ALMOST exactly 30 years ago this week, the Star Observer’s front page publicised the news of NSW Parliament decriminalising homosexuality in the state.

The private member’s bill to decriminalise homosexuality, which was introduced by then-Labor Premier Neville Wran, passed with a conscience vote on both sides of parliament on May 22 and the Star Observer — then known as fortnightly newspaper The Star — reported on the historic moment in its May 31 edition. (Scroll down for archive images)

The bill came into affect a few weeks later on June 8, officially making NSW the fourth state/territory in Australia to decriminalise homosexuality. However, Wran’s bill did not equalise the age of consent, which remained 18, two years older than for heterosexual or lesbian sex, until 2003.

Last night, NSW Parliament commemorated the 30th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality, with many members of Sydney’s LGBTI community viewing the proceedings in the public gallery.

The Matter of Public Importance had bipartisan support in the NSW Legislative Assembly, with Sydney state independent MP Alex Greenwich, Marrickville state Labor MP Carmel Tebbutt, and Coogee state Liberal MP Bruce Notley-Smith all acknowledging the importance of decriminalisation and committing to further reform.

Greenwich said: “This historic milestone reminds us of how far we have come, and strengthens our community’s resolve to keep fighting.

“For decades LGBTI community leaders have worked tirelessly with MPs to bring about change for our community. This continues today, and thankfully we have a growing number of members of parliament standing up for the LGBTI communities.”

Tebbutt reflected on the contribution of the late Lex Watson, a pioneer in the gay and lesbian rights movement who was also instrumental in the decriminalisation campaign, while Notley-Smith shared the personal impact decriminalisation had on him and committed to legislation to expunge the criminal records of gay men charged prior to decriminalisation.

Tomorrow night, Pride History Group, NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, Inner City Legal Centre and ACON will host an event at NSW Parliament House to mark the 30th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality; the recent passage of the Crimes Amendment (Provocation) Bill, which heralds the end of the “gay panic” defence; and also celebrate the life of Lex Watson.

In the meantime, enjoy these archive images of the Star Observer’s front page from May 31, 1984. (Page 2 in particular offers a summary of the debate in parliament when the bill was passed):

FRONT PAGE

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The front page of the Star Observer (then known as The Star) on May 31, 1984 (Image source: Star Observer archives)

Transcription:

THE LAW & YOU

IF YOU AND ‘YOUR PARTNER ARE OVER 18 YEARS

The police can no longer arrest you simply for committing a sexual act with that partner. Such offences no longer exist. There are also no specific IN PRIVATE clauses.

This does not mean you will have free rein in beats, you will probably be arrested for committing offences in public places or something else. BE WARNED ~ police may step up campaigns in beats or use activity in beats to try and mount a campaign against gays.

Activity in SAUNAS and such similar places will probably be alright as long as those places have some sort of control on entry that would-prevent any member of the public walking in without some sort of knowledge of what they are entering.

IF YOU ARE OVER18, AND YOUR PARTNER IS UNDE’R 18

You are committing a crime to indulge in any sort of activity with a male under 18. There are savage penalties and there is no defense, such as being under the impression the person was over 18 years.

If you do have sex with someone under 18 years, try and make sure they are over 10 [sic] and refrain from anal intercourse or fellatio. Mutual masturbation etc has a TWO YEAR penalty instead of TEN.

REMEMBER with the new “Solicit, procure, incite or advise clauses” you could be arrested for just approaching an under 18 year old even if they refuse your approach. You could also be guilty of a crime if you encourage a gay male teenager into openly embracing a gay lifestyle.

NOTE: You cannot be prosecuted for an offence with a 16 or 17 year old if it took place more than a YEAR before charges were laid.

IF YOU ARE UNDER 18 AND YOUR PARTNER IS OVER 18

You are lucky. Under the new law it is only your partner who is committing an offence. If the police threaten you with charges in an attempt to make you talk, tell them to get stuffed.

Remember this puts you under great responsibility not to talk to police if caught because by getting into bed with someone over 18 you do put them at risk.

NOTE: The STAR has probably committed an offence by not suggesting you refrain from sexual activity.

IF BOTH OF YOU ARE UNDER 18 YEARS

You have both committed an offence with each other.

