The news that Rev Fred Nile MLC would chair a NSW Legislative Council inquiry into the partial defence of provocation, which includes an examination of the notorious “gay panic” defence, seems like a bad joke.

After all, Nile’s opposition to legislative reform for the LGBTI community is legendary.  He is remembered, among many other incidents, for his dramatic appearance in Parliament late one night in 1993 in a wheelchair and pyjamas, in a failed hospital-bed attempt to filibuster a debate on homosexual anti-vilification law reform.

However, while Fred Nile would certainly not have been our first choice to chair this committee (or our second, or our third) there are a couple of reasons we are not ready to hit our own panic button just yet.

The first concerns the scope of the inquiry.  The inquiry has been set up not just to consider the exclusion of a non-violent homosexual advance from forming the basis of the defence of provocation under section 23 of the NSW Crimes Act 1900, but also to consider the viability of the defence of provocation as a whole.

In Nile’s own words, the defence of provocation “provides that a person charged with murder may be convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter if they were provoked by the victim into doing the act which caused the victim’s death”.

The case which served as the catalyst for the inquiry in fact had nothing to do with a homosexual advance.

It was in fact Singh v R (2012), in which the defendant Chamanjot Singh was found guilty of the manslaughter but not murder of his wife and sentenced to a mere six years in prison.  Singh’s wife Manpreet Kaur had apparently verbally abused her husband, and told him she did not love him.  She died following Mr Singh’s frenzied attack on her with a box cutter.

It is quite possible that members of the committee, including Nile, may be more responsive to this broader inquiry than they would otherwise be to a inquiry into gay panic defence alone.

Secondly, it is important to remember that the committee comprises seven people – not Fred Nile alone.

The deputy chair is Trevor Khan MLC, a long-time ally of the LGBTI community.   Other members include Labor MLC Helen Westwood (whose motion led to the establishment of the inquiry) and Greens MLC David Shoebridge, on whose support we can almost certainly count.

So while it would be the greatest of ironies to have the gay panic defence removed from the books under the watch of Fred Nile, there is a reasonable chance that is exactly what may happen.

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As this is my last column before the departure of our senior policy advisor Senthorun Raj, I would like to thank Sen for his tireless work over the past three years.  Sen has been an outstanding advocate for the GLRL, and I look forward greatly to seeing his work continue in the future.

Justin Koonin is the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convener .

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