overall, I welcome the interest of the Queensland Government in considering a scheme to allow LGBTI people generally, and gay and bisexual men in particular, to have unjust charges and convictions expunged from their criminal records.

Consensual same-sex sexual activity should never have been criminalised, and, in my opinion, it is doubly unjust to leave these charges and convictions in place, potentially to be held against people decades after they were originally penalised under these discriminatory laws.

**********

Joh

Former Queensland Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

First, to some context to explain why I am particularly interested in this review. I was born in Central Queensland in 1978, roughly halfway through the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era. I am therefore old enough to remember at least parts of the fierce debates around the potential decriminalisation of male homosexuality in the late 1980s[ii], as well as the extraordinary homophobia and hysteria that accompanied the emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic throughout that decade.

I also remember, vaguely, the passage of legislation decriminalising male homosexuality by the Goss Labor Government in November 1990[iii].

That achievement – the decriminalisation of same-sex sexual intercourse between adults[iv] – happened only a couple of months before I first realised that I was gay, and I am obviously thankful that this reform was in place before I reached adulthood.

However, I am not thankful that the Goss Government failed to accept the recommendation of the Criminal Justice Commission (CJC)[v] to introduce an equal age of consent for both homosexual and heterosexual sexual activity, but instead decided to set the age of consent at 16 for most sexual activities, but at 18 for ‘sodomy’ (that is, anal intercourse)[vi].

The principle set out by the CJC: “[i]t would accord with principles of sexual equality and anti-discrimination that the age of consent for males and females be the same irrespective of whether the sexual act is heterosexual or homosexual”[vii], was clearly sound.

By ignoring this principle, the Goss Government potentially exposed me to criminal prosecution, including a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment – because, during the time I was 16 and 17 years old (1994 to 1996), had I engaged in non-oral penetrative sex I could have been charged with, and convicted of, ‘unlawful sodomy’[viii].

While, prima facie, this offence applies to both heterosexual and homosexual conduct, and therefore some might describe it as non-discriminatory in nature, it simply cannot be denied that the impact of this unequal age of consent falls disproportionately on young same-sex attracted men.

Using my own situation, my heterosexual peers could engage in at least some types of non-oral penetrative sex without the fear of criminal prosecution, while I, obviously, could not. This disparity was unjust then, in mid-1990s Queensland. And it is extraordinarily unjust now.

It is almost unfathomable that, in 2016, the unequal age of consent for anal intercourse remains in place under Queensland law – rendering it the only place in Australia to maintain such a distinction. The Borbidge, Beattie, Bligh, Newman and (so far) Palaszczuk[ix] Governments have all failed to finish the job left only half-completed by the Goss Government more than 25 years ago.

Goss

Former Queensland Premier Wayne Goss, who ended the long rule of the National Party in 1989, and decriminalised homosexual activity between adults in 1990, but left the job half-complete by introducing an unequal age of consent for anal intercourse.

There are three main reasons why I am raising this issue here, as part of my submission to a review looking at expunging criminal convictions for historical gay sex offences:

  1. The objective of the proposed expungement scheme is to provide redress to people who have been unjustly punished because of discriminatory criminal laws, or the discriminatory application of criminal laws. In this context, we should not avoid the fact that, in 2016, there remain some criminal laws that, because of the type of conduct that is prohibited, continue to place an unjustifiable and discriminatory burden on young gay and bisexual men in particular.
  2. It is highly likely that there are men who have been criminalised due to this discriminatory age of consent in the 25 years since homosexual intercourse between adults was first legalised in Queensland but who, because most expungement schemes do not apply to conduct that remains subject to criminal sanction, would nevertheless not be allowed to have their criminal records expunged, and
  3. In my opinion, it makes no sense whatsoever to establish a framework to expunge ‘historical gay sex offences’ from criminal records while, at the same time, maintaining other criminal laws that mean there will likely be more people who are penalised as a result of the discriminatory application of those offences into the future.

For all of these reasons, I believe that the age of consent for anal intercourse, currently 18, must be made equal to the age of consent for other types of sexual activity, 16, either prior to or at the same time as the establishment of a scheme to expunge historical gay sex offences[x].

