State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 87 May 2011

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Graham Carbery
Interview with Haddon Storey

Haddon Storey, MLC, in his office, c. 1980.

The following is the transcript of an interview I conducted with Haddon Storey in 2010 about his role as Attorney-General during Victoria's homosexual law reform debate.
Q Firstly, Haddon, when you made the decision to go into politics that was at the end of the Bolte era and Henry Bolte was still Premier. Would you have regarded yourself as a social progressive at the time?
A I don't think I would have used that terminology. I would have regarded myself as a liberal because I guess the Liberal Party is really a fairly broad church and its got people you'd describe as hard line conservatives ranging all the way to others who are more progressive and I'd put myself sort of in the progressive end of the scale.
Q Henry Bolte himself was not interested in civil liberties very much or the environment or things like that and when you first went into politics he was still the Premier. Did you find that you were sort of waiting for him to go in order for the party to progress or the government to progress?
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A Well, no. I just found it very interesting to observe him and the way in which he operated and I found I was a bit surprised actually at the extent to which he was prepared to listen to other points of view. You didn't get that impression from the public. That's the only way I'd known him previously but I found in the party room he'd listen to people's point of view and he was also, I thought, unexpectedly receptive of the future because he clearly nominated and preferred Dick Hamer to be his successor, knowing that Dick had a totally different world view than his own. My view was that he could see the world was changing and he'd done his bit and he'd been there for a long time. He was happy to let somebody else take over for the change.
Q So when you became Attorney-General in 1976 did you have a reform agenda that you wanted to implement?
A Yes. There were a number of areas of law reform I was interested in. It was basically law reform. I'd been on several Law Council committees looking at things like consumer credit, privacy and so on, so I had all of those on my mind. I didn't have an agenda as such. I didn't have a list of 'these are things that have to be done'. I think I was still regarding myself as learning and to the extent that when I became Attorney-General I was talking to the Secretary of the Law Department about some of the reforms that we should make and wondered who were the policy people of the Department – [only] to discover there were no policy people in the Department. The Secretary would come up with ideas if the minister wanted some ideas on policy. So one of my first tasks was to go through the very laborious and difficult process of getting some sort of policy unit set up for the Department.
Q When it comes to social issues – and we'll bring in homosexual reform here – when you were appointed in '76 there would have been some publicity, the beginning of a public debate about the issue of homosexual law reform?
A Yes, it was the beginning of public debate about that and also a variety of things associated with sexual crimes, a lot of reform discussion about rape, prostitution. I can't tell you at what point we started to look at it [homosexuality] and I'm not sure how much the policy unit did in that field. I have forgotten whether it was as early as '76 or a bit later on that we started working on this.
Q What was your attitude to homosexuality say at the time you went into politics or when the public debate started to arise? Did you have a personal view?
A I think my personal view was that this was something that shouldn't be in the realm of the criminal law.
Q In conversations with colleagues you would have been able to gauge what the general mood of the party and particularly I suppose the Nationals given that you were sort of in coalition with them, did you realise that it would be a difficult issue to push?
A Well, it was the sort of issue where I had to work out how we were going to achieve
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this. It wasn't just a matter of coming up with some legislation saying 'here it is, let's go ahead and do it'. It had to be strategically worked on.
Q How influential did you see yourself in the government at that time? You were Attorney-General, but did you have a fair bit of clout? Would people listen to you? Would they be influenced by you?
A At that stage they listened to me on anything to do with the law. I think I had a strong reputation about that, a good reputation about that, but I was the last person to be put into Cabinet so I was appointed by the Premier. I wasn't elected in the party room. In those days we had elections and then the Premier of the day would appoint the last couple of the ministers. At that stage it was still just after the Bolte era. There were many Bolte ministers still there. The majority of the party were people who'd been there under Bolte. It was pretty hard for new people to get in and so in '76 we had the party meeting after the election and we elected the first 16 or what ever it was. I have forgotten how many ministers there were in those days, it might have been 15 ministers, all the old guard, and then Hamer announced he was picking the last two.
Q After you'd been appointed did he indicate to you that he wanted you as new blood, and new views, more progressive – did he indicate that this was what he wanted?
A Yes. Dick was a person who if he decided somebody was able to look after something he told them in general terms what he would expect of them.
