40th Anniversary of the De-criminalisation of Homosexuality in South Australia


Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (11:09): I will be brief because I appreciate there is a morning tea that many guests of the parliament are hoping to attend soon. Their interest in this debate, when it is adjourned, can be turned to that morning tea, and I thank those members who have organised it. However, this is a really important motion and I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on it this morning.

The motion has four parts: remembering with pride South Australia's history; the recognition of the parliamentarians who have contributed; and then the particular recognition of those activists, both historically and of the present day, who have made our past laws worthy of that pride and who will continue to improve the quality of life in South Australia for people who wish to not have laws discriminating against them. All four parts of the motion are important, and I just want to outline why briefly.

I feel privileged, as I know other members do, to have grown up in South Australia, a state that has, as the Premier, Leader of the Opposition and others have identified, led the world in so many ways in law reform that removes discrimination, ensures human dignity and provides freedoms wherever possible. It is important to celebrate with pride the things that have led to that, because through celebration we not only are able to feel good about ourselves, but we bring those along with us who will continue in the fight against discrimination wherever it may be found and, perhaps as importantly as that, will continue to look for ways that we can improve our freedoms and our dignities as citizens.

Every part of the way that government, society or the community intrudes on the freedoms that we have in our own individual lives to live our lives as we choose is something that we need to work against, because as lawmakers we do have a contribution to make there and it is an ongoing and continuing one. I have said in this place before that we must protect our freedoms jealously and fight for those freedoms jealously. They must be nurtured vigilantly and celebrated proudly. Hopefully we will continue to do that, and part of our endeavours will continue to be achieved through that celebration.

We have heard the history: on 26 July 1972, Liberal MLC Murray Hill was the first politician in the country to move to change the law to decriminalise homosexuality. For Mr Hill, it was injustice that needed remedy, despite the challenges that he faced that the member for Unley has particularly identified. I think that the second part of the motion, which identifies the contributions personally of Murray Hill, Don Dunstan, Peter Duncan and Anne Levy, is important, because it was not a universally popular thing. For four months, as the member for Unley identified, Murray Hill came under vicious personal attack for the work he was doing, and it was done for the benefit of the community and because it was the achievement of the principles for which Murray Hill wanted to contribute to the parliament. That is why he wanted to be here.

That is why we should celebrate him in retrospect, as well as the other members identified: because without that celebration, members of parliament should always be encouraged to act in such a way. The leadership must be dealt with. John Stuart Mill penned the principle that the actions of individuals should only be limited to prevent harm to other individuals. It is a mark on our history that for too long—far too long—the law has imposed so many limitations on people within the GLBTIQ community.

I think a couple of members have mentioned Andrew Steinwedel. I was at Andrew's funeral a couple of months ago, and so many members of the community went down to Victor Harbor to share in his family's loss and the loss of his loved ones. There were a number of members of parliament, not just from South Australia, who were in attendance on that day, and I think all of us felt very much glad to be together. Andrew committed a significant amount of his life to pursuing these goals in the broader community and also within the Liberal Party.

I think that as we consider, in any of the matters of law that come before us, how to progress these matters, some of the things that used to not be conscience votes have become conscience votes through the work of people like Andrew, and it is important to note that community attitudes do change. In the federal parliament, there is legislation on which there is discussion about whether the government should have a conscience vote or not. I note that both sides of parliament did not have a conscience vote on the matter until very recently and that society's attitudes change.

The Premier and the Leader of the Opposition identified bigotry in school and the way that words can have an impact on people. The word 'poofter' that the Premier talked about, when I was at school, was handed around often in a way that one hopes does not continue to take place. It was a word used to emasculate and a word used to put down; it was the insult for which there was not supposed to be a response, and that cannot be allowed to go on.

We have heard a number of speakers talk about mental health issues, and I think that is why it is as important as anything else that we continue to celebrate the way that we have progressed, because in the 20 years since I graduated I know there has been a change in the community just as there has been a change in the way that parliamentarians have treated these issues. However, it must continue to be fought for and continue to be championed so that in the community where we show leadership, hopefully, there will be opportunities for those young people in schools not to be called a poofter and they are not going to be emasculated or treated in ways that are going to have impacts on their mental health.

I hope that, as the Leader of the Opposition says, we will reach a time where someone's sexuality, or sexual identification, will have absolutely no impact on their suicide rate. It is a tremendously important function of leadership that we continue this work. I note that this afternoon the member for Reynell will be progressing a bill that has already passed the Legislative Council on parentage presumptions; and I hope that, on a day like today, this parliament will take the opportunity at that stage to continue our proud history and pass yet another piece of legislation that will remove discrimination in South Australia.

I commend the motion to the house. I look forward to supporting that bill this afternoon, and I thank all members who have contributed to where we are now.