To not do so – leaving the current discriminatory age of consent in place – is not only unjust, it would also mean that, at some point in the future, when the age of consent is finally equalised, the expungement scheme will need to be amended to add all of those people unnecessarily penalised since the passage of the Criminal Code and Another Act Amendment Act 1990.

Recommendation 1: The Queensland Government should equalise the age of consent for anal intercourse, by making it 16 instead of 18, prior to or at the same time as any expungement scheme takes effect.

**********

The following section will address the nine questions asked in the QLRC Consultation Paper.

  1. Is there a need to change the law to introduce a new scheme for expungement?

Yes, I believe there is a clear need for a new legislative scheme to address this issue. The existing pardon scheme is not capable of providing appropriate redress to all of the people affected by these discriminatory criminal laws, or discriminatory application of criminal laws. Nor does it achieve the removal of convictions from a person’s history, which is an essential component of any scheme.

Spent convictions are also substantively different in nature from expungement, minimising the consequences of previous convictions (although even then not for all purposes, such as applying for some positions), rather than acknowledging the wrongness of, and attempting to remove, convictions that should never have been imposed in the first place.

For this reason, my preference would be to have a separate act for an expungements scheme. However, if it is included in existing spent convictions legislation, there should be clear delineation between the two concepts.

  1. Which criminal offences should be covered by an expungement scheme, and how should they be defined?

The criminalisation of same-sex activity extended beyond sexual activity to include prosecution for a range of other offences where they would not otherwise have been prosecuted if not for their sexual orientation.

For this reason, the expungement scheme should also extend beyond covering offences such as ‘buggery’ and ‘indecency between males’, to include offences such as soliciting, and it should not be limited solely to male same-sex activity (while noting that it will nevertheless predominantly be men who are affected).

It should also include attempting or conspiring to commit, or inciting, any of the eligible offences. And, as I made clear above, it should include people criminalised due to the unequal age of consent for anal intercourse.

In terms of how the offences are identified or defined, I suspect it would be difficult to list, from the outset, all relevant offences where people were prosecuted primarily because of who they were.

As a result, I prefer the combined option suggested in the Consultation Paper[xi], whereby known offences could be included in the legislation, other offences could be added by regulations where necessary, and a description test could be included to ensure that additional offences could be expunged where they are shown to be relevant in individual cases.

Finally, I am not opposed to consent, age and lawfulness being included as criteria for expungement – provided the age of consent for anal intercourse is lowered to 16, otherwise a range of people would be prevented from being able to seek redress because of the ongoing unjustified and inappropriate criminalisation of this activity.

  1. Should an exungement scheme also apply to charges for an offence or other legal processes related to a conviction?

I prefer the Victorian approach, which applies to the conviction, the charge to which the conviction relates and “any investigation or legal process associated with that charge or the conviction.”

This is important given the ever-expanding requirement to disclose charges and other matters (beyond simply convictions) in a range of circumstances, and the increased sharing of such information between Australians jurisdictions.

  1. Should an expungement scheme be confined to living persons?

No. I believe appropriate representatives (such as a spouse, parent, child or sibling) should be able to apply for expungement, as is the case in the ACT, NSW and Victoria. This is because the injustice of the discriminatory application of criminal laws does not change simply because the person charged or convicted has since died.

  1. What type of scheme should it be?

While it would be ideal to be able to adopt a scheme that operated automatically, expunging criminal records of individuals without first compelling them to effectively re-visit the injustice perpetrated on them by having to make an application for expungement, I do not believe this is possible, especially because the past criminalisation of same-sex activity included some offences that would remain criminal today (for example, where there was no consent).

As a result, I believe Queensland should follow the approach adopted by South Australia, the ACT, NSW and Victoria in establishing a ‘case-by-case’ scheme – noting that such a scheme must be adequately funded to limit any delay to people who have already been denied justice for too long.

In terms of deciding who the decision-maker should be, my preference would be for the establishment of an independent panel – although that may not be possible depending on the resources allocated to this scheme. In which case, an administrative scheme (overseen by the Director-General of the Department of Justice and Attorney-General) would ensure accessibility, flexibility, privacy and lower cost (and align with the approach adopted in Victoria, NSW and the ACT).

