THE ACT Government has today announced plans to allow the expungement of historical gay sex convictions prior to the territory’s decriminalisation of consensual gay sex in 1976.

Attorney-General Simon Corbell told the ABC the bill to be introduced later this year would provide “equality and access to justice” for men with gay sex convictions.

The announcement sees the ACT follow suit after similar legislation became law in Victoria and NSW last year — Corbell said the government would look to those jurisdictions for guidance, as well as to a similar scheme in the UK.

Corbell said the number of men with these convictions in the ACT isn’t known, but it is estimated to be small.

The government is expected to engage in community consultation on the issue while developing its legislation, which had bipartisan parliamentary support.

The government’s LGBTIQ Ministerial Advisory Council has welcomed the announcement, with chair Heidi Yates saying the council looked forward to working with the ACT government to develop the scheme.

“This sends a powerful message of support to our community and will go some way to redressing the harm that these unjust convictions have caused over the years,” she said.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s director of advocacy Anna Brown was heavily involved in crafting Victoria’s scheme, and said there should never have been laws criminalising sex between consenting adults.

“It’s extremely pleasing to see the ACT Government has joined the growing numbers of states across Australia acting to end the stigma, shame and practical difficulties these discriminatory laws have inflicted for decades,” she said.

This is the first major announcement from the ACT government relating to LGBTI issues since Andrew Barr became Chief Minister last month, the country’s first ever openly-gay head of government.

Barr promised he would advocate for issues affecting the community while in office, including marriage equality.

The snap announcement of a state election in Queensland at the end of this month by the Campbell Newman-led LNP government has already been met with calls for similar expungement legislation to be an election issue.

Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie has indicated he is open to engaging with the community about the issue.

South Australia’s Spent Convictions (Decriminalised Offences) Amendment Act 2013 allows those with historical convictions to apply to have them not appear on their record after a number of crime-free years. However, unlike NSW and Victoria’s schemes, this does not mean the convictions would be properly “expunged”, that is as if the offence never took place.

Meanwhile in Tasmania, office of the state’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner is processing submissions to a discussion paper released in November on the treatment of convictions for consensual sexual activity between adult males. The results could lead to Tasmania legislating expungement laws for convictions of consensual gay conduct before it was decriminalised in 1997.

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