A NEW bill allowing people to clear their name if they were convicted of consensual homosexual activities prior to its decriminalisation is on track to being passed by the ACT Legislative Assembly.

The Spent Convictions Bill is part of the ACT Government’s Spring Legislation program, aimed at supporting vulnerable communities in the territory.

[showads ad=MREC]ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the scheme would allow people to apply to have their convictions erased permanently from their criminal record.

“This will mean that a person’s employment, appointment, licencing or travel opportunities won’t be affected by having a sexual offence conviction on their record,” he told the Star Observer.

“The person will be under no obligation to disclose their prior conviction.”

The number of men with a criminal conviction for homosexual sex in the ACT is unknown, but it is estimated to be a small number. The ACT was the first Australian jurisdiction to decriminalise homosexuality in 1973, although it was not ratified by the Prime Minister until 1976.

Attorney General Simon Corbell first announced in January that the ACT Government was planning to introduce a bill to clear historical gay sex convictions, and that it was to be developed with assistance from the territory’s LGBTIQ Advisory Council.

The majority of the ACT Legislative Assembly is already in favour of the bill, with all Labor MLAs along with the sole Greens MLA indicating support.

This development follows in the footsteps of Victoria and NSW, where schemes to expunge historical consensual gay sex convictions were legislated last year. South Australia introduced a spent conviction scheme in 2013, allowing consensual gay sex offences to no longer appear on records after a certain number of crime-free years — but this does not mean the convictions would be properly “expunged”.

Director of Advocacy and Strategic Litigation at the Human Rights Law Centre, Anna Brown, hoped the ACT emulated the schemes in NSW and Victoria.

“I am concerned that the description of the bill refers simply to spent convictions,” she told the Star Observer.

“It’s important for the ACT to ‘expunge’ or ‘extinguish’ them completely, so it will be as though the offence never took place, because these acts should never have been considered crimes.”

Brown also recommended the ACT bill have “a clear repudiation and apology”.

“The ACT Government needs to formally acknowledge that these unjust, discriminatory laws were wrong and should never have been made,” she said.

Nonetheless, the Chief Minister believes the scheme is a reflection of today’s society.

“It will acknowledge what is generally accepted by the community; that consensual sex of a homosexual nature should not be treated as criminal regardless of when they occurred,” Barr said.

Brown agreed: “It’s fantastic to see the ACT Government is set to deliver on its commitment to end the stigma, shame, and practical difficulties that discriminatory criminal laws have inflicted for decades.”

There have been talks of introducing a similar expungement scheme in Queensland, while Tasmania’s anti-discrimination commissioner made an official recommendation in May that the state expunge historical gay sex convictions.

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