  1. When should a conviction be expunged under a scheme (the criteria for expungement)?

From my perspective, while the overall purpose of the scheme is to provide redress for people who would not have been charged but for the fact the activity was of a homosexual nature, the specific criteria that should be applied should be consent (where it is relevant), age and lawfulness (that is, whether the activity would constitute a criminal offence today).

However, as I have already made clear in this submission, in relation to age the scheme should also cover people who have been prosecuted as a result of the unequal and discriminatory age of consent that has operated in Queensland since the decriminalisation of adult same-sex sexual activity.

  1. What should be the effect of ‘expungement’ under a scheme (the consequences of a conviction becoming expunged)?

The governing principle should be to, as far as possible, restore the person’s position at law as if the charge or conviction had never been imposed. That would suggest that the Government should adopt more, rather than fewer, protections against disclosure.

I would support:

  • The person not being required to disclose information about the expunged conviction
  • A question about the person’s criminal history being taken not to refer to the expunged conviction
  • In applying an Act to a person, a reference to a conviction being taken not to refer to the expunged conviction
  • In applying an Act to a person, a reference to the person’s character not allowing or requiring anyone to take the expunged conviction into account and
  • Ensuring that the expunged conviction or its non-disclosure is not a proper ground for refusing to a person, or dismissing the person from, an appointment, post, status or privilege and that the person may reapply if such was refused solely on the basis of the conviction before it was expunged.[xii]

It also means that there should be criminal offences to disclose information about an expunged conviction, from records kept by or on behalf of a public authority, or by a person with access to official records, and to fraudulently or dishonestly obtain information about an expunged conviction from records kept by or on behalf of a public authority.[xiii]

Although the exceptions nominated in the Consultation Paper – such as being a disclosure to or with the consent of the person, or to inform a public authority holding information about convictions that the conviction itself is expunged – also seem reasonable.[xiv]

In terms of whether official records should be annotated or destroyed, I am drawn to the Victorian approach, where official records of convictions are annotated to record the fact that the conviction is expunged, and where entries about an expunged conviction in electronic databases or extracts of official records are to be removed, made incapable of being found, or de-identified. This is because undertaking these actions is likely to assist in preventing the further disclosure of these records.

Finally, I do not take a position on whether an expunged conviction should be able to be revived. While in theory such a safeguard appears necessary, based on the experience in the UK, and in Australian states and territories that have adopted expungement schemes to date, it is unlikely that large numbers of people will have their records expunged, thereby reducing the risk of an inappropriate expungement that ultimately requires reversal.

  1. What procedural features should an expungement scheme have, and how should it operate?

Again, I am drawn largely to the Victorian approach (although most features are shared across schemes). This would include allowing the person convicted of the offences to apply, or the guardian of the convicted person to apply if the convicted person is unable to apply because of a disability.

It also includes the application being required to be in writing, in an approved form, incorporating:

  • The person’s name, date of birth and address at the time of the application and at the time of the conviction (where known)
  • When and where the person was convicted and details of the offence and
  • Authorising a police record check and giving consent to the disclosure to the decision-maker of official records created by the courts, police or office of public prosecutions relating to the conviction,

but not requiring the person to include the transcript or sentencing remarks (as mandated in South Australia)[xv].

I also support the person having the opportunity to include supporting information or statements, and evidence of the other person(s) involved, as well as being able to withdraw an application, and being given an opportunity to provide further information before an application, which is proposed to be refused, is finally decided (as required in NSW and the ACT).[xvi]

In terms of the decision-making process itself, while I support the decision-maker being able to request or require further information from the applicant, or from another person or body, I do not believe the decision-maker must have regard to any available record of the investigation or proceedings. I also support the approach in NSW, Victoria and UK, where an oral hearing is not to be held.[xvii]

Given the need to provide justice to people who have already been denied justice for too long, I support the approach in Victoria, requiring an application to be determined “as promptly as possible”. Procedural fairness would also dictate that an applicant be provided with written notice of the decision, including reasons. In order to ensure that the records are actually expunged, the notice of the decision should also be given to the ‘data controller’ for official records held by the courts, police and the office of public prosecutions.

