Just the one: Historical homosexual convictions expungement scheme fails

homosexual convictions

EXCLUSIVE: An investigation by OUTinPerth has revealed that the WA government’s scheme that allows people to have historical convictions for homosexual activities expunged from their records has only ever been used successfully on one occasion.

The program was introduced in 2019 and has often been cited as one of the Labor government’s achievements in LGBTIQA+ law reform.

Officials from the Department of Justice have confirmed that the total number of applications to the scheme over the last four years has been two, but only one was successful.

A spokesperson for the Western Australian Department of Justice confirmed that the single application that was successful occurred two years after the scheme was launched.

“The Historical Homosexual Conviction Expungement Scheme has received two applications, with one conviction successfully removed in the 2021/22 financial year.” the spokesperson said.

“The application process is managed by the Office of the Commissioner for Victims of Crime, which conducted a formal consultation in 2020 to explore any potential barriers to affected individuals applying for expungement.

“It was recognised at the outset that some men who were convicted in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s had since passed away or lived outside Western Australia.

“The consultation report found a variety of reasons for the low number of applications including privacy concerns and feelings of shame or anger.” the Department of Justice said.

The department said they had actively promoted the scheme by including information on their website, distributing a flyer at community events and attending Pridefest where representatives reported they had met potential applicants.

Scheme was a key part of Labor’s pitch to LGBTIQA+ voters at the 2017 state election

The promise to introduce a scheme that allows people to have convictions for homosexual activities was a key part of the McGowan’s government’s pitch to LGBTIQA+ voters in the lead up to the 2017 state election.

Then Opposition leader Mark McGowan announced the Labor party policy in August 2016, a move that was welcomed by LGBTIQA+ rights groups.

The Barnett Liberal government had ruled out introducing such a scheme, but indicated they were more open to the idea after the Labor party pledged their support. Three months after the announcement of the Labor Party policy, the Barnett government said cabinet would consider a proposal for a scheme.

After the Labor party were victorious at the state election, legislation was passed, and new Premier Mark McGowan made a public apology to those who had been arrested and charged for crimes relating to their sexuality.

“These men have lost jobs, friends, family, their freedom and their dignity. They have been prevented from travelling, gaining certain employment and volunteering. These laws turned law-abiding citizens into criminals due only to their sexual orientation.

“Gay Western Australian men were targeted and charged under these laws that were borne out of bigotry and fear.” the Premier told parliament in 2017.

Attorney General says scheme was an important symbolic step

Attorney General John Quigley said the government was proud of the scheme and it remained an important symbolic step, and feedback had indicated that the LGBTQIA+ community in Western Australia appreciated the establishment of the program.

“The WA Government passed the historical Homosexual Convictions Expungement Act 2018 on 11 September 2018. It was a commitment the Government made to the LGBTQIA+ community at the 2017 State election.

“It was never anticipated that the number of applicants would be significantly high, however it was considered to be an important symbolic step in righting the wrongs of the past. Prior to the enactment of the scheme, WA lagged behind other Australian jurisdictions that had moved to expunge these records.” Attorney General John Quigley told OUTinPerth.

“Regardless of a lower than expected number of applications, not just in WA but in other states and territories, the Commissioner for Victims of Crime advises me that the scheme continues to hold high value in the LGBTQIA+ community.” he said.

The Attorney General said since the scheme had been reviewed the Department of Justice has increased efforts to raise community awareness.

Just.Equal says the scheme is just one of many areas the government needs to review and take action

Brian Greig, spokesperson for LGBTIQA+ rights group Just.Equal has questioned if the scheme to remove historical homosexual convictions was effectively promoted.

“In 2016, the campaign to bring in expungement laws was sweeping the nation. Western Australia’s LGBTIQA+ community picked this up and promoted it going into the state election that saw McGowan become Premier. However, in the haste three key aspects of the legislative model adopted by the new Labor Government were poor and need refining.

“First, the application process needs to be properly promoted, especially interstate because many of the men impacted have moved out of WA. Second, the reform application process itself needs to be simple and the bureaucracy streamlined. Third, there must be a system of compensation or financial redress for victims.” Brian Greig told OUTinPerth.

The former federal senator noted that an independent review of a similar scheme in Tasmiania had made recommendations along these lines.

“An independent review of expungement laws in Tasmania in 2020 made all three of these recommendations, among ten others, and the Cook Government can learn from this. The Tasmanian parliament is currently debating the merits of a redress scheme and is the first state to do so. The amount of compensation would be determined by a parliamentary committee.

“Redress schemes have been adopted in most of Europe, including Germany and Austria, with France currently debating them.” Greig said.

“This issue highlights yet another area where WA has fallen behind other states. Not only do we need urgent reform of the Equal Opportunity Act, a ban on conversion practices and abolition of the Gender Reassignment Board. We must also update our seven-year-old expungement laws to give them greater utility and accessibility.”

OUTinPerth reached out to Pride WA, GRAI, and Rainbow Futures for comment on this story. 

Graeme Watson 

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