Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS ( 21:00): I rise on behalf of the Greens to speak to this bill, the Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill, introduced by the Hon. Michelle Lensink into this place. As has been noted before, it reflects a bill brought into the other place by the member for Ashford (Hon. Steph Key) prior to the most recent prorogation of our parliament. The difference between that bill and previous bills, I believe, is that this bill before us and that last bill introduced by the member for Ashford actually has the support of sex workers in this state. There are indeed some 2,000 or so sex workers in this state who are probably pretty interested in what we have to say. They are not going anywhere. They are not going away.This is an industry that has existed for a very long time and, while people have a whole variety of moral interpretations of sex work, the issue will remain. We have not had law reform in this state on this issue for some decades, I think to our shame, because we have seen this always as too difficult and there have been too many options. I think we have a bill here before us that, as I say, is supported by Scarlet Alliance, the Sex Industry Network and SWAGGERR, let alone supported by the YWCA, the Working Women’s Centre, Business and Professional Women, Zonta International and other groups that have indicated their support for this decriminalisation model and specifically this bill.

More broadly than that, we have seen quite a groundbreaking announcement last month by Amnesty International, which has recommended and which will further their policy to support a policy that supports the full decriminalisation of sex work as a way forward to protect human rights and to protect women’s rights. In that work that they have done, which was quite extensive, I note that they have rejected what has been referred to here as variously the Swedish model or the Nordic model.

I draw members’ attention to the policy passed at the Amnesty International Dublin International Council meeting of 11 August 2015, which is outlined and headed ‘Policy on state obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of sex workers (International Board)’. I think that is what this parliament should be charged to do: to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of sex workers here tonight. We can do that with this bill. We can do that by listening to sex workers themselves and by having a reality check regarding our moral position.

I certainly would place on record that the transaction of sexual activity or favours for money is not something that I think should be a crime, but I understand that there are members of this place who believe that it should be a crime. Regardless of our opinions one way or another on that, we should be listening to those in the industry themselves, women’s leadership groups and Amnesty International, a leading human rights body that has put a lot of work and a lot of time, has done a lot of research and has come up with a recommendation that, in fact, decriminalisation is the model that will support human rights.

I welcome the debate and accept the reality that a select committee will help to ensure that this bill is the best bill that it can be, but I reject calls from unusual sources who never seem to have any interest in talking to sex workers or listening to sex work advocacy groups, yet come here and at the last minute propose countermodels but have no legislation on the table. I would ask them, under their model which criminalises the purchase of sex and purports to support women, whether they will support it when children are taken from sex workers, removed from homes because their parents are engaged in sex work—which is what has happened under the Nordic model overseas.

I ask them to answer my question: if I am propositioned on a street and asked if I am selling sex (which has happened in my lifetime) do I have the right to charge that carload of men who shouted that at me? Will that be the case under the legislation that those opposed to this bill are putting forward? It is a question I would like to see answered, because if they are proposing to criminalise a man, in particular (although it could be a woman), propositioning someone, offering them payment for sex, then they need to police every nightclub in this state every Friday and Saturday night. I think they will be rounding up a lot of people and I think that will be very much against the culture of this state.

The bill before us has been well researched, and is supported by the groups I noted before. It safeguards the human rights of sex workers, it protects sex workers from exploitation, it promotes their welfare and safety and health, and it creates an environment that will be conducive to public health.

I will not labour the point too much tonight because we are going to have a lot of time to have this discussion in the select committee, should that get up, but I certainly have many things I would like to put on record which I believe have been raised as Trojan horses in this debate. I point out that sex in a public place will still remain illegal. Sex with a child, who is not consenting or who purports to be a sex worker, will still remain illegal. Being a public nuisance, loitering, will still remain illegal. Of course, most serious of all, trafficking and sexual servitude will still remain illegal. They do not actually have to be addressed in this bill before us because they are illegal and they will remain illegal. This bill does not make any of those acts somehow legal.

I also point to those who raise the Equal Opportunity Act and raise concerns that sex workers might have to be treated favourably, particularly by religious schools and organisations, that those schools and organisations would not be able to discriminate against those people who are either current sex workers or previous sex workers. I point out that in this state we have already ensured that religious schools are able to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexuality. They are able to sack them for no other reason than their sexuality, and that is under the current Equal Opportunity Act. So I am pretty sure that this parliament will protect those particular institutions in this case, should this bill become law.

