News & Current Affairs
South Australia may soon decriminalise sex work
South Australia (SA) may soon see sex work decriminalised, after a landmark bill was passed through the Legislative Council earlier this month. SA has historically had extremely strict laws with regards to the sex industry, despite the fact that there are an estimated 2,000 sex workers operating in SA. Stricter laws mean the police are unable to regulate it in the same way they can in other states, and the new bill has been hailed as a positive change.
Labor MP Tung Ngo introduced eight late amendments to the bill, but these were all scrapped after an intense debate in Parliament. These included stopping sex workers from seeking customers on the street and banning brothels from being established near schools, early learning centres and places of worship.
All of Mr Ngo’s amendments were eventually scrapped, and the bill passed 13 votes to eight. A conscience vote had been decreed, meaning that MPs were at liberty to vote freely without the party whip putting pressure on them either way.
Michelle Lensink, the Liberal MP who introduced the new legislation to Parliament, was unhappy with the late amendments.
“It’s certainly not ideal for members of the parliament to put amendments to bills late,” she said. “It’s not well regarded by most people. It’s a pretty poor practice because it places everyone else under stress in terms of formulating a position.”
Mr Ngo wanted more time for the amendments to be considered, but his request was not upheld.
“South Australia has the most restrictive laws in Australia and what that means is that they’re difficult to police,”
This comes after the Select Committee on the Statutes of Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) bill delivered its final report to the South Australian Parliament in March, which recommended the bill pass through the House without any changes. Despite this, there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the bill. Conservative MP Rob Brokenshire has argued against the new legislation. “There are many people like myself in Parliament who don’t think decriminalisation is the way to go and the reality is there’ll be a democratic debate.”
Sex workers now safer
“South Australia has the most restrictive laws in Australia and what that means is that they’re difficult to police,” Ms Lensink said. “I think that helps a lot of the people who were working in the industry who were made to feel unsafe to assist them in going forward.”
The bill now has to pass through the Lower House before it can come into full force in SA.
Laws around sex work in the ACT
The laws around sex work in Australia vary from state to state, but the ACT operates under a semi-legalised system. The Prostitution Act (1992) says that it is not a criminal offence to work as a sex worker as long as they are doing it from their own home. All private workers must work alone, while brothels and escort agencies are also legal, as long as they are registered with the Registrar of Brothels and Escort Agencies. The Registrar requires sex workers to report to it annually, and failure to do so is punishable by one year in prison.
It’s also illegal to solicit customers on the street in the ACT, and sex workers are liable for arrest if they do so. Section 19 of the Prostitution Act says “A person must not, for the purpose of offering or procuring commercial sexual services, accost any person, or solicit or loiter, in a public place.”