So after the appointment, some time after the appointment, we had a chat about various things and I am not sure whether we mentioned homosexual law reform at that conversation or not but the perception was go ahead and do what you think.
Q Do whatever you had to do?
A Yes.
Q Can you remember when homosexual law reform started to be seriously discussed and you, even though you may not have articulated this, when you made a commitment of 'we're going to do this'? Can you remember when that occurred?
A Well it was in the 1970s some time. I can't remember when it was.
Q So there was no one event or whatever that sort of . . .
A I don't think so, no.
Q In an interview that someone did with Dick Hamer in the early '90s I think it was, he said that in the lead up to the '76 election the Liberal party platform included equality for all citizens before the law and that he viewed that as eliminating discrimination on the grounds of sexual preference as well.
A To be honest, and I might be wrong about this, but thinking about it, I can't remember a specific legal policy or Attorney-General's policy that was put out for that 1976 election. There must have been something but it must have been pretty low key – but I was generally aware of Dick Hamer's views on equal opportunity
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and anti-discrimination and in fact I'd done some work on equal opportunity. I am thinking now, when was the legislation?
Q It was '77 that the Act was passed.
A It was '77, yes.
Q There was a committee set up, a council, the Equal Opportunity Advisory Council was setup in '76 and that recommended homosexual law reform as one of its recommendations.
A Why I was trying to remember that is because equal opportunity legislation was the Premier's legislation but I actually did it. I was responsible for the drafting of it and presentation of it for the Party and so on. It wasn't strictly the Attorney- General's role.
Q But you would have been liaising with Hamer on the content of it?
A Yes. Yes.
Q Around this time were you aware of the views of, say, rank and file members of the party and the local branches in relation to an issue like, say, discrimination generally but homosexual law reform specifically?
A What I do remember is my personal staff working on this as well as the Departmental people. Probably the personal staff did more than the Departmental people in a way, we looked at legislation everywhere, right around the world, and we obviously saw what had happened in South Australia and would have seen the Bills that Jones and Galbally had brought in. But I think what we decided was that we needed to formulate a set of principles here and not just look at amending one bit of something; but rather it was necessary to have a systemic approach, a holistic approach and we were certainly influenced by other legislation than just Australian legislation.
Q When you finally acted in 1980, you incorporated that graduated age of consent which South Australia hadn't done and it was ground breaking, so that's consistent with what you said about a systemic approach to the whole thing.
A Yes, and also picking up the threads about rape law reform and prostitution up to a point.
Q Rape law reform, yes, changing the definition of rape and prostitution.
A And trying to get something that addressed any of those issues in as holistic fashion as possible.
Q Yes. During the mid-to late-70s there was a lot more public debate, and gay activism around law reform increased dramatically with the formation of the Homosexual Law Reform Coalition and there was a lot of publicity. I mean you may or may not remember there was a lot of publicity in relation to the police activity down at Black Rock and it was Operation Salamander which was a part of the summer offensive.
A I think I can remember something about that.
Q Well that certainly got the Age going and they were editorialising and so on and
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not long after that we [a delegation from the HLRC] came to see you. There was Jamie Gardiner and myself and one other member of the Coalition there and during the course of the meeting you were talking about how sympathetic you were to reforming the law and you were talking about an age of consent of 18. Our position was equality, but you said, look that's not on, it is just not achievable. I got the impression that you were contemplating introducing homosexual law reform with an age consent of 18.
A Yes. Well, I don't remember the issue of the age of consent but I think at that point I would have certainly been contemplating legislation, if I can steer it through the party room and through the Cabinet.
Q When you said that, when you were quite strong in your determination that 16 wasn't going to be acceptable, I said at the meeting, 'well that's not acceptable to us and if you try and do that we'll lobby against it actively'. And I'm just wondering whether that would have dampened your enthusiasm, and you would have thought, 'oh well, we'll just leave it'?
A Probably, not, no, I think if we were going . . . If we were going to do it we were going to do it.
Q Even if we were going to oppose it?
A Well, in the end I guess I was being driven by what I thought needed to be done. I mean it would have been certainly difficult to go to the party room and say, here we want this legislation but it going to be opposed by the people that initially asked for it.
