Western Australia has passed laws which will allow those with historical gay convictions to have the charges removed from their criminal records.
The new legislation means there is now a similar scheme active in each state and territory around Australia, though concerns remain that Queensland’s expungement scheme is too narrow in scope.
“I am pleased that one of the McGowan Labor Government’s key election commitments has been delivered with the passage of this legislation through the State Parliament,” said WA Attorney General John Quigley in a statement.
“While it is a shame that Western Australia was one of the last jurisdictions to consider a scheme for the expungement of historical homosexual convictions, the Government has moved swiftly to implement this important reform.
“We recognised that many members of our community continue to carry the stigma of a criminal record for consensual acts that are no longer considered a crime in WA.
“The Government has also offered an apology to the LGBTIQ community for the discrimination, hurt and trauma they have suffered as a result of unjust convictions.
“People convicted under these laws will no longer need to have a criminal record hanging over their head for offences that are not illegal today,” Quigley said.
The scheme will commence on October 1, with applications to be made through the WA Department of Justice website.
“I am delighted that the WA Government has achieved this long overdue reform,” said advocate Jamie Gardiner.
“Convictions of gay men or boys under bad laws that should never have existed can now be expunged.
“This reform was first proposed to a Victorian government in 1976, and finally achieved there in 2014,” Gardiner said.
“Even though bad, homophobic laws were progressively repealed around Australia from the 1970s the damage they did to those who were caught up in them has lived on, poisoning the lives of many and causing great loss to both the victims and to society.
“In just four years, thanks to the tireless efforts of the Human Rights Law Centre, and the work led by Anna Brown and Lee Carnie, every state and territory has now enacted laws under which the injustice of convictions under anti-gay laws can be rejected and the slate wiped clean,” he said.
Historical gay sex convictions have caused significant problems for those with charges on their records, including restricted employment, volunteering and travel overseas, as well as a fundamental grief and shame felt by those affected.
“Sex between consenting adults should never have been criminalised,” said the Human Rights Law Centre‘s Anna Brown.
“By acknowledging the impact of these homophobic laws, our members of parliament have paid respect to the victims of these laws and also to our LGBTIQ community.
“Every state and territory has now recognised that punishing people for who they love was the real crime,” Brown said.
South Australia’s current laws, however, only allow those with historical convictions to have their charges ‘spent’, which falls short of expungement.
The expungement scheme comes after WA Premier Mark McGowan last year apologised for the laws and the unjust convictions – estimated to be have affected 200 to 300 people – which occurred while they were active.
“This is simply about righting the wrongs of the past. These acts should never have been considered a criminal offence,” McGowan said in his apology.
“Many have experienced severe psychological trauma as a result of the old laws.
“We can’t change the past, but I hope that the apology will offer some comfort. It’s an important step for WA and sends the message that we are a tolerant state that is welcoming and proud of everyone in our community.”