SENTENCING AMENDMENT (HISTORICAL HOMOSEXUAL CONVICTIONS EXPUNGEMENT) BILL 2014

Ms GARRETT (Brunswick) — It gives me a real sense of solemn pride to join members of this house in debating this legislation, the Sentencing Amendment (Historical Homosexual Convictions Expungement) Bill 2014. As I have advised the house on a number of occasions during various debates, in my life before this place I worked as a discrimination lawyer. I saw firsthand the profound impact of discriminatory conduct, be it an individual situation or systemic and repeated discriminatory conduct against a group of persons. The damage that discrimination does to those affected and more broadly to their families and the community is lasting, profound and quite often devastating.

In terms of how people are treated in this community, there is nothing worse than if the very thing that makes you who you are is used against you in the most deep and hurtful of ways, as is the case with this historical approach to a huge and valuable part of our society, our fellow human beings. For the very reason of who they were, they attracted not only derision and hatred but also criminal penalty, including jail sentences. We should reflect very clearly on that as a house. To have who you are defined as a crime by the broader community, the courts and the Parliament is hurtful and hateful in the extreme.

Today we are debating righting a very serious wrong that was done to people who clearly deserved much better from their community, their lawmakers and their Parliaments.

We know that a wide range of offences was used to prosecute homosexual activity and that as far back as 1980 — although when looked at in history, it is shamefully recent — there was legislation enacted to decriminalise consensual homosexual acts. That was done not particularly with great compassion or a non-discriminatory approach, but it was done.

Today we seek justice for the people who were convicted of crimes under that range of offences. I am most pleased to be part of this historic moment, as the Leader of the Opposition has said. It is important to recognise these moments when they come, and this is one of those moments. While we reflect on that we know that dealing with this issue goes a significant way to addressing hurts of the past and creating a more just and equal society but that that journey is by no means over. It was in this same Parliament with these same people and under this same government that we have seen a wind back of discrimination legislation for the first time in decades.

We have seen the lawmakers of this state make it easier for people to be discriminated against, including on the basis of their sexuality.

As I said, we know the hurt, we know the damage and we know the pain that is inflicted by that approach — of punishing people simply for being who they are — and all of the attendant devastation that goes with that. This is an important step. I am pleased that people who have had to live with the ignominy and distress of having convictions for being who they are will have that injustice redressed. However, as previous speakers have pointed out, we need and Labor seeks for us to go further in this place to ensure that this legislative framework applies to those who have passed on from this world but have done so with the millstone of a conviction still around their necks.

For the legacy that has left for their memory and for their family members and friends who remain we should act as lawmakers to address that most significant wrong as well. We should go further in relation to discrimination laws in this state and amend the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 to make it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the basis of that person having an expunged conviction. This is a significant point that needs to be addressed, and we ask the government to include that amendment.

There are many people — as there always are when there is change and reform and wrongs are righted — who have spent their lives championing change. We have heard about many of them this evening.

Many members on this side of the house have paid very significant tribute to Jamie Gardiner, whom I have worked with over many years in the party and as a local councillor and now as a state member of Parliament. Jamie and his team of people have assiduously pushed for reform and a recognition that these sorts of discriminatory approaches, pieces of legislation and actions of the community must be addressed.

The way we deal with legislation and the manner in which the courts approach these issues in this important place — it is not the only place, because we have to effect the change as a community — and the manner in which we deal with people more broadly is the bedrock of how that change unfolds in the community. What we say in this place as representatives of the many and diverse electorates that we represent is critical to how the rest of the community make their decisions about how they treat people.

If we in this place are not treating people in the way we would like to be treated, that has a huge impact on our community.

Today we are having a historic debate. We support this bill, which, as I said, goes a long way to redressing some of the most significant wrongs that have been inflicted on members of our community. We should all remember how we feel during this debate and how important these legislative changes are to our fellow human beings, and we should resolve with great conviction that the unfinished work in discrimination law must go on. This week the 57th Parliament will rise and a new Parliament will be sworn in in a matter of weeks. That new Parliament — —

Ms Beattie interjected.

Ms Garrett– It will be sad that the member for Yuroke will not be here. That new Parliament needs to remember days like this. These are significant days.

These are the days that change people’s lives and change the community for the better. They are days in which we stand for human rights and for dignity and justice for all Victorians, regardless of race, sex, sexuality or economic position. This is our noble purpose here, and the work is not done. As I said, it is with pleasure that I speak on this legislation. I join the many voices in expressing my horror at what my fellow Victorians have been put through and have had to carry in the decades since. I reaffirm my commitment and my resolve to stamping out inequality and injustice, particularly where it is based on the very core of who you are, which is at the heart of all the work that we do.

 

Hansard, 14 October 2014