Finally, in terms of review processes, I support the right to re-apply, following an earlier refusal, where additional supporting material becomes available. People who have their application refused should also be able to seek review of the decision by the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (which would be consistent with the ACT, NSW and Victoria), although I do not support the right of the ‘data controller’ to seek review of a decision to approve an application.

  1. Are there any other matters that should be considered?

Yes. As discussed in the Consultation Paper[xviii], I support consequential amendments to the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 to ensure that people cannot be discriminated against on the basis of charges or convictions that have since been expunged.

I also support amendments to the Working with Children (Risk Management and Screening) Act 2000 – and any other scheme that considers historic offences for registration or eligibility – to guarantee that expunged charges and convictions are not able to be accessed or considered.

Finally, in terms of resources, there are two distinct needs. The first is for an education campaign to raise awareness amongst people who may have been affected by past criminalisation, and to provide information about their options under the scheme. Such a campaign should be funded by the Government and delivered in partnership with Queensland LGBTI community organisations.

The second would be the direct provision of legal advice and assistance to people who wish to pursue their rights under the scheme, as well as access to counselling and other related services where relevant.

**********

There is one final issue that, although not considered in detail in the Consultation Paper, is, in my view at least, intrinsically linked to a scheme designed to provide redress to people who have experienced injustice because of the criminalisation of same-sex sexual activity.

It is my sincere belief that, at the same time as the Queensland Parliament (hopefully) passes legislation to establish an expungement scheme, it should also offer an apology to all those who have suffered adverse consequences as a result of this unjustified and inappropriate criminalisation.

As I have made clear earlier in this submission, I believe this apology should also be extended to people who have been criminalised as a result of the unequal age of consent for anal intercourse that has been in operation since homosexual sexual activity between adults was first legalised.

While symbolic, an apology to all of these people would be an important step not just towards healing the wounds of the past, but also towards demonstrating the commitment of the Queensland Parliament to ensure that similar injustices are not perpetrated again in the future.

Recommendation 2: That, at the same time as it passes legislation to establish an expungement scheme, the Queensland Parliament should offer an apology to all those who were subject to criminalisation for same-sex sexual activity in the past, including those who have been criminalised because of the unequal age of consent for anal intercourse.

**********

Thank you for taking this submission into account as part of this important review. If you would like more information, or to clarify any of the above, please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

[i] QLRC, Consultation Paper: Review of expunging of criminal convictions for historical gay sex offences, p23-40.

[ii] I was unusually interested in politics and current affairs as a child – some things never change.

[iii] Criminal Code and Another Act Amendment Act 1990.

[iv] By repealing then sections 208 (Unnatural offences), 209 (Attempt to commit unnatural offences) and 211 (Indecent practices between males) from the Queensland Criminal Code.

[v] Criminal Justice Commission, Reforms in laws relating to homosexuality: An information paper, 1990.

[vi] Section 208 of the reformed Criminal Code still creates the offence of “Unlawful sodomy: A person who does, or attempts to do, any of the following commits a crime – (a) sodomises a person under 18 years; (b) permits a male person under 18 years to sodomise him or her… Maximum penalty – 14 years imprisonment.”

[vii] Op cit, page 60.

[viii] Obviously, this law would also have applied had I been 18 or 19 and had a partner who was a year or two younger than I was – something that is not uncommon, and a situation that would not attract criminal prosecution if it involved vaginal intercourse.

[ix] Although I understand that the Palaszczuk Labor Government is currently seeking advice on this issue, from an expert panel including ‘health experts’: Brisbane Times, Queensland Government considers lowering age of anal sex consent to 16, August 20 2015.

[x] Irrespective of the current review by the Palaszczuk Government (see above), I believe this is an issue that the QLRC should also consider in detail given it is inherently linked to its consideration of an expungement scheme.

[xi] QLRC Consultation Paper, Option 4, page 26.

[xii] All options from QLRC Consultation Paper, ibid, pages 33-34.

[xiii] Ibid, pages 34-35

[xiv] Ibid, page 35.

[xv] Ibid, page 36.

