(Take Note Debate, 12 November 2015, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
I was pleased to be a member of the Regulation of Brothels committee.
My electorate has brothels, street sex work and is the base for a number of sex worker health and advocacy services.
Given the small number of complaints that councils receive about brothels, it is not clear what sparked this inquiry however its aim was to examine the regulatory framework for brothels and make recommendations for change.
During the consideration of this report, I was a dissenting member.
The final report does not reflect a balanced view of the evidence. It recommends licensing of brothels with police powers of entry despite overwhelming evidence that this would put sex workers at risk.
New South Wales is considered a world leader in sex industry regulation: the decriminalised model has produced significant health and welfare benefits.
Sex workers have lower rates of sexually transmitted infections than the rest of the population, have good health and welfare outcomes, and are able to report violence to police without fear of sanctions.
All sex worker health, welfare, and advocacy organisations support retaining the current regulatory framework and provided evidence of its benefits.
Sex work was decriminalised 20 years ago in response to the Wood Royal Commission into police corruption. The criminal system encouraged corruption and intimidation of sex workers in what was an underground industry.
We should not return to that situation without strong evidence that deregulation is creating problems.
The committee was not presented with evidence that trafficking and sexual servitude happen more in New South Wales than in jurisdictions with licensing.
Trafficking and slavery are the responsibility of the Australian Federal Police, which told us that it has sufficient powers to enter brothels.
The six sex-trafficking investigations in New South Wales investigated by the AFP did not result in a conviction.
The committee heard from Victoria Police that criminal activity occurs in both licensed and unlicensed brothels and the AFP is investigating 10 cases there.
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Nick Kaldas’s call for licensing and powers of entry, he claims is to ensure ALL brothels are law abiding.
But licensing will never cover all brothels – we saw extensive evidence of this in Victoria and Queensland – and it will not reduce criminal activity. It would only create a two-tiered system of legal and illegal brothels.
Much weight was given to Nick Kaldas’s comments yet he provided no concrete evidence of criminal activity, referring only to anecdotal stories.
The report merely infers that deregulation makes the sex industry a haven for trafficking, servitude and drug taking.
While councils could use assistance to correctly apply planning laws to brothels, it is a major leap to suggest that this means the sex industry needs to be overhauled with licensing and enforcement handed to police.
Councils need enforcement guidance from the Department of Local Government and better coordination between regulatory bodies is needed.
The committee was presented with strong evidence that creating a licensing system with criminal sanctions will discourage sex workers in unlicensed brothels from accessing services or telling medical professionals about their work.
The proposed licensing system fails to acknowledge the serious impacts licensing would have. There is no evidence licensing would reduce criminal activity.
I believe the report has taken a moral approach to sex work.
Sex work will always exist and it is a legitimate profession. We are talking about consensual sex between adults.
Currently New South Wales has the right approach with sex work regulated in terms of where it, as a business, is permitted to take place. Amnesty International considers decriminalisation the best way to protect sex workers.
Recent research by the Australian Institute of Criminology found most migrant sex workers sampled were satisfied with their conditions and that stigma, fear of deportation, language barriers and limited access of safe migration pathways risk marginalising them.
Human trafficking is a global problem that is not going to be solved by a licensing system. All licensing will do is create an underground class of sex workers who will be at risk of harassment and intimidation and avoid accessing services.
If implemented, the report’s recommendations would compromise the health, wellbeing and safety of sex workers.
I oppose the report.