As I told you, we spent a long time working on it within the Department, to come up with what we thought was the appropriate reform legislation that we thought was acceptable. And parallel with that I was working with my party committee because in those days every Minister had a committee within the parliamentary party that looked at legislation and reported to the party on the legislation. Quite often the pattern would be for the Minister to prepare the legislation, have Cabinet approve it, then take it to the party committee for them to report to the party. I can recall that I certainly wasn't going to leave it to that sort of chance, that I wanted to, and did work, with the party committee.
Q So you influenced the party committee, you sort of shepherded it through that process? You were able to answer any criticism as it arose and deal with it so you could move forward.
A It was very helpful, yes, and influential within the party room that the party committee was in favour of the Bill. It wasn't just another thing thrust on them by a Minister or the Cabinet. Actually I'm very pleased with that party committee because the people on it who you might of thought were strongly opposed to the legislation worked very diligently and they were open, prepared to have an open mind.
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Q That's more than half the battle, isn't it?
A Yes.
Q Do you have any recollection in relation to yourself and Dick Hamer, were you both equally supportive of homosexual law reform or was one of you more . . .
A I wouldn't like to draw distinctions there.
Q So you think it was pretty much it was something that was consistent with both your objectives?
A Yes.
Q I suppose when it comes to the National Party you always knew that you were going to have some problems there. How did you deal, what was your strategy for dealing with the National Party opposition?
A I am just trying to remember. I don't think we had a joint party committee. I don't think we had Nationals on the party committee but the major thing was to ensure that Cabinet supported the legislation. I mean once Cabinet supports it well, then the National Party ministers would support it.
Q Within Cabinet, yes. Was there a robust debate within the Cabinet then, particularly from the National Party ministers?
A Not that robust. I mean you had the Premier supporting it, me supporting it. The way legislation is dealt with is you approve legislation in principle and then you go off and prepare the legislation and then you bring it back to Cabinet. By the time it comes back to Cabinet it's more about the details of it because the principles have already been agreed. The principle has already been approved so the debate would have been over the principle. I don't think it was that hard. There were strong supporters in Cabinet, even if there were some who didn't support it.
Q Was there any talk about it being introduced as a Private Members Bill?
A No, it was sort of government policy. The Premier supported it, wanted it. So the government was committed to it. I mean, it wouldn't have got through if it had been a private members Bill anyhow.
Q Why not, because it was a conscience vote?
A Well, any vote is a conscience vote under the Liberal Party constitution. If any member's conscience doesn't allow them to support it [they can vote against it] . . . That's always been a principle that was accepted within the Liberal Party.
But if it had been a Private Members Bill, it wouldn't have gone on conscience, it would have just been whether people wanted to vote for it or not. You know so they might be influenced by their electorate. They might be influenced by a number of things, be more unpredictable.
Q So as a government Bill you were confident that you had the numbers?
A Yes.
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Q Now, right at the last minute when the Bill was going through there was an amendment because the Summary Offences Act was being changed and the soliciting and whatever, and loitering laws were being removed but a new offence [soliciting for immoral sexual purposes] was created. Was that just accepted because it was the last day of the sitting and it wouldn't have got through had that not been . . .
A Well, I think it was a compromise. It was something that happened in the Assembly. I was in the Council. So the Premier accepted it in the Assembly. In fact I am not even sure, it might have been a bit different in the Assembly. Whatever it was, it came up to the Council and we had some vigorous debates about it. Whatever we finished up with was sort of a compromise that the Premier was happy with.
Q Yes. I mean the difficulty was that the term immoral sexual purpose had never been defined.
A Well nobody knew what it meant obviously, yes.
Q But the Hansard made it very clear that the opponents expect, or the proponents of the amendments expected it to include homosexual conduct and so they thought that it would. But of course it caused chaos when it came to implementation and interpretation and you would have been well aware of that and you would have said, oh well, we'll just leave it to the courts to decide.
A Yes. Yes. I think I wouldn't have known what they were saying in the assembly. The other people that you're talking about would have said that. I don't know that anybody would have said that in the council. Yes, well, all I can say is it wasn't my preference.
Q Looking now at the end of your career, just making a leap for the moment, when you look back on your achievements as Attorney-General just as a member of parliament and of the Liberal Government of the time, does homosexual law reform rate as an achievement?
A Yes.
Q Where does it sit in terms of the achievements?
A It's one of the substantial achievements both in terms of its own value, it should have been done and also because of the difficulty.
Q Of achieving it, yes.
A Yes.
Q Thank you very much, Haddon, it has been terrific.
A A pleasure, Graham.