[xvi] Ibid, page 37.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Ibid, page 39.

LGBTI Highs & Lows of 2014

A short final post to bring to a close this blog for another year. As always, the past 12 months have been incredibly busy, having seen significant achievements in LGBTI rights in some areas, and a disappointing lack of progress in others. The following are my personal views on a couple of the major highlights of 2014, two ongoing ‘lowlights’, and one item of unfinished business.

  1. NSW Finally Repeals the Homosexual Advance Defence

In May, NSW Parliament passed the Crimes Amendment (Provocation) Act 2014, finally removing the homophobic and biphobic ‘homosexual advance’ or ‘gay panic’ defence from our statute books. This was a long overdue reform, and is testament to the hard work of many, many LGBTI activists, and organisations (including, but not limited to, the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby), over the past 15-20 years.

From my own perspective, I was happy to play a small role as part of the overall movement to abolish this discriminatory law. I was one of 52 individuals and organisations to lodge a submission to the Parliamentary inquiry into the Partial Defence of Provocation in 2012 (submission here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2012/08/10/submission-on-homosexual-advance-defence/ ), and also made a submission to the then Attorney-General on the draft Crimes Amendment (Provocation) Bill in late 2013 (submission here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/11/14/submission-on-crimes-amendment-provocation-bill-2013-re-homosexual-advance-or-gay-panic-defence/ ).

Now that NSW has finally removed this stain from the Crimes Act, it is time for Queensland and South Australia to also consign the homosexual advance defence to the dustbin of history.

  1. Victoria and NSW Pass Legislation Allowing Historical Convictions for Homosexual Sex to be Expunged

This was another long overdue law reform, and one that is essential to help remedy some of the injustice caused, both by the criminalisation of male-male sexual intercourse (with decriminalisation taking effect in Victoria in March 1981, and in NSW in June 1984), and also by the differential age of consent post-decriminalisation (with the age of consent equalised in Victoria in 1991, and in NSW, shamefully, not until 2003).

This achievement belongs primarily to those campaigners in Victoria who kept the issue alive for many years, if not decades (including Jamie Gardiner, someone whom I am privileged to be able to call a friend and mentor), and who put in the legal policy development work over the past couple of years (including Anna Brown, of the Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby and the Human Rights Law Centre), among numerous others. The NSW reforms were able to successfully ‘piggyback’ on this advocacy south of the border.

For my part, I was able to pursue this issue as the Policy Working Group chair of the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby 2012-2014, as well as writing to the new Premier, Mike Baird, in May of this year calling for a party vote in favour of Bruce Notley-Smith’s Bill (letter here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/05/25/letter-to-nsw-premier-mike-baird-re-lgbti-equality-and-conscience-votes/ ).

But I am perhaps most proud that it was a motion that I drafted which was passed at ALP State Conference in July which ensured the Labor Opposition would vote, as a bloc, in favour of this reform – although it would be remiss of me not to say that it was Penny Sharpe’s advocacy behind the scenes that ensured this motion was successful.

As with the homosexual advance defence, it is now up to other states to similarly pass legislation to allow men affected by these laws to have their convictions expunged. And for Queensland, this must also include amendments to finally introduce an equal age of consent (with a higher age of consent for anal intercourse still in force there).

  1. Australia Still Persecuting LGBTI Refugees

Onto the ‘lowlights’ of 2014 and the first could be taken from 12 months previously – and in fact it is, with Australia’s ongoing policy of sending LGBTI refugees to countries which criminalise homosexuality for processing and resettlement also featuring atop my end of year Highs & Lows from 2013 (see original post here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/12/27/no-1-australia-sends-lgbti-refugees-to-countries-which-criminalise-homosexuality/ ).

Sadly, the situation one year later isn’t all that different. The policy is still in breach of our international human rights obligations, is still fundamentally unjust, and is still an insult to humanity itself – both of the refugees, and ours because it is being done in our name. The Immigration Department essentially confirmed in a response to me that the Government will continue to send LGBTI refugees to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, and to Nauru, for the foreseeable future (see my letter and their response, on behalf of Minister Scott Morrison, here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/02/02/letter-to-scott-morrison-about-treatment-of-lgbti-asylum-seekers-and-refugees-sent-to-manus-island-png/ ).

