New South Wales Continues Support for Decriminalisation

The Australian State Government of New South Wales has continued its support for decriminalisation. Sex workers were concerned the inquiry into brothel regulation that begun in 2015 could have resulted in the introduction of a licensing framework and/or a specialised police squad for the sex industry. These measures would end decriminalisation, despite its documented success since it was introduced in 1995.

Since the Inquiry was announced, sex workers and sex worker organisations have carried out a strong campaign to “Save Decriminalisation in NSW.” This included providing submission writing toolkits, writing submissions and providing evidence at parliamentary hearings on the importance of retaining decriminalisation.

On the 9th of May, 2016 the NSW government published their response to the inquiry and reaffirmed their commitment and support for decriminalisation as a best practice and successful model of regulation of the sex industry. Scarlet Alliance, SWOP (Sex Worker Outreach Project NSW) and Touching Base issued a joint media statement welcoming the decision.

Scarlet Alliance CEO Jules Kim explained, “licensing and the re-introduction of police as regulators would have been a significant step backwards.” Touching Base President, Saul Ibister spoke of the relief they felt seeing, “the NSW Government take a sensible, evidence- based response.”

In their response, the government wrote:

“The NSW Government will continue its current body of work to examine the issues relating to the regulation of brothels, to ensure that any system meets community expectations, combats criminal activity and protects vulnerable individuals from exploitation. The NSW Government has considered the regulatory recommendations of the final report of the Select Committee’s inquiry as part of this work, as well as evidence-based best practice internationally and domestically. However, the NSW Government will not be introducing the licensing model described by the final report of the Select Committee because reintroducing such significant regulatory burdens and police involvement risks creating similar outcomes to recriminalising sex work.”

In the lead up to the inquiry, there was a panic in the media about ‘illegal brothels’, or brothels that were operating without local council authorisation.

Many submissions addressed the issue of discrimination by local councils against sex industry businesses, including private workers. In their submission, Touching Base discussed their 2015 research with the University of Technology, Sydney which had found widespread discrimination against sex industry businesses (including private individual sex workers) who had attempted to apply for local council authorisation. Janelle Fawkes from Scarlet Alliance told media in 2015 that there would be widespread outcry if decriminalisation of sex work was lost, “Particularly, if it is replaced on a whim to appease councils who refuse to work within the intent of the laws… and to do their part of what is a very effective whole-of-government model of regulation.”

These issues around local council planning approvals were considered by the inquiry. Alex Greenwich MP, Labor MP’s Jo Haylen and Kathy Smith stated in their media release they had argued against licensing, noting a better approach was to “properly resource councils to deal with unauthorised brothels, including designating staff within the Department of Local Government to coordinate with local government, community organisations and police.” Alex Greenwich added, “It’s important that local councils are given the support and resources they need to manage planning issues around sex services premises and it was clear from the inquiry that the City of Sydney’s practical rather than moral approach is the most effective.”

Minister for Better Regulation, Victor Dominello was quoted in media stating. “the evidence from other jurisdictions is that licensing simply doesn’t work.”

This was made clear to the NSW Government in many of the submissions made to the Inquiry. For example Vixen Collective, the sex worker collective based in the Australian state of Victoria, testified in their submission that “under licensing systems access to police for sex workers is significantly reduced due to the oppositional roles sex workers and police are placed in.”

Greens NSW MP and Status for Women spokesperson, Dr Mehreen Faruqi commented in a media release “whilest the NSW Government should never have even established such an inquiry dominated by conservative politicians, it is good to see they have refused to endorse the more extreme recommendations.”  Greens NSW MP and Justice Spokesperson, David Shoebridge explained “If criminal laws are broken then police should be involved, if planning regulations are broken then local councils need powers, this is the same for the sex work industry as every other industry in the state.“

“Recognising sex work as a real work means recognising that sex-industry specific legislation is unnecessary and inappropriate,” David Shoebridge concluded.