Select Committee on Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill

LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL
21ST JUNE 2017

Select Committee on Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. J.M.A. Lensink.

That the report of the select committee be noted.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS ( 17:04 :46 ): I rise to indicate, unsurprisingly, my support for the report of the select committee, which looked into the Hon. Michelle Lensink's bill to decriminalise sex work in this state. I know it is a bill brought before this place by the Hon. Michelle Lensink of the Liberal Party that has been mirrored by Steph Key, the member for Ashford, in the other place. The bill comes to us not just with my support on behalf of the Greens today but with the support of the Sex Industry Network of this state, which represents those who work within this industry.

The committee also, through the committee processes, found the voice of many others who support the decriminalisation of sex work in this state: those who recognise that sex work has existed for probably time immemorial, in one form or another, and that those who are engaged in it should be treated with human rights and respect.

I will start with the pre-eminent international human rights organisation, Amnesty International. Amnesty International supports the decriminalisation of sex work. Indeed, it has had international council meetings passing resolutions and quite an extensive report was released in the last year that supports the decriminalisation of sex workers, the preferred legal model to move ahead to protect particularly women's but also general sex workers' human rights.

They start at the point of supporting decriminalisation to prevent and redress human rights violations against sex workers and call on all states to review and potentially repeal laws that make sex workers vulnerable to human rights violations. Amnesty International has an overarching commitment to advancing gender equality and women's rights in doing so and is quite cognisant of the harm reduction principle. They are not alone in that view. We heard from the Executive Director of SafeWork SA at the time, Ms Marie Bolland. SafeWork SA provided evidence on how they believe, from that organisation, that it would be more than possible to see the decriminalisation of sex work undertaken in this state.

Their voices were echoed by the Working Women's Centre and SA Unions, as well as the Australian Services Union quite specifically, which all supported the decriminalisation of the sex industry so those working in the industry would have the same entitlements as other workers. They called it in some cases an extraordinary double standard and noted that sex work is work and, as such, is not necessarily harmful to women.

Health groups, such as Clinic 275 and others operating within the AIDS and HIV areas, and Relationships Australia pointed to the health benefits. Relationships Australia argued that the current legislation is archaic and not in line with community standards. I could not agree more. The consequences of this are that sex workers are left unprotected and their legitimate concerns are often not addressed.

By having a legal fiction, where we know that sex work happens and we treat sex workers as criminals and sex work as a crime, yet we have community standards that do not support that view and a policing regime which by its own admission does not really police these activities, we as a state parliament are overseeing a system that puts sex workers in a vulnerable position that we need not put them in. If we treated them as a decriminalised industry, if we gave those people working in the industry legal protections under law, rightful workplace protections, we would also extend to them their full suite of legal protections.

A sex worker will often not go to the police if they are robbed. A sex worker will often not go to the police if they are raped. A sex worker knows, because they are already criminalised by the very nature of the activity that they undertake to make a living, that they are not often treated fairly by those who are here to protect all of us. So, sex workers are protected by decriminalising their industry not only when they are working but in their fuller lives.

The evidence presented by Scarlet Alliance certainly underscored this. The evidence presented by Scarlet Alliance pointed to examples where, if we move to a decriminalised system, as has been done in New South Wales and New Zealand, would the sky not fall in and will people not be having sex in public parks, as was presented in certain second reading speeches to the bill that led rise to this report. It is a system that is workable. It is a system that was the subject of a 2015 review in New South Wales and it has been found to be a system that is the preferred system, the decriminalisation system.

In New Zealand, it has been in operation for over 10 years. There we have not seen the sky fall in and we have not seen society collapse. In New South Wales, we have not seen the sky fall in and we have not seen society collapse. As I say, a review of that system did find some of the things that the Hon. Tung Ngo mentioned. There was a lack of resourcing for local governments in terms of implementation of the systems, but that that lack of resourcing was simply a matter of providing the resource to address that issue, not starting again and repealing the decriminalisation laws.

This report is quite mindful and I do believe that we have suggested that a resourcing of some level be given to local councils under a decriminalisation system through the provisions under the new planning framework. Manuals, training, information, education and resourcing will address those particular council governance issues, as they would in any other industry. We have rules, policies and protocols that come out of this parliament that we operate with in this state all the time for many industries. If we can do it for every other industry, we should be able to do it for the sex work industry.

When we look at the debate and how it is unfolding, I do note and I am heartened that all of the members of the committee were reasonably supportive and worked productively overall. While investigating a decriminalisation model, as put forward in a bill, where clause by clause witnesses and members and members of both the South Australian community and the international community were able to make submissions, make suggestions, suggest amendments or give their support, the committee was inundated with a concerted lobby group calling for what they call the Nordic model.

