This debate was delivered 23/10/2014. You can read the original contribution here.
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE [10.50 a.m.]: It is my pleasure as a member of The Greens in this House to indicate my support for the words of my colleague Dr Mehreen Faruqi. I took great pleasure also in hearing the Hon. Trevor Khan’s presentation to the House. The Criminal Records (Historical Homosexual Offences) Bill 2014 addresses a longstanding, bigoted injustice on the New South Wales statute books. As members know from previous contributions, until 1984 the Crimes Act in this State contained a number of what were called “unnatural offences”, which were largely targeted at prohibiting consensual male homosexual sexual activity. In other cases people who engaged in homosexual activity were convicted of other offences, including indecency and offensive behaviour. Thankfully, through significant reform in 1984, the Crimes Amendment Act decriminalised consensual male homosexual activity for those over 18 years of age. An offensive statute that should never have been on the books was removed in 1984.
Of course, in 2003 there was further reform in New South Wales when the disparity in the age of consent for homosexual sexual relations and for heterosexual sexual relations was removed, and the age of consent was reduced generally to 16 years. They were two really important reforms, but they left untouched centuries of oppression under bigoted and prejudiced criminal laws that this State inherited from centuries of oppression under English common law and criminal justice. We removed the disparity from the statute books but not the legacy of prejudiced and bigoted convictions from which far too many people in our community have had to suffer—until today, hopefully. I acknowledge the work of Bruce Notley-Smith in the other place and of the Hon. Trevor Khan in this place, but I acknowledge also the work of all the support organisations and brave campaigners. Indeed, I acknowledge the Independent member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich, who is in the President’s Gallery. Together, they have worked with campaigners from The Greens, my party, but more fundamentally with those civil society groups who have tenaciously campaigned for this law reform—and today we will get it.
Hopefully, this bill represents a signal change to ensure that as a Legislature we can look back at past mistakes in the criminal law and rectify them. I note the contribution of Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile in which he said, “No blame can be laid for the past.” With all due respect, I disagree. I think many people knew for decades that these laws were unjust; that they punished people because of their sexual preference, which had nothing to do with law and order and the good management of this State. This institutionalised bigotry and prejudice should never have been on the statute books. It is clear that the offences about which we are talking should never have been offences. As I said earlier, the law largely was institutionalised homophobia we inherited from the English criminal justice system. The broad-scale support for this bill from all parties in this place shows that we can learn from the past. I hope that this is an important moment of unity, when we recognise that we should not only ensure the removal of the bigotry and prejudice of the past, but also never again legislate for such bigotry and prejudice. Too often this Parliament is decades behind attitudes in the community we are elected to represent. This is another case where we are decades behind the community. We are here today and I celebrate that, but we should have been here decades ago.
While I acknowledge, celebrate and commend the individual work of those Coalition members who have managed to introduce this private member’s bill to both Chambers, again an opportunity was missed for it to be a Government bill. This bill should have come with the unconditional support of the Cabinet, as it has the unconditional support of the shadow Cabinet. This bill should have unambiguous all-party support. It will achieve that to some extent through the individual contributions of members in this House, and I welcome that. But I would have welcomed it more loudly had it had that unambiguous support from the Government. But let us acknowledge the courageous work of those individual Coalition members, Independent members, Labor members and all members in this House, and make this law today.