04 August 2015
(Private Members Statement, 4 August 2015, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
Justice must be resolved before the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex [LGBTI] community can develop trusting relationships with police to enable effective community policing. The gay bashing assaults and murders of the late 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s must be investigated with all possible action taken to bring about justice. Male homosexuality in New South Wales was illegal until 1984. Many people lived double lives or lived secret hidden lives for fear of prison, loss of jobs, homes and families. Hate violence was rife. Many LGBTI people and those assumed to be queer were targets of violence and threats, with gangs targeting gay men at known gay beats. I understand that 87 people understood to be gay were killed during that period. While the majority of these crimes appear to have been solved, about 30 remain without resolution. It is tragic that many of these people may have been killed just because of who they were.
Homophobic violence continues today at much reduced levels and less directly. It is now more likely to be online threats or verbal abuse than physical violence. We should remember the great progress that has occurred in law and community attitudes, not least as a result of brave activists who risked their lives and futures for reform. Victims of gay bashings were not likely to report to police and it took a major community campaign from the Lesbian and Gay Rights Lobby Anti-Violence Project [AVP] to encourage reporting. I commend police gay and lesbian liaison officers Fred Miller and Sue Thompson and the AVP's Bruce Grant, as well as community initiatives such as the whistle project which changed the community's response. For decades victims had to report to a homophobic police force that reinforced homophobic laws and attitudes, notwithstanding individuals who were exceptions.
Reports suggest that some violence was perpetrated by police officers and that police covered up or did not properly investigate others. Scott Johnson's death on the northern beaches in the 1980s will be reinvestigated with a third coronial inquest following his family's major emotional and financial investment in seeking justice. Others killed and assaulted deserve the same attention and closure. The NSW Ombudsman tells me that he could do this but he does not have the resources for such a major inquiry. The NSW Police Force LGBTI corporate spokesman Superintendent Tony Crandell briefed me about Operation Parabell, which will review each of these deaths, determine whether they could be gay hate crimes and identify what investigation can be carried out now. I will seek regular updates. I know the community wants to ensure that the police have put in place proper systems and procedures to ensure that bias crimes are now being identified and properly investigated.
Heavy handed action from a couple of police officers at mardi gras several years ago rekindled fear and distrust within the LGBTI community, highlighting how fragile the relationship remains. I commend former Minister for Police Mike Gallacher and senior police officers who met with me urgently and took action to make sure that this does not happen again, with significant improvements to mardi gras policing since. However, this reinforced the need for a dedicated police complaints system that is thorough and fair, that is seen to be thorough and fair for both police and the community, and that produces improvements to policing. An oversight body could investigate concerns about past LGBTI policing, including a failure to adequately investigate complaints and perpetrating violence, as well as other community concerns including excessive use of force and concerns about the use of drug detection dogs at events.
We need a clear definition of what constitutes a serious complaint that is referred for independent investigation, with minor matters dealt with promptly at the local level. The police complaints body must have the resources to address individual complaints promptly, investigate systemic problems and enforce action to make sure that the same problems do not recur. In particular, the complaints body must have the resources for super investigations on systemic problems, similar to those now being carried out by the Office of Fair Trading. The Premier asked Andrew Tink to review the police oversight system. I ask that he consult directly with the Redfern Legal Centre which represents clients with police complaints, and other legal advocates, beyond accepting submissions, as he is doing now with the Police Association of New South Wales.
I note and commend the recent motion moved in the other place by the Hon. Trevor Khan relating to gay hate crimes. We depend on police to keep us safe and to investigate crime. The LGBTI community cannot trust the system until this historic violence has been put to rest. The whole community needs to see that police complaints are properly investigated and that action is taken to redress this violence. Other groups overrepresented in police statistics have made similar calls. This Government must implement an independent police complaints system with the resources that are needed to investigate, ensure action for redress and prevent the same problems from being repeated.