Homosexual acts can soon be scrapped from criminal records in the ACT
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Homosexual acts can soon be scrapped from criminal records in the ACT

In a monumental move against discrimination, people "found guilty" of a "historical consensual homosexual act" in the ACT can soon apply to have their conviction withdrawn.

The Spent Convictions (Historical Homosexual Convictions Extinguishment) Amendment Bill 2015 was passed in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday, and is considered a landmark event for those who have lived with the burden of having a criminal record for a consensual sexual act.

Attorney-General Simon Corbell says discriminatory laws contributed to the unfair treatment of homosexual people for decades.

Attorney-General Simon Corbell says discriminatory laws contributed to the unfair treatment of homosexual people for decades. Credit:Harrison Saragossi

Attorney-General Simon Corbell said discriminatory laws contributed to the unfair treatment of homosexual people for decades, and left them with "shame" even after the laws were removed, because the records remained.

"The passage of the bill is a clear message from the ACT government that the discriminatory approach of past decades is no longer acceptable and continues this government's commitment to removing the remaining vestiges of discrimination on the grounds of sexuality," Mr Corbell said.

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"The government recognises that loving, respectful relationships make a positive contribution to the community regardless of the gender of the parties."

Until November 1976, homosexual acts were an offence under the Crimes Act 1900.

Because the acts stayed on a person's criminal record even after reform, employment prospects and voluntary work could have been affected, the amendment bill reads.

"Such a conviction needs to be disclosed when applying for a working with vulnerable people background check," it says.

The Victorian Human Rights Centre's paper Righting historical wrongs found a criminal record can also damage a person's reputation, mental health, family relations and self-worth.

"The potential negative impact of a criminal conviction is amplified when it is labelled a 'sex offence', a term that usually evokes images of non-consensual sexual exploitation," it reads.

The scheme – similar to ones already in place in NSW and Victoria – is set to roll out in the ACT within weeks.

Legal Aid ACT can help people make an application and they will not have to attend court. Once the scheme starts, information on making an application will be available at justice.act.gov.au

Clare Sibthorpe is a reporter for The Canberra Times