The NSW government’s establishment of the special commission of inquiry into LGBTIQ Hate Crimes, with justice John Sackar as its commissioner, is a step in the right direction, but those involved in the campaign feel there is scope for greater investigation.
The inquiry will look into the manner and cause of death for unsolved deaths of suspected hate crimes within the state from the period 1970-2010.
“A Special Commission of Inquiry is a powerful investigative tool to look for answers for which many have been waiting decades. No one should have to suffer the distress of not knowing what happened to someone they love,” said NSW attorney-general Mark Speakman.
It took an estimated five years of campaigning for Nicholas Stewart, partner at Dowson Turco Lawyers, to get to this point, although he prefers not to refer himself as a campaigner or an activist.
“I met with members of parliament from all parties across the political spectrum,” Stewart told The Mandarin. “Basically, I said that this was an issue that was lurking over the heads of the LGBT community and needed to be looked at holistically, from a perspective of getting answers but also having truth and healing.”
Stewart engaged with ACON New South Wales to gather support under a formal letterhead from civil society to petition the NSW government. Sustained media coverage of the issue continued to put pressure on the politicians.
ACON welcomed the news when it was announced.
In a statement, ACON CEO Nicolas Parkill said: “These crimes took place at a time when many in the community, in public services, law enforcement and judicial agencies thought sexuality and gender diverse people were sick, perverted or criminals. This was reflected not only in terms of the horrific acts of violence committed against us, but also how the system responded apathetically and with inertness to these atrocities.”
It was the outcome of the marriage equality postal vote in 2017 that Stewart believes was the main reason it was politically feasible for the inquiry to be established.
“We did have that big postal vote campaign, which I think was pretty harmful, but at the same time [it] led to [the] recognition of same-sex marriage,” he said.
Stewart continued: “I think that’s on every politician’s mind. Statistically, the majority of Australians, it’s a large majority, support same-sex marriage and therefore deductively support the LGBT community.”
Although the news of the inquiry was welcomed, the scope could be widened, with Stewart signalling for a royal commission into all crimes committed against the LGBT community. The inquiry only looks at murders and does not examine assaults that did not lead to death or burglaries.
“LGBT bashings were sport to many young men, young women and sometimes adults, across Sydney and broader NSW,” said Stewart in an email to The Mandarin. “These people went looking for members of our community for the purposes of committing violent assaults and robberies. We estimate the number of assaults and robberies to be in the tens of thousands.”
The discussion of trans participation in sports, a topic of debate during this federal election, emphasises the necessity for a broader scope, said Stewart.