The accusations against Labor’s internal LGBTI group were made by Garry Wotherspoon, a historian and gay rights movement figure who was part of the fight for the 1984 law reforms.
In an email sent to members late last month, Rainbow Labor called for donations towards its upcoming Mardi Gras float while crediting the NSW ALP party for the historical reforms.
“In 1984, the state Labor government decriminalised homosexuality,” the email reads.
“Decriminalisation was the catalyst for a raft of law reform by Labor governments for LGBTI people and our families.
“And this year we want to build a fabulous float for Mardi Gras to celebrate just that.”
According to Wotherspoon — recognised as one of the leading chroniclers of gay culture in Australia — a private member’s bill was introduced by then-Premier Neville Wran but was only passed after several Liberal MPs supported it as some on Labor’s right faction were against the bill.
“Is there no end to how far politicians of both sides of the mainstream parties will go, altering history to suit their own ends?” Wotherspoon told the Star Observer.
“It was actually a free vote on a private member’s bill that got through, since neither party would take the step to decriminalise male homosexual acts. But the ALP are now claiming it was their party that ‘decriminalised’ us.”
Wotherspoon added that it was strange to see Rainbow Labor continuing with the claim despite fact-checking website Politifact highlighting it as incorrect last July as part of a wider look at the ALP’s record on LGBTI rights.
Gay Rights Lobby founder and Pride History Group president Lex Watson, another activist in the homosexual decriminilisation campaign, said no political party could lay claim to the repeal in 1984.
“Credit goes to a handful of individuals, initially all Labor and some minor party independents. We should acknowledge George Petersen in particular, Frank Walker, Jack Ferguson and Barrie Unsworth,” Watson told the Star Observer.
“Neville Wran, while personally in favour of homosexual law reform, bungled it badly and was only constructive at the end, in 1984. After the Liberals, under John Dowd, had been obstructive the laws were finally repealed by a private member’s bill, moved by the Premier, Wran and in effect seconded by the then-Liberal leader Nick Greiner.
“It was a demonstration of ineptitude and failure of leadership by numerous MPs and to the glory of no major party.”
Rainbow Labor co-convener Trent Murray dismissed the criticisms when the Star Observer approached him for comment.
“The Crimes (Amendment) Bill 1984 was introduced as a private member’s bill by NSW Labor Premier Neville Wran,” he said.
“The bill was subject to a conscience vote for Labor members of parliament. In both the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council, the bill was supported by an overwhelming majority of the Labor caucus, who provided the bulk of the numbers that allowed this legislation to pass.
“Like almost every other significant reform for LGTBI people and our families, this bill was passed under a Labor government and the law was enacted under Labor.
“Rainbow Labor is proud of the record of Labor governments achieving reforms for LGBTI people and our families. Reforms we simply do not believe would have happened under conservative governments.”
In November, the Australian Homosexual Histories Conference will be held in Sydney with one of its major themes to be the history of homosexual law reform in Australia.
“Rainbow Labor and other interested people might like to come along and sort the facts from the myths,” Watson said.