Inquiry into gay hate murders can bring closure and justice

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The presence of openly gay people in Parliament, in boardrooms and in other powerful positions in society is testament to the progress Australia has made in ending discrimination based on people’s sexuality.

But the NSW government has just taken a decision which will refocus attention on the awful record of violence and bigotry of previous decades.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has announced a judicial commission of inquiry into the suspected murders of up to 20 gay men in NSW between 1987 and 1993, a period when homosexuality was officially legal but gay bashing and homophobia were still widespread.

It is far from certain that the inquiry will solve these now stone-cold cases or even determine whether they were murders and, if so, whether the crime was related to the victim’s sexuality.

But the inquiry will still play an important role in giving the victims’ families a sense of emotional closure and helping the broader community understand what happened.

The re-investigation is necessary because NSW Police did not do their jobs the first time round. Because of entrenched homophobia, detectives often showed little enthusiasm and sometimes even open hostility to investigating crimes against gay men.

For example, in some cases where bodies were discovered under cliffs at Bondi and North Head, which were popular gay beats at the time, police decided the deaths were suicide.

The process of exposing the truth has taken decades. In the early 2000s a group of enlightened NSW detectives listened to the pleas of victims and re-opened two cases from 1989. This led to an inquest in 2005, which found the original investigations by Bondi police were “disgraceful” and “lacklustre”.

After more pressure from media and families, a parliamentary inquiry was held and a report in May called for a judicial inquiry into the unsolved cases. The Herald kept the spotlight on the issue by releasing a podcast series in October titled Bondi Badlands.

Last week, Mr Perrottet finally agreed to set up the inquiry. “LGBTQI members of our community have suffered grave injustices that were not acceptable in the past and they are not acceptable now,” he said.

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