The Northern Territory government has moved to expunge the criminal records of people convicted of consensual homosexual activity prior to decriminalisation in the territory in 1984.
Attorney-General Natasha Fyles introduced the legislation to parliament on Wednesday and said it was an important step towards righting past historical wrongs against the territory’s LGBTIQ community.
“Across the territory and the nation we recognise that the legislation was wrong, but some people still hold a criminal record from that time,” Ms Fyles said.
The convictions can still affect those people’s employment and travel, and the proposed legislation would allow them to clear their records and remove the need to disclose these past convictions on employment or volunteering checks or visa applications.
Dr Dino Hodge (pictured, centre), a longtime LGBTI community advocate, said if the bill passes it would mean “closure.”
“It would mean full equality when it comes to laws which criminalised us for who we are. After 30 years, we have finally achieved the justice we had been seeking,” he said.
“There were even cases of continuing police persecution after decriminalisation, when community attitudes had changed but police practices had not.
“Gay couples who were harassed and charged by the police, but the charges were dismissed by Magistrates, because the police had gone out of their way to harass people for being gay and having consensual sex in private.
“Those men were highly traumatised, they paid a lot of money to get legal representation and sadly they left the Territory afterwards.”
Dr Hodge called on the NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner to also deliver a state apology for the far-reaching impact of the laws criminalising same-sex activity in the Territory.
“While expungement is welcomed, there is also a need for an apology to help heal past wounds still felt acutely today by so many people,” he said.
All other Australian states and territories have introduced or passed similar bills, including Queensland in October last year. The Queensland scheme is set to be up and running by June this year.
The Western Australian Government is currently considering a similar bill which has passed the state’s lower house but is yet to pass the upper house.
(Photo courtesy of Human Rights Law Centre)