Most grievously of all, those religious schools are, in fact, able to hire staff without telling them that they will discriminate on the basis of their sexuality and then, of course, dismiss them for no reason other than their sexual preference. I find that grievous indeed, but I am yet to see people in this place clamouring to change that one in the name of justice and human rights.

I believe many of the contributions made by the Hon. Dennis Hood were spurious, and I asked the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective to provide me with some feedback that I will now share with members. It was stated, in the second reading contribution made by the Hon. Dennis Hood, that:

Of course, some may argue that decriminalisation will not affect the comfort and quiet enjoyment of one’s home; however, this has not been the case in places such as New South Wales and New Zealand, both of which have decriminalised models of prostitution similar to what this bill seeks to enact.

The New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective points out:

The vast majority of brothels, including home-based brothels, which allow for one or two sex workers to operate from and govern their own sex work, have quietly coexisted in central business, industrial and residential areas and have not created controversy. As any coun ci l in New Zealand would confirm, the number of complaints have been extremely low, if at all.

The Hon. Dennis Hood went on to say:

In New Zealand, several councils have had to actually take steps towards combating the social change due to street-based prostitution.

The New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective points out:

Recently 109 out of 120 MPs voted against zoning for street-based sex work.

There were comments in that debate at the time that this debate had been going on for 10 years, that it had wasted parliament’s time for 10 years and that councils already had enough legislation to deal with the issues raised and did not need further legislation.

I point members to the fact that we are about to undergo planning reform in this state that will remove some of the onerous burden from councils to deal with these issues, should it be passed by this parliament. I also note that New South Wales has developed quite extensive protocols and policies to support councils in going about what is, indeed, their business of ensuring that all businesses, regardless of their nature, have to be approved appropriately and that you abide by planning laws and good practice. The Hon. Dennis Hood stated in his contribution that:

Manukau City Council has noted in the New Zealand Ministry of Justice report on the review of street-based prostitution in Manukau City in 2009:

‘ Reported significant issues. Having to install and monitor CCTV cameras in trouble areas. Implement crime prevention guidelines and increase street lighting and cleaning. ‘

He went on to say:

After reviewing these measures, the council reported having to increase the number of public rubbish bins, having to keep public toilets open 24 hours a day, having to further increase lighting and to make available disposable needle kits. Notably, the council reports that their environmental cleaning contractors had to attend to waste up to three times per day in the areas that street prostitution is most prevalent.

Of course, these increased services will come at a hefty increase in rates for the ordinary ratepayers of the area. South Australians already feel a significant tax burden.

In contrast to this, the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective pointed out that the 2009 Ministry of Justice report noted deficiencies in the local council’s infrastructure, that there was no evidence that the rubbish was caused by only sex workers and the recommendations regarding bins, CCTV cameras, etc., were actually made to enhance the safety of all residents, including those leaving from bars in the area. The Ministry of Justice also found that it was not just sex workers at fault, and to quote them:

It is clear that the actions of both the PROS group in Hunters Corner, and the local sex workers, have inflamed tension. Mediation to resolve tension should be undertaken immediately. There is a collective onus on all parties to act differently (and more cooperatively) because the current problems cannot be addressed unless the parties can work together.

So, like any industry, there will be tensions but they will be mediated and resolved. During the select committee process on the 2010 bill, the select committee found that council had made little attempt to follow the Ministry of Justice recommendations, and that was in a statement by the chair of the committee to council representatives. Most of the city councils in New Zealand are installing and monitoring CCTV throughout city centres, and that was already underway in Manukau City prior to the 2004 bill.

Most city councils also have public toilets open 24 hours. Indeed, Auckland council does have public toilets open 24 hours. It is also pointed out that sex workers are also ratepayers, either through their rates bill or through the rent they pay. There were pubs and clubs in the vicinity and much of the noise was actually associated with these venues. It is also noted that property values in Auckland and Manukau have continued to rise.

I note the sky has not fallen in in New Zealand, the sky has not fallen in in New South Wales, the sky will not fall in here. What we will see is an end to behaviours like those on Hanson Road where, to our shame, on the ANZAC Day long weekend of 2010 we saw a Facebook group set up and that Facebook group was dubbed, ‘The ANZAC Day long weekend hooker catch and release game.’ It had 241 group members. The point of that Facebook group in this state was to taunt and harass street workers in the inner western suburbs of Adelaide.