The only glimmers of hope at the end of another depressing year in this area are that a) Minister Morrison is today being replaced in the Immigration portfolio and b) the treatment of LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees has been receiving increased media coverage, both in LGBTI community publications (including the Star Observer and samesame) and importantly in mainstream media (with a special mention of the Guardian Australia for their ongoing work in this area).

  1. Lack of Progress on Involuntary or Coerced Sterilisation of Intersex People

This ‘lowlight’ is also taken from the 2013 list of Highs & Lows, although at that stage it was presented in a much more favourable manner, given the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs had only recently handed down its report on the Involuntary or Coerced Sterilisation of Intersex People in Australia (see post here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/12/25/no-3-senate-report-on-involuntary-or-coerced-sterilisation-of-intersex-people-in-australia/ ).

Unfortunately, 12 months on and there has apparently been little progress in this area – despite the Report itself being debated in the Senate in March, I am unaware of any formal Government response, let alone significant reforms to implement its recommendations. Let’s hope that, in 2015, the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments all take action to ensure that the human rights of intersex children are no longer violated in this way.

  1. Campaign for the ALP to Adopt a Binding Vote on Marriage Equality

The final entry in this list of ‘Highs & Lows’ is actually an item of unfinished business, both of the past 12 months, and also stretching back to the 2011 ALP National Conference, which adopted marriage equality in the party’s platform, but then immediately undermined it by enabling members of the parliamentary party to vote against this plank of the platform for any reason whatsoever.

As I have written previously (see my major post on this topic, ‘Hey Australian Labor, It’s Time to Bind on Marriage Equality’ https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/07/13/hey-australian-labor-its-time-to-bind-on-marriage-equality/ ), it is highly unlikely that marriage equality will pass Commonwealth Parliament in this term without a binding vote for ALP MPs. Which means that the votes by the Tasmanian State ALP Conference in July, and Queensland State Conference in August, to support a binding vote were incredibly encouraging, and even the close loss in NSW in July was heartening (because, if those voting patterns were repeated across Australia, it would likely be successful at the national level).

This campaign, which I refer to as #ItsTimeToBind, will be one of the most important of 2015, as we move towards ALP National Conference in Melbourne in July. Let’s see whether Bill Shorten will stand up and be a Leader who supports the fundamental equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australian, without exception.

So, that brings me to the end of my writing for another year. On a personal note, I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has read, commented (even when they have disagreed), shared and liked my posts. As you can probably tell, I enjoy writing, and I enjoy it even more when I know that people are interacting with it (and the almost 16,000 unique visitors, from 141 countries, this year is both humbling and, to be honest, a little bit exciting).

On that point, if you do enjoy reading and visiting this blog, please consider signing up (either on WordPress or via email – the subscription options for both are located at the top of the right-hand side-bar), and to stay up-to-date you can also follow me on twitter https://twitter.com/alawriedejesus . Have a happy and safe end to 2014, and let’s hope that 2015 brings with it even more progress towards full LGBTI equality, both in Australia and overseas. Thanks, Alastair

30th anniversary of decriminalisation of homosexuality in NSW

Tonight, at midnight, it will be exactly 30 years since gay and bisexual adult men in New South Wales moved from being criminals to being able to engage in consensual sexual intercourse without fear of prosecution.

Then NSW Premier, the Hon Neville Wran MP’s, private member’s bill – the Crimes (Amendment) Act 1984 – had passed the NSW Parliament on 22 May, but did not take effect until the 8th of June, 1984.

This legislation, decriminalising male same-sex sexual intercourse (for people aged 18 or over – sadly, an equal age of consent had to wait another 19 years), was the product of 14 years of hard work and tireless campaigning of gay and lesbian (and of course some early trans*) rights activists.

From the founding of the Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP) in September 1970, through the proliferation of gay liberation groups during the 1970s, to the courageous ‘78ers’ who resisted NSW Police violence at the first Sydney Gay Mardi Gras Parade, and the Gay Rights Lobby, formed in 1980 – as well as numerous other groups advocating for equality on the basis of sexual orientation – this achievement was truly a collective effort.

