The shine has rubbed off Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s apology to those men charged with historic gay sex offences, delivered in May.
Palaszczuk was hoping to score points by introducing a Historical Homosexual Convictions Expungement bill, which is now before a parliamentary committee, but it looks like she has struck out.
The bill speaks to the state’s history of systemic homophobia. Homosexuality was a criminal offence in Queensland until 1991. Gay men were arrested on a slew of derogatory charges, such as “sodomy”, “indecency” and “unnatural offences”. The laws, which were in place for almost a century, saw more than 450 people charged.
Under Palaszczuk’s expungement bill, those charged under the homophobic laws could apply to the director-general of the Department of Justice and Attorney-General to have the charge struck from their record.
The announcement comes after the notorious “Gay Panic” defence — which allowed the perpetrators of homophobic hate crimes to plead to lesser charges — was finally abolished in Queensland in March.
Queensland was also the last Australian jurisdiction to equalise its age of consent laws. Until last year, anal sex was an arrestable offence until a person was 18 years old, despite the age of consent for vaginal sex being 16.
But the expungement bill will use the old, discriminatory consenting-age standard, letting those who were charged with gay sex at the age of 16 or 17 slip through the cracks. The bill also will not apply to gay teenagers who were charged with sodomy after 1991.
The contradictions in the bill mean it will not encompass many who were affected by the homophobic laws, including those who could currently be jailed for gay sex.
Justice and Attorney-General Department principal legal officer Sarah Kay said extending the expungement bill to all those charged under the homophobic laws until present "would be a much wider scheme and a much more expensive scheme, a much more resource-intensive scheme — a completely different scheme to the scheme the Queensland Law Reform Commission has recommended."
The same state that is bending over backwards to accommodate the needs of the Adani coalmine climate catastrophe is balking at the price-tag to rectify homophobic injustices?
The money is there, all that is missing is the political will.
By continuing to uphold the outdated discrepancy in age of consent laws, the Queensland government is reinforcing the homophobic notion that gay sex is more depraved and more “adult” than heterosexual sex and is hanging out to dry the victims of these bigoted laws.
If Palaszczuk’s apology is to count for anything, the government will need to correct this mistake and send a message to LGBTQI youth that there is nothing wrong with them. But Labor’s track record of endless delays on marriage equality does not inspire confidence.
Labor and the Coalition have taught the LGBTQI community that if we hold our breath for change, they’ll let us go blue in the face. If we want real change, we need to force their hand. The successful July 11 national Pride marches have turned up the heat on the major parties, but we will need to start a real fire under their bums if we want to see them jump.
This month, the Queensland government is expected to review the funding of the Safe Schools anti-bullying program. LGBTQI kids need Safe Schools to combat society’s homophobic ideas — and those peddled by their state government — which seep into the playground insults in Australian schools.
If Palaszczuk hoped that she could placate the LGBTQI community with a hollow apology and a bill that doesn’t hold water, before slashing the Safe Schools program, she has another thing coming.
[Mia Sanders is a national co-convener of Resistance: Young Socialist Alliance.]