The game was created and promoted by the founder of another sex worker hate site called, ‘Hooker spotting on Hanson Road.’ That site had almost 1,000 members. These street work workers in this time were abused; they had eggs, rocks and beer bottles thrown at them. One member of the game even posted that he claimed he had squirted chilli sauce in the face of a sex worker. They were awarded points and dollar amounts to the acts of violence they claimed to have perpetuated in our western suburbs. Of course, that Facebook page was quite rightly shut down, and I never heard of any prosecutions following. I do know that in that time sex workers reported being badly bruised and hit by marbles thrown from cars, by full beer bottles and also eggs. I would say that this is a demonstration on why supporting decriminalisation is so important.

We know that sex workers are the most vulnerable in our community because what they do has been criminalised. We know that where people are that vulnerable, they are attractive to groups such as organised criminal groups to take advantage of. We know by shining a light and decriminalising sex work we will see those groups not as interested and not able to infiltrate this activity and not able to make an enormous amount of money.

I am always reminded of the fact that when I went to New Zealand and spoke to sex workers there about their experience of decriminalisation, they actually said that they used to make a lot more money before the days of decrim because once you have an industry that is regulated it is not as attractive to the criminal elements, and indeed it was simply a business. Yes, a business where they traded sexual acts but a business like any other that was not as lucrative for criminal elements, therefore the amounts of money that were exchanging hands and the ability to launder money and to exploit and traffic people was less.

I have many more points to make and I am happy to take them up in the select committee should that eventuate should we progress this debate, but the final point I wanted to address is that members have spoken today and the Hon. Tung Ngo noted that you simply have to google to see a lot of this stuff. Well, Google only gets you so far. The Hon. Dennis Hood shared an email with us earlier this week and he pointed us to a range of articles which are easily accessible via Google. One of them was that a German woman faces cuts to her unemployment benefits for refusing a job in prostitution after prostitution was legalised.

My colleague the Hon. Mark Parnell did not just google, he snoped. He went to the Snopes website which, of course, found this story to be false. It is like Mythbusters for Google. So, I advise members when they see these stories, and sensational stories about people having sex on your lawn which would be frightening to anyone, that having sex in a public place will continue to be illegal. You will be able to have people charged if they are having sex on your front lawn regardless of the passage of this bill. But I would say that particular Snopes mythbusting story pointed out that this was very much an urban myth online, and I urge members to digest the information that they are presented with in this debate with some caution and not just using Google.

We have an opportunity here to make real reform that will support the human rights of the most vulnerable in our community. We have the opportunity here to change the lives of those who wish to exit an industry that many people have said they do not wish to see continue. I say the reality check is this industry will continue but, if you want to really support people to exit this industry, then you will support legislation like this and you will support the removal of that criminal element so that when they go for another job they will not have this come up in their police check and they will be able to transition from this industry if that is what you truly support.

With those few words, as I say, with some hesitation I will support the select committee process into the bill because I think it will help members to digest without the sensationalist arguments the real facts and the real implications of this bill. I urge members to pay heed to organisations such as Amnesty International but also the World Health Organisation and the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, and so many other international human rights organisations who have recommended a decriminalisation model.

I commend the Hon. Michelle Lensink for putting this before us. We say that we have all the time in the world to debate this, but the reality is we are far away from an election now and once we get further into this election cycle even the least cynical of us here will admit that this will not see a full and proper debate. So, I say get on with the select committee, bring back this bill with urgency but with due diligence, and let’s actually move forward for human rights in this state.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS ( 22:24 :08 ): I indicate that the Greens will be supporting the Hon. Mr Wade’s motion and not supporting the amendments. We note that one of the members of the committee will actually be taking maternity leave. In my discussions with the Clerk, a quorum of three was seen as appropriate, not least because one of the members will be out of action for some of the period of this inquiry, but also to ensure that this is not seen as yet another stalling mechanism, that it is really an inquiry into this piece of legislation that we have before us and not a way of railroading the debate yet again.

If other members have other bills, then I am sure that we can look at those in an inquiry and put those under scrutiny, but the bill we have before us is the bill that the Greens wish to see investigated and brought back. You will call it the committee of the part if you like rather than doing this debate in the committee of the whole now.

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