It is thanks to the courage of these activists, who stood up and fought for their (and our) rights, to be public and be proud at a time when they were threatened with criminal sanction for simply being who they were, that people like my fiancé Steve and I can enjoy, and even take for granted, such a wide range of freedoms today.

It is because of this that I simply wanted to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for what they achieved, for themselves, for us and for future generations. To them, I say thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.

That’s one thanks for every year of freedom that we have enjoyed since the decriminalisation of homosexuality 30 years ago. To any of those activists who might one day read this post (highly unlikely, but then you never know), please know that we appreciate what was done, and that we owe you.

Of course, there is one way that we can try to repay at least a small part of that debt, and that is to continue pushing for legislation which allows all those who were convicted due to the homophobia of the criminal law – both before decriminalisation in 1984, and because of the unequal age of consent between 1984 and 2003 – to have those convictions expunged.

The Liberal Member for Coogee, Bruce Notley-Smith, is expected to introduce a private member’s bill to achieve just that later in June. We should lobby to ensure as many MPs as possible support this effort at redressing past injustices.

At the same time, the NSW Parliament should expressly apologise to all those harmed – both at the time and, for many, for a lifetime – by the homophobic laws which emanated from that place for far too long.

Legislation to expunge historical convictions, accompanied by a parliamentary apology for historic injustices, would be a fitting way to mark the 30th anniversary of decriminalisation of homosexuality in NSW. Let’s do what we can to make sure it happens.

Decriminalisation campaigners, including Lex Watson, at the Gay Rights Embassy opposite then Premier Neville Wran's home in 1983 (source: Adrian Short as published in Sydney Morning Herald).

Decriminalisation campaigners, including Lex Watson, at the Gay Rights Embassy opposite then Premier Neville Wran’s home in 1983 (source: Adrian Short as published in Sydney Morning Herald).

Letter to NSW Premier Mike Baird re LGBTI Equality and Conscience Votes

In Question Time on Wednesday 7 May 2014, the Independent Member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich MP, asked the new Liberal-National Premier, the Hon Mike Baird MP, about his, and his Government’s, support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community of NSW.

I have reproduced the text of both the question and answer below, along with highlighting a couple of points of particular interest:

LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, TRANSGENDER AND INTERSEX COMMUNITY SUPPORT

Mr ALEX GREENWICH: My question is addressed to the Premier. Will he build on the support of previous Premiers for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities, including supporting ACON, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, Twenty10 and the Gender Centre, and allowing at least a free vote on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex-related legislation?

Mr MIKE BAIRD: I thank the member for his sensible question and for the work he does in his community. One of the hallmarks of my Government will be respect for all people and all communities. My Government will not judge people on the basis of race, religion or sexuality. My Government will judge each individual by how he or she behaves and what he or she contributes to the community and those around them. Discrimination against any individual or group on the basis of race, religion or sexuality has no place in New South Wales. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community can continue to have the Government as a great supporter. I give the same personal commitment as Premier. One of the biggestevents staged in Sydney every year is the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade, which enjoys strong bipartisan support. It has enjoyed funding since 2009, which continues under a Liberal-Nationals Government, and some 20,000 overseas and interstate visitors generate approximately $30 million for the visitor economy.

This financial year the Government has provided more than $300,000 in funding for ACON to deliver a range of HIV prevention, care and support programs for people with HIV, sex workers, outreach projects, and needle and syringe programs. Earlier this year the Government and ACON jointly funded the Ending HIV campaign. In 2013-14 the Government has provided more than $600,000 to the Gender Centre and Twenty10, which is a non-profit welfare organisation located in Chippendale that has been operating for more than 30 years. Government support is provided through the Sydney West Local Health District Youth Service and the Department of Family and Community Services. I thank and admire the hardworking staff at these organisations for the work they do in the community.

