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Speech: Summary Offences (Prostitution law reform) Amendment Bill

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I rise as the second speaker for the Greens today to oppose this bill before us and indicate that the Greens' position is to support decriminalisation of sex work. It is our policy position. It is also our policy position to oppose what is called the Nordic model and which in this case has been called the partial decriminalisation model. It has all sorts of fantasy names actually.

I acknowledge that today is May Day and the Greens' position is born from respecting workers' rights. Sex work is work. Let's talk about who a sex worker is and what sex work is as well. Sex work—according to the Amnesty International definition and, indeed, the definition of many organisations which have long, both authentically and with proper rigour, examined this issue—is the consensual exchange of sexual services between adults for some form of remuneration, money or goods, with the terms agreed between the seller and the buyer. It is not the person selling themselves but selling a service, I note.

A sex worker is an adult person who is 18 years of age and older of all genders who receives money or goods in exchange for the consensual provision of sexual services, either regularly or occasionally. For the purposes of the Amnesty report, they refer to people as sex workers who are engaged in adult consensual sex for some sort of money or other reward. They sell a service.

The first time I had conversations with sex workers when I came to this role as a member of parliament, I spoke to a sex worker who had been a hairdresser. She conveyed to me that it was very similar: she provided a service. Sometimes she might book a chair in a hairdressing shop, sometimes she might do the work at home, sometimes she might be a paid employee on the payroll at a particular salon, but the service was about making the client feel good and providing her expertise to provide a service.

That, to me, really exemplified how a sex worker views their work. They are not selling themselves: they are selling a service, and to insinuate that a hairdresser is bought and sold by providing you with a haircut or a masseuse is bought and sold by providing you with a massage would be the logical extension of some of the arguments that I have heard tonight.

What I have not heard much of tonight—although I note that some speakers have, and I note that the Hon. Russell Wortley did bring the voice of sex workers and sex workers from this state into this—is what sex workers think of this bill. I will share with the chamber, and with those listening at home and those reading Hansard and those in the gallery, the position of the Sex Industry Network on this bill. Their press release with regard to this bill is titled 'Harmful sex industry bill introduced to South Australian parliament'.

It states:

The South Australian Sex Industry Network (SIN) calls on all South Australian politicians to reject the Summary Offences (Prostitution Law Reform) Amendment Bill 2023…SIN is the South Australian sex worker organisation that is run for and by sex workers.

If passed, the Bill would add criminal penalties to clients of sex workers, as well as people who 'cause, assist, facilitate, persuade or encourage' sex work. This approach is commonly called the 'Nordic model' or the 'End Demand Model'. The model is internationally opposed by sex workers, but has been implemented— 

They go on to list countries. It continues:

In each of these jurisdictions [SIN contends] the model has harmed sex workers. Studies have shown a direct correlation between laws that criminalise clients and an increase in violence against sex workers, rates of sexually transmissible infections, and exploitation in the sex industry.

So on this day of workers—May Day—I would hope that we might reflect on what the workers want in this debate. I also pay tribute to the work of the Sex Industry Decriminalisation Action Committee, which does also have sex workers on it but it has a range of women's organisations, health organisations and human rights organisations as well, and they oppose this bill. They note that the bill calls itself the 'equality model', the 'end demand model', the 'Swedish model', the 'sex purchase ban', 'client criminalisation' and, as has been canvassed several times in this debate, 'partial decriminalisation'.

I found it interesting that the language of partial decriminalisation has been used here because the contention of this bill is that, unlike the contribution from the Hon. Laura Henderson, the debate to criminalise sex work has been lost, so the strategists, the backroom thinkers, have come up with this idea to call it 'partial decriminalisation' and to purport to be there to protect and defend the poor old sex worker who cannot possibly think for herself—because in this fantasy model she is always a woman, she cannot possibly think for herself, she cannot possibly have autonomy and agency and the ability to consent herself—and protect her, this damsel in distress, by this idea of partial decriminalisation.

'We will not punish what are called "the prostituted women". What we will do is we will punish the purchaser of this person or the person who benefits from the exchange of a sexual service.' The logical end result of that is that we have police who will be sniffing sheets and confiscating condoms, as they currently do. We will have clients who will seek to avoid the law, and we will have sex workers told they are allowed to provide a service, they are allowed to do their work, but they are not allowed to be paid for their work. Do you know what I call that? I do not call that partial decriminalisation: I call that slavery.

I am not here to support slavery. I am not here to strip women in particular away from their rights over their own bodies, their ability to work in their chosen profession and be paid a fair day's wage for a fair day's—or night's—work. That is the basis, in fact, of our whole industrial relations system, is it not? We pay people for the services that they provide, for the work that they do. We do not say that they are allowed to do that work but they cannot possibly accept money or any other reward for it and, if they do, the person who attempts to pay them for the service will fall foul of the law.

It is little surprise then that the police have raised their concerns about this bill. I will go first to the police minister's words. In a piece of correspondence, I asked the commissioner—but it was the acting commissioner at the time because the commissioner was on leave—for the opinion of SAPOL on this bill. The response that I got from the former minister Joe Szakacs MP was dated 20 February 2024, and it reads:

I refer to your letter to the Acting Commissioner of Police seeking comment on the Summary Offences (Prostitution Law Reform) Amendment Bill…and information as to whether South Australia Police (SAPOL) supports the Bill.

SAPOL's consistent advice on various bills, briefings and Parliamentary Select Committees over many years is that it does not oppose or support any particular model.

Nonetheless, SAPOL advises that it considers a regulated industry where brothel owners are subjected to fit and proper person provisions is a necessity.

