TAS GOV’T BACKS OF MOVE TO WEAKEN ANTI-DISCRIM ACT

Tasmanian LGBTI community representatives have praised Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman for offering an apology to those Tasmanians convicted under the state’s former laws against homosexuality and cross-dressing.

Mr Hodgman will offer the apology this afternoon, coinciding with debate on a bill to allow historical convictions to be overturned and ahead of the 20th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Tasmania on May 1st 1997.

Mr Hodgman was the first leader in Australia to commit to such an apology, in 2015, and will become the first Liberal leader in Australia to offer one.

Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesperson, Rodney Croome, said,

“I appalud Will Hodgman and his Government for this historic legislation and apology. The message to those LGBTI Tasmanians who were convicted for being themselves is that the island society that once rejected them now embraces them.”

“The Government’s legislation will directly benefit those people who were convicted under our old laws against homosexuality and cross-dressing by ensuring their criminal record does not appear whenever they apply for a job or a volunteer position.”

“But an apology from the Premier will go even further because it will help heal the damage inflicted by by our old laws, including blackmail, ostracism, ignominy, hate crimes and even sometimes suicide.”

“This apology is historic because Tasmania was the last state to decriminalise homosexuality, almost exactly 20 years ago on May 1st 1997, and our anti-gay laws attracted the most severe maximum punishment in the western world, 21 years in gaol.”

“It is also historic because Tasmania was the only state to criminalise cross-dressing and now the criminal records of transgender Tasmanians can be expunged as well.”

When homosexuality was decriminalised in Tasmania in 1997 it was a under a Liberal Government that was granted a free vote by then Liberal Premier, Tony Rundle.

Mr Croome said he hopes Mr Hodgman’s apology and the anniversary of decriminalisation sends a message to Malcolm Turnbull to allow allow a Liberal free vote so marriage equality can pass.

Meanwhile, a move by the Tasmanian Government to weaken the state’s Anti-Discrimination has foundered in the state’s Upper House.

The Government’s attempt to allow hateful and offensive speech if it is for a religious purpose has lost support among Upper House members. The prospects of a subsequent move by Upper House member, Tania Rattray, to water down section 17 of the Act that prohibits offensive, insulting and humiliating conduct are also uncertain.

In recent days Upper House members have been flooded with letters from community and legal groups concerned about the proposal to weaken section 17.

These include disability advocacy group, Speak Out, Women With Disabilities Tasmania, Brain Injury Tasmania, Civil Liberties Australia, the Law Society of Tasmania, the Tasmanian Community Legal Centres, the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Council, the Multicultural Council of Tasmania, Rainbow Tasmania and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

Unlike section 18c of the Race Discrimination Act, section 17 of the Tasmanian Act covers a wide range of attributes. Statistics from Equal Opportunity Tasmania show more than half of complaints under section 17 come from people with disabilities.

Mr Croome said a major concern across all of the community groups that have written to Upper House members is the lack of any consultation on changing section 17.

“There were three inquiries into 18c before the Federal Government moved to change it, so before the Tasmanian Government brings back any changes to our Anti-Discrimination Act there must be a fully-fledged inquiry to allow the voices of Tasmanian’s most vulnerable people to be heard.

In yesterday’s Hobart Mercury, former Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Robin Banks, noted there are dozens of Tasmanian laws that prohibit offensive, insulting and humiliating language, most of which protect state officials including politicians and all of which have much more severe penalties than section 17.

Ms Banks wrote,

“This means that those politicians who vote to weaken section 17 will continue to have the protection from insulting language they are taking from vulnerable people.”

The Government has withdrawn its Anti-Discrimination Act amendment bill with no date set for it to be brought back.

For a news report on the apology:
http://www.themercury.com.au/news/tasmania/premier-to-apologise-to-those-charged-under-antigay-laws-for-homosexual-and-crossdressing-offences/news-story/fb2bb8287e214e54e4fb9d4e4143817b

For an article looking at the implications of the apology:
http://www.themercury.com.au/news/opinion/talking-point-government-deseves-praise-for-leadership/news-story/3665f7a19c3d9fe34e67e8a4c477964b

For Ms Banks article about section 17:
http://www.themercury.com.au/news/opinion/talking-point-hate-law-change-will-harm-many/news-story/b2f0f2aefc8fd5d8f65255b19ddde17d?nk=091f2c3bfdf376faddb5b5ddf409f43d-1491951367
Rodney Croome, just.equal