In August this year the Gay Rugby World Cup, known as the Bingham Cup, is coming to Sydney. The Government will provide financial and in-kind support for up to 40 teams from 15 countries. Some 1,500 players and 10,000 spectators will flock to the event. I refer to conscience votes and pay tribute to the former Premier. His leadership on matters of conscience was exemplary and showed this Parliament how members should respond on matters of conscience. I say to the member for Sydney that my position will be exactly the same as the position of the former Premier, who showed great leadership on matters of conscience; so too will the Government I lead. I look forward to working together on these issues.

The two issues highlighted – the unequivocal commitment to equality based on sexuality, and the question of when a conscience vote should be granted – have prompted me to write the following letter to Mr Baird.

The Hon Mike Baird MP

Premier of NSW

GPO Box 5341

Sydney NSW 2001

Sunday 25 May 2014

Dear Premier Baird

SUPPORT FOR THE LGBTI COMMUNITY OF NSW

I am writing regarding the answer which you gave in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday 7 May 2014 to a question from the Member for Sydney about your, and your Government’s, support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community of NSW.

In particular, I would like to ask you questions about two of the comments which you gave. First, I note that in your answer you said the following:

“Discrimination against any individual or group on the basis of race, religion or sexuality has no place in New South Wales. Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community can continue to have the Government as a great supporter. I give the same personal commitment as Premier.”

I am interested to know how far your personal commitment to and support for the LGBTI community extends. Specifically, in this quote you state that “[d]iscrimination against any individual or group on the basis of… sexuality has no place in New South Wales” and yet you have previously voted against equal adoption rights for same-sex couples.

Does this statement, which contains no equivocation, mean that you now concede your previous position on same-sex adoption was wrong? Will you give an explicit commitment to support equal adoption and other parenting rights for LGBTI couples and families in the future?

Given the absence of any qualifications on your support for non-discrimination on the basis of sexuality, I am also interested to know your position on the exceptions which are offered to religious organisations under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977. These exceptions significantly and substantively undermine the anti-discrimination protections which currently exist for lesbian, gay and trans* people in NSW.

Do you support the removal of religious exceptions, such as section 56(d), from the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 in order to better protect LGBTI people from discrimination? Or do you wish to amend the answer that you gave in Question Time to instead read: “[d[iscrimination against any individual or group on the basis of… sexuality has no place in New South Wales unless it is performed by a religious organisation, in which case such actions will be protected by law”?

Secondly, I would like to find out more details about your position on conscience votes regarding LGBTI rights. In your answer in Parliament, you made the following comment:

“I say to the member for Sydney that my position will be exactly the same as the position of the former Premier, who showed great leadership on matters of conscience; so too will the Government I lead.”

It is unclear from this answer exactly where you would draw the line on conscience votes. It is assumed that this means you would allow a conscience vote on same-sex marriage were it to return to the NSW Parliament for a fresh vote (although, given the High Court’s decision last December, that would appear to be both unlikely and unproductive).

Alternatively, does this mean that you would allow conscience votes for Liberal and National Party members if Bills were introduced seeking to wind back rights which are already enjoyed by LGBTI people in NSW? For example, would you support a conscience vote on a Bill which sought to remove the equal rights of same-sex couples to adopt? It would be disappointing if your Government did anything other than vote against such a Bill en bloc.

It is also expected that legislation will be introduced in the next few months which seeks to allow gay and bisexual men who were convicted because of the illegality of homosexuality before 1984, and because of the unequal age of consent between 1984 and 2003, to have their convictions expunged. This Bill will go some way to redressing the very real injustices, and long-term consequences, caused by the homophobic criminalization of homosexuality, and the equally homophobic unequal age of consent.

Again, it would be incredibly disappointing if members of the Government were free to vote against such a Bill, especially because the only way that this Bill would be a ‘matter of conscience’ for an MP is if they still believed that sexual intercourse between men was morally wrong.

For these reasons, I would greatly appreciate it if you could clarify your position on conscience votes, in particular whether they would extend beyond state-based same-sex marriage, and whether you would allow Liberal-National Government MPs to vote to repeal same-sex adoption rights, or to vote against the expungement of historical convictions.

Thank you in advance for considering the issues and questions raised in this correspondence.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

How far does Premier Baird's support for the LGBTI community extend? (image source: The Conversation).

How far does Premier Baird’s support for the LGBTI community really extend? (image source: The Conversation).