The Summary Offences (Prostitution Law Reform) Amendment Bill 2023 and current legislation criminalise prostitution as an unregulated industry. SAPOL advises that it would continue to monitor and investigate brothels should the bill pass.

So in the opinion of SAPOL this creates an unregulated industry.

It also, I think, provides the police with a very grey area to police. It is no wonder then that in correspondence dated 27 November 2023 written to all members of the South Australian parliament the Police Association of South Australia's president, Mark Carroll, has written to us cautioning us about this very bill: 

The Summary Offences (Prostitution Law Reform) Amendment Bill ('the Bill')

We refer to the abovementioned Bill as introduced by the Honourable Nicola Centofanti MLC, which I understand is to come before the Parliament in the near future. We understand that, in summary, the intent of the proposed legislative amendment is to:

• criminalise the act of offering or providing money or another benefit in return for a person performing sexual services;

• remove criminal sanctions applied to sex workers;

• criminalise the acts of enabling and profiting from the prostitution of another person (so, the keeping of brothels or the conduct of escort services would remain unlawful); and

• to provide for the comprehensive resourced network of support and exiting services for sex workers.

We respectfully advise that the Police Association of South Australia does not support the Bill.

As well as believing that should the proposed legislative amendments become law, policing of such laws by our members would present extreme difficulties, we are persuaded that the Bill ought not to be supported given the type of dilemmas faced in Northern Ireland which (by way of example), has in place laws essentially the same as those proposed by the Bill.

We note that:

• Amnesty International is opposed to the model of prostitution regulation that the Bill is based on;

• a reasonable held view is that the relevant model conflates sex work provided by way of choice and the scourge of trafficking; and

• rather than meeting the objective of minimising harm to those providing commercial sexual services— the vast majority of whom are female—there is a considerable risk that the model would actually force sex workers further underground and increase the inherent risks to their physical, psychological and sexual health.

The Police Association of South Australia respectfully submits that the decriminalisation and effective regulation of prostitution services would be a more worthy outcome than the current state of the law, or the approach proposed by the Bill.

So sex workers oppose this bill. The police oppose this bill.

I have heard some contributions tonight, and I will note that the Hon. Ben Hood noted that the bill allowed for spent convictions. The bill does not allow for spent convictions. That is why there are two sets of amendments filed, the first of which was mine, to ensure that if the fantasy that somehow this was supporting and protecting sex workers was to be upheld perhaps they should have thought about including spent convictions in the original bill. It really shows up the lie of what the intention of this bill is. The intention of this bill is to eliminate sex work, to cast it as a crime and to continue to devote police resources to criminalising it.

If we had wanted people to have an easy way to leave the industry we would have passed spent convictions well and truly by now. I hope that we will, one day in the near future, which is why I have put that up as an amendment. But I also note it is not in the original bill, and I think that goes a long way to exposing the intention of the original bill.

I note also that the Hon. Jing Lee spoke of Auckland and cited girls as young as 10 selling sex. I have a few points there: the New Zealand report that she referred to goes on to further say that in fact street work had not increased in Auckland. Certainly, with regard to girls as young as 10 on the street, that is not consensual adult sex work; indeed, that is a whole range of other crimes, including child sexual abuse, which would be taken very seriously.

Further, the idea that sex workers' voices have not been listened to in this debate is pretty shocking. Where they have been spoken about, people have been either infantilised or dismissed. I do not know of any other industry where we do that. But because this is a predominantly female industry that historically has had criminal attitudes towards it—not always but historically, by and large—we have treated these women with contempt. And it continues: not in the form of locking them up but in infantilising them.

I would also draw members' attention to the country reports, in particular from Norway and Ireland. Amnesty International's country reports on the Nordic model in those two jurisdictions show that workers suffer under this recriminalisation model. They are forced to go further underground, they are forced to not use their safety techniques that they previously had access to, and the ability to screen their clients is diminished. Indeed, they are putting themselves at risk should they report to the police any violence against them. This is not a good outcome.

To further criminalise this industry by presenting clients with the option of being criminalised for rape or sexual assault or being criminalised as a client of a sex worker is not something I think we should be changing the culture of in this state, with the idea that we are somehow going to eliminate the existence of people having sex for some remuneration or other exchange for that service. It has been going on for a very long time. The data shows that the Nordic model, the recriminalisation model, does not actually end the existence of either sex workers or clients.

The cherry-picked data that I have heard tonight is interesting, but it is more fairytale than factual. I look forward to people reading full reports; for example, with regard to the Auckland report in terms of the New Zealand review five years after decriminalisation. I note that the so-called 50 per cent rise in Auckland's street prostitution is often cited, but that report, as I say, goes on to note that the 2006 figures must be treated as an underestimation of the number of street-based sex workers in the region. The report specifically stated:

The Committee endorses the findings of the Christchurch School of Medicine study that 'the number of streetbased sex workers have remained stable since the enactment of the PRA, with a comparable number on the streets to estimates done prior to decriminalisation'.

That is the Prostitute Law Review Committee of 2008, the same report that was referred to but actually goes on to say something different at the end of the paragraph. The cherrypicked statistics are all well and good, but if you read the full report they are shown to be a fantasy, much as this bill is.

As I say, it is International May Day. I would love to be at the May Day dinner right now, perhaps singing Solidarity Forever, because the union does make us strong. I think sex workers deserve to be recognised for their work, to be paid for their work and to be provided with the ability to make the choices that they want to and not treated as infants who are unable to make decisions over their own bodies and their own lives. With that, solidarity forever with the sex workers. I look forward to opposing this bill and I say bring on decriminalisation for South Australia.

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