HOWEVER, hopefully section 79T2 will protect most of you from prosecution. Under section 79T2 neither of you can be prosecuted unless the Attorney General approves. Most people believe this will prevent all prosecutions except those where the younger partner is obviously-much younger or under some sort of duress.

REMEMBER the police theoretically cannot even arrest and charge you unless the A-G approves. Probably however, police will ignore this until they get clear instructions to the contrary. If they do arrest you, they will not be able to pursue it very far, so DON’T LET THEM BULLY YOU INTO THINKING OTHERWISE.

Richard Turner

——-

THE WRAN ACT

Lex Watson

The Wran Act, which will officially come into force in a week or two, does various things.

- Abolishes all Crimes Act offences for sexual act between and with males 18 years and over;

- Retains offences for all non-consenting acts with males regardless of age;

- Retains the offences of sex, with or without consent, with males under the age of 18 years, or of inciting a male under 18 to have sex;

- Provides that a male under 18 cannot be prosecuted for a consenting offence (i.e with another under the age of 18) without the sanction of the Attorney General;

- Does not change other laws dealing with ‘street offences’ such as offensive behaviour.

Debate has raged among activists as to the effect of two provisions in the Act, so to spell them out may be helpful.

S.78Q (2) – this section was originally added by Yeomans (Lib, Hurstville) and amended by Unsworth. It makes it an-effence to ‘solicit, procure, incite or advise’ a male under the age of 18 to have sex with ‘any other male. ‘

The section adds nothing to existing law, which already makes it an offence to incite, counsel, aid or abett anyone to commit any crime. It is already an offence to incite any person under 16 years to have sex.

Case law on incitement says the offence is very broad and covers almost any possible action that results, even unintentionally, in the commission of a crime. As such the offence will, as it long has done, be a direct threat to freedom of speech, to any discussion of homosexuality.

In practice, as in the past, the section is most unlikely to be used that way. Prosecution is likely only where there is a very specific act directed at a person under age, for example where someone actually tries to pickup someone under age for sex. If the person doing the incitement is themselves under 18 years a prosecution needs the sanction of the Attorney.

While the intention of the mover of this section appears to have been to curtail freedom of speech, it would be a rash policeman who started such a prosecution and the courts would look at it with great scepticism in such a context. Just as in the past incitement laws have not affected the operations of the Gays Counselling Service, Twenty-Ten, or personal development courses, so in the future they should not be allowed to do so.

However, so long as the potential is there for such a prosecution, it is necessary to work for the removal of ‘incitement’ type offences which threaten freedom of speech.

S.78T (2) – this section is an innovation which I included in the 1984 version of our draft bill; It was accepted by Wran at our meeting as the partial solution of a problem which is that the purpose of age of consent laws is to protect minors, where as as drafted male homosexual ages of consent in effect criminalise minors.

The model for the section is a similar provision of the incest laws. The intent is to provide the Attorney, acting on advice from senior law officers, with the discretion to decide whether any … continued page 6

PAGE TWO

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Page 2 of the May 31, 1984 edition of the Star Observer (then known as The Star) [Image source: Star Observer archives]

Transcription:

EDITORIAL

The NSW Parliament took an historic step this week when it passed a private members bill decriminalising private homosexual behaviour amongst consenting males over the age of 18. In the process of passing Premier Wran’s private member’s bill, the Parliament removed one oft he most discriminatory provisions in the NSW Crimes Act.

But in the process of taking one step forward in guaranteeing legal equality for gay men 18 and over, the Parliament took two steps backward by placing still greater legal restrictions on gay male under the age of 18.

The new legislation places a total legal prohibition on all homosexual behaviour amongst gay men under the age of 18. It also introduces severe criminal penalties for men who participate in sex with young gay males. A 19 year old man who has sex with a 17 years old man, for example, could be sentenced to as much as 10 years in prison under the new legislation. The new act discriminates against gay men as to the age of consent – all other lesbian and heterosexual acts in NSW have an age of consent of 16 years of age – and it also defines homosexual acts much more broadly than did previous provisions in the Crimes Act (which were restricted to anal intercourse).

A particularly bothersome and uninformed amendment was included in the legislation against the wishes ofMr. Wran. The so-called “Yeomans’ amendment”, named for its sponsor the new Liberal MP for Hurstville, was included in the bill with little debate in a 2am vote in the Assembly. The amendment was modified somewhat in the Legislative Council, but it still included wording which would seem to make it illegal for recognised counsellors, teachers and clergymen’ to advise young gay men to accept their sexual preference.

