Gay Law Reform Anniversary

House of Assembly 10 September 2015

I too stand to speak in favour of the motion. I congratulate the Premier, the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Reynell for their comments, and I would like to reflect on generally what happens in politics. Regardless of what political party you are a member of, whether it comes to education, whether it comes to health, whether it comes to other sectors in the community, I think it is fair to say that people from both sides want the best outcome.

The politics is about how you get there, but I think when it comes to the progressive members of the parliament, and their view of, and support for equality, there is no politics about how to get there it is, 'Let's just do it. Let's do it. Let's make sure we support equality.' The South Australian parliament has a very proud history in how it was the first to move on equality, particularly in homosexual rights and, of course, women's right to vote and stand for parliament.

I would like to rely heavily during my contribution on some work done by Graham Carbery in his 1993 paper, 'Towards Homosexual Equality in Australian Criminal Law—A Brief History.' It is a paper about the changes to homosexual law in Australia, but South Australia features very heavily in it. So I will be reading some sections and I will paraphrase some other sections, because it does give us a history of just how the process got started here in South Australia:

The first step along the road to achieving homosexual law reform in South Australia was the decision of Don Dunstan, as Attorney-General in the Walsh Labor Government in the mid-1960s, to have a homosexual law reform bill drafted. Some years later Dunstan explained why his proposal was not acted on: ' I did not proceed with it then because the climate of public opinion was not such that I believed we could obtain a sufficient consensus of opinion to sup port an amendment to the law.

Dunstan became Premier of South Australia in 1967 when Frank Walsh retired, but lost the election in 1968. He became premier again when Labor was re-elected in 1970.

Dunstan maintained an interest in homosexual law reform, but chose to exert influence behind the scenes rather than be publicly identified with the issue. For example, in December 1971 the government set up an enquiry to review the operation of the criminal law in South Australia, and one of its terms of reference was consideration of decriminalisation of homosexuality.

It was the death of gay academic, Dr George Duncan on 10 May 1972, however, that was a major factor in bringing about the first … reforms of South Australia's anti-homosexual laws. It focused public attention on the widespread harassment of homosexuals in Adelaide by police. Dr Duncan and another man were thrown into the Torrens River by police at a spot well known as a homosexual 'beat', ie. a place where homosexual men meet, often for the purpose of having sex. Dr Duncan could not swim and drowned.

During the Coroner's inquest into Dr Duncan's death a group of people who were outraged at what had happened formed the Moral Freedom Committee (this was not a homosexual group) and wrote to members of the South Australian Parliament. The letter argued that had sex between males been legal more witnesses might have been willing to come forward and give evidence. On 1 July 1972 the morning daily newspaper, The Advertiser , published an editorial which supported the call for homosexual law reform.

It was not long before there was a political response to mounting public concern about the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr Duncan.

Within a week of the editorial in The Advertiser, an opposition member of the Legislative Council, the Hon. Murray Hill of the Liberal Country League—and, for those who do not know, the father of the Hon. Robert Hill, who went on to become a senator in South Australia and leader of the Senate in the Howard government—announced that he would introduce a private member's bill.

The newly-formed South Australian branch of the gay rights organisation, Campaign Against Moral Persecution (CAMP), had no role in initiating this bill, but met with Hill to offer support.

The paper continued:

Murray Hill's bill was limited to decriminalising homosexual acts in private between consenting males over 21. It defined 'in private' as involving no more than two people and not in 'a lavatory to which the public have or are permitted to have access.' Hill's reference to 'lavatory' was a reference to beats and intended to discourage homosexuals from meeting in, or congregating near, public toilets.

Even this limited reform proved too much for [some of] the conservatives in the Legislative Council and during the committee stage … Ren DeGaris moved an amendment that destroyed the purpose of the bill, ie. the decriminalisation of some homosexual conduct. Under DeGaris's amendment all male homosexual conduct would remain illegal, but a defence would be available to a person charged with a homosexual offence if the accused could show that the offence occurred in private between two consenting men over [the age of ] 21 .

That is quite extraordinary, really, when you think about it 40 years down the track.

The DeGaris amendment was adopted in the Legislative Council and after a conscience vote the amended bill was passed. However, the bill received a hostile reception when it was debated in the House of Assembly, and it not only removed the DeGaris amendment, it included an age of consent of 18 [rather than 21] . Not surprisingly, when the bill returned to the Legislative Council the DeGaris amendment was reinstated and [the] age of consent … was removed. The bill was sent back again to the House of Assembly and this time they gave in after a conscience vote, [and] it passed the Criminal Law Consolidation Act Amendment Bill .

Some of the media at the time was very interesting, as well, and I asked the parliamentary library if it could find some of the media. In July 1972, when the Hon. Murray Hill made his public announcement that he was going to introduce this bill, it was a very big story in The Advertiser. As the Leader of the Opposition said, he was the first member of parliament in Australia to do such a thing. The article, 'Homosexual Bill for S.A. Parlt.' by political reporter Eric Franklin, stated:

An LCP Member of the Legislative Council will introduce a Private Member's Bill to allow homosexual behaviour between consenting males in private.

It is interesting to note the language that was used. Mr Hill is quoted in the story:

To my way of thinking the society will have to accept that some individuals cannot resist this sort of behaviour.

That is a very interesting description of sex between same-sex couples. It was just a couple of months later that there was another story about Mr Hill's bill in the parliament, entitled 'Months of Vile Abuse But MP has no regrets over his homosexual Bill', which stated:

Mr. Murray Hill, the Member of Parliament who introduced homosexual reforms, said today he had been subjected to 'vile abuse' for the past four months. He said his personal reputation had, in some respects, been damaged.

It is a sad situation when this happens to those who express concern about injustices, and it happens to people in public office and those who are taking a public view on what society at the time might consider to be a controversial issue. Rather than a civil debate, we often end up having to deal with the sort of abuse that Mr Hill received in 1972.

I would like to acknowledge the work of the late Mr Andrew Steinwedel. I knew Andrew for a very long time. He was my accounts manager when I had my furniture business back in the 1990s, as well as being an active member of the Liberal Party. I met a young man, who was a cabinet maker, at the time I was doing my apprenticeship. He finally decided that was the way he was orientated and he shared that with me. I was the first person he shared that with. That was in 1980; I was 17 and I think he was 19. To think that that was just five years after it was legal to perform so-called homosexual acts in South Australia.

I did not think anything of it at the time. I was flattered that Peter had felt that he could share that with me, while we were down at the timber rack stacking timber actually, and we are still very good friends. He has been the same monogamous relationship for longer than I have been married to my wife of 26 years, and it is a beautiful relationship. I remember he said to me, 'Of course, David, I did not choose to be homosexual. Why would I choose to be outcast in society like homosexuals are? But I am pleased that I am because it has given me the opportunity to meet a beautiful man who I can share my life with.' I think that sort of relationship is missed in the whole debate about marriage equality and homosexual law reform throughout the world and, of course, here in South Australia.

The Premier mentioned Martin Luther King Jr in his speech. Martin Luther King had a dream and I too have a dream. My dream is that someone's sexual orientation should only be of your interest if you are going to ask them out.