The Nordic model is a model of recriminalisation. The Nordic model, as has been endorsed in the dissenting statement by the Hon. Andrew McLachlan and the Hon. Robert Brokenshire, is a model that says that, where sex work takes place, it is not the worker but indeed the client who is criminalised. That is not decriminalisation, that is recriminalisation. As a state, we have a high level of community acceptance that sex work happens and we have a current situation where it is not policed in a way that actually does reflect those community attitudes: that this is something that happens and something that will continue to happen and has happened from time immemorial. Recriminalisation means taking clients and turning them into criminals.

The impact of that is twofold. First, we create a whole new category of criminals in this state. Proponents of the Nordic model claim that their approach is somehow feminist, that somehow it is a support of women that drives their motivations. I have to say that I have come from the women's movement, I have been a feminist for most of my adult life, I have worked for the oldest and largest women's membership movement in the world (the YWCA), I have been to the Commission on the Status of Women, and Beijing+15 conferences and I have yet to see FamilyVoice there as part of the feminist movement. I have yet to see Family Voice side with feminists, except on this issue of sex work.

I do not buy the argument that the Nordic model is a feminist model. I do listen to the Soroptimists, to YWCA, to Amnesty International and to the Business and Professional Women's Foundation when they support a decriminalisation model because they have actually worked with women, they have worked with sex workers and they do speak on behalf of women from a feminist perspective on a multitude of issues. On this issue, it is only there that I hear these proponents of the Nordic model somehow call themselves feminists when, normally, I think it would be fair to say they would think feminism is a dirty word.

That is the point here. We are talking about an issue that people often see as dirty and unacceptable and so they use tactics to get their way to ensure that any law reform, and the very law reform that is supported by the Amnesty International report on this sector, is killed off. They talk about recriminalisation. They talk about this model that criminalises the client and somehow saves the poor female sex worker that they portray to be both drug addicted or abused as a child or in some way vulnerable and a victim.

I listen to Scarlet Alliance and I listen to the Sex Industry Network when they tell me they do not want recriminalisation, they want decriminalisation. I also warn that if you set up a system, when FamilyVoice's own evidence is 'the client is king' in this industry, where the person that we are going to call the criminal, the client, will actually find themselves being protected by the sex worker, it will further put that sex worker at risk and continue to leave them vulnerable.

But you also deny the reality of the sex work world if you think that all women are sex workers and all clients are male. One of the most moving pieces of evidence was given by two women who presented to the committee, both of whom had disabilities. They came and spoke to us. One woman, who I will call Jane for the purposes of this story, is 45 years old. Jane was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001. She said that if she had known then just how much multiple sclerosis was about to destroy her, she would have travelled the world more and she would have had more sex.

Now a disabled woman, Jane has sought out a sex worker because she had developed a negativity towards her body. She was becoming very depressed and, as she stated, 'No-one wants to touch a disabled person let alone have sex with them.' Jane told us that she craved to be held, to be touched and inspired again. She felt her creativity to be connected to her confidence and her sensuality. If she could feel sensual again, she could feel whole again. That was the evidence she gave us. I commend her for coming and sharing her story because this is an area that people do not talk about in public and certainly not often in the parliament.

Imagine a Nordic model, a recriminalisation model, that treats Jane, a woman with MS, as a criminal. That is the model that you are supporting if you support the Nordic model—the model that will create a criminal out of a woman with MS who simply wants to be held.

There are many reasons that people visit sex workers, yet the stigma attached to this industry due to criminalisation is negative. It creates shame, and it lends itself to seediness and seclusion. Decriminalisation will create a legal framework around sex work that could allow sex workers to not be so stigmatised and to have the full protection of the law.

In terms of that model, it also assumes that all clients are male and all sex workers are female. Sex workers are female, transgender and male. How does a model that is purported to support women and is presented to us as one that supports women, treat a sex worker who is a male? This is a simple question that I would like the proponents of the Nordic model, who say that they are there for feminist reasons and to protect women, to explain. How does that model treat Jane who has MS and simply wants to be held. When Jane did that, she went online and she researched and she knew that she was breaking the law just to get a bit of human contact. Do we really think that Jane should be treated as a criminal in this state, either under a current criminalised model or a recriminalised model?

I will leave members with those few thoughts. I have no doubt that this will be an interesting debate when we get back to the bill in its entirety. I commend the work of the report. It is quite extensive and it heard from a range of views. It has put on the record advice from the Law Society, evidence from places like New Zealand and the experience of places like New South Wales, and I think the human rights approach of Amnesty International should be taken well under consideration. When we put sex worker rights into a decriminalised model and give them the very workplace protections that we enjoy, I think that will be a very proud day for this parliament.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.M. Gazzola. 

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