The modified Yeoman’s amendment puts organisations like the Gays Counselling Service and 26-10, both state government funded organisations which counsel young gay men, in considerable legal difficulty in their attempt to provide support for young gays.

The work which many groups of this kind do ‘to provide alternatives to teenage male prostitution could be seriously affected by the ill-conceived Yeoman amendment.

Beyond the specifics of the bill itself, the parliamentary debate provided some major insights into the quality of the NSW Parliament. I feel that the overall level of debate was rather better than that which occurred during the four unsuccessful attempts in the last Parliament to change the Crimes Act provisions on homosexual acts. 

A few parliamentarians did use the occasion to display an appalling lack of understanding about the nature of homosexuality and the behaviour of gay people. It can be of little comfort to supporters of the Opposition that the most prejudiced and ill informed contribution ‘in either chamber came from the Coalition Shadow Minister for Youth and Community Affairs, Mr Joe Schipp, the Liberal member from Wagga Wagga.

Mr Schipp told the Assembly that homosexuals “are not the sort of persons the community wants – they should be treated and fixed up so that they are not a nuisance in society”. Mr Schipp added that homosexuality is particularly nasty, and it was no wonder AIDS exists. “I hope”, he said “they do not find a cure for AIDS”.

Other particularly homophobic contributions to the debate were made by the National Party leader, Mr Punch, and his deputy, Mr Armstrong, by Labor members Mr Amery and Mr Healey, and by Liberals Mr Rozzoli, Mr Jim Gough and Mr Caterson.

But some particularly well prepared and well researched speeches were also delivered by both Labor members and Liberals. Both major party leaders, Premier Wran an Mr Nick Greiner, spoke intelligently and convincingly in support of reform. They were joined by the Attorney-General, Mr Landa, the Minister for Energy, Mr Cox, the Minister for Transport, Mr Unsworth and the long time crusader for homosexual law reform, Mr George Petersen. Mr Terry Metherell, the Liberal shadow minister for Transport, spoke convincingly on the bill and showed great courage by defying his party to speak and vote against the Yeomans’ amendment.

Another highlight on the debate in the Council was the articulate maiden speech of Mr Jim Cameron, a vociferous opponent of the legislation.

But the most thoughtful and well researched contribution in either chamber come from the lone Australian Democrat in the NSW Parliament, Elisabeth Kirkby. Ms Kirby prepared a particularly impressive reply to the claims of the opponents of reform relating to religious attitudes and to health matters. She was punished for her effort by an opponent to reform, Mr Clive Healey, who as Council Chairman of Committees, rudely refused Ms. Kirkby any hearing on the Yeomans’ amendment debate. Mr Healey s behaviour while chairing the committee debate in the Council sadly did much to negate the considerate and understanding conduct of the prior debate by Council President, John Johnson.

It reminded parliamentary observers how the tyranny of the presiding officer and of the majority are too often used to stifle meaningful discussion in our Parliamentary institutions.

The spectre of exhausted members in both chambers rushing through votes on important amendments in the post-midnight hours showed how unsuited current parliamentary deliberations often area for dealing with complicated questions of community concern. It was apparent to anyone in the gallery at 2am last Wednesday morning that many members have, little experience in coping with conscious votes where each must make a decision about complicated legislation not regulated by the positions of their political party.

The debate over the ‘legal rights of gay males in NSW has been temporarily adjourned. But elected officials will need to remember that gay men will never accept a legal structure which makes them second class citizens and that gay support groups will not abandon gay young people ‘simply because the Parliament attempts to legislate celibacy for gay teenagers.

Whatever the immediate consequences of the new laws for homosexual men, the gay community in this State will continue to fight for total equality under the law and for full protection against police harassment for all our citizens, whatever their sexual preference.

Dr. Ernie Chaples

——–

Editor’s note: The Star Observer team would like to thank the community members who were involved and worked tirelessly in the decriminalisation campaigns in each and every state of Australia. Their work has left a significant and positive impact in the history of LGBTI rights around the nation. Their efforts and achievements will always be appreciated.

RELATED:Pioneer gay activist Lex Watson dies

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