Victoria will become the first Australian state to have the criminal records of men convicted of having consensual, homosexual sex erased.
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12 Jan 2014 - 2:31 PM  UPDATED 12 Jan 2014 - 6:22 PM

The practice was decriminalised in 1981, and advocates have fought successive governments to have records expunged.   

For a few minutes on Sunday, the thud of music subsided and the dancing at Melbourne’s Midsumma festival paused when the Victorian Premier took to the stage.

“Men who have been convicted of consentual adult homosexual acts will be able to apply to have these convictions expunged from their records! This is fair, this is reasonable,” Denis Napthine told the crowd.

Listening intently to the Premier’s words was Anna Brown from the Human Rights Law Centre. She has been advising the government on a range of ways the process can be handled in both a prompt and dignified manner.

Ms Brown says it was high time the decision was taken.

“It's grossly unfair that 30-years after consentual homosexual sex was decriminalised we still have men today who are branded as living with the stigma and shame of these convictions,” she said.  

The criminal records can impact upon employment opportunities and freedom for international travel, making the announcement significant for Victoria’s gay community. It’s not known how many men will benefit from the announcement.

Few were happier than octogenarian Noel Tovey who’s lived a remarkable life. Born to an indigenous mother, Mr Tovey was removed from his family in the 1930’s, before living on the streets and forging a successful international stage career performing alongside the likes of Judy Garland and Vera Lyn.

But as a 17-year old, Mr Tovey was sent to Melbourne’s notorious Pentridge Prison.  From his home in the city’s inner east, he reflects on his so-called crime.

“ The charge was the aboninable crime of buggery", he told SBS.

Mr Tovey says prison exposed him to unimaginable cruelty.

“I learnt the hard way from several of the guards that young homosexual offenders like me had to pay their dues. I'm not going to say how. It was quite painful,” he remembers.

Back at the Midsumma revelry, Premier Napthine’s announcement was rewarded with a polite cheer. It seemed the crowd appreciated the sentiment, but wanted more – namely open support for marriage equality.

Some went further and heckled the premier.

But for Noel Tovey, the day marked, at least, a step in the right direction, “It's nice to know at the age of 80 .. I am no longer considered a criminal in the eyes of the law or society,” he said.