In a speech to the NSW Parliament this week, NSW upper house Labor MP Penny Sharpe urged the government to set up a process to expunge historical convictions for same-sex sexual activity committed before its decriminalisation in 1984.
Sharpe said convictions should also be removed for people convicted between 1984 and 2003 when unequal age of consent laws were in place.
“Expunging historical convictions for homosexual intercourse… is a matter of justice for people who wouldn’t be convicted today of these offences,” she said.
In January, Victorian Premier Dennis Napthine announced his state would move legislation to allow people to apply to have their convictions expunged. The UK introduced similar legislation in 2012, while politicians in Tasmania are also discussing expunging former offences.
NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby policy officer Jed Horner told the Star Observer that “hundreds, and possibly thousands” of gay men across the state were convicted of crimes that are no longer considered offences.
“We need to right a historical wrong and an egregious injustice committed against gay men in NSW,” he said.
“Not only has it caused a huge amount of pain but on a practical level it’s prevented people doing many of the things we take for granted.
“We know of one man who stayed in his job for 40 years, fearful if he applied for a new job his past conviction would be uncovered.”
Recent multi-party support for the abolition of the ‘gay panic’ defence in court cases has raised hopes that legislation would successfully make its way through NSW Parliament.
“There is political willingness to address this issue in NSW with the government, through the Attorney General, as well as Labor, indicating they do see expunging historical convictions as a necessary step,” Horner said.
The GLRL is also calling for a formal apology from state parliament to gay people who were unjustly affected by laws that were later repealed.
If legislation is passed in NSW, the mechanism to peel back past convictions would likely be similar to the model to be adopted in Victoria. Rather than a blanket removal of the crimes, individuals would make applications to have the convictions removed.
“On the 30th anniversary of decriminalisation of homosexuality, it’s time we make sure love is not a crime,” Sharpe said.