The Terms of Reference for this inquiry demonstrate that the NSW Government is operating under a number of false assumptions and fundamental misunderstandings about sex work, how brothels, and the sex industry operates, and what is necessary to develop effective sex industry regulation.
Decriminalisation has worked.
Decriminalisation has proven to be a successful regulatory model in NSW if you consider: the excellent health outcomes, the low cost of this model, high levels of compliance compared to other models, reduction of police corruption, and improved occupational health and safety for sex workers.
However, some councils have struggled to effectively do their role of regulating zoning and amenity impact in their areas. Some councillors have refused development applications fearful of losing votes if they are seen to approve a brothel in the local area and others have failed to allow for sex industry businesses to operate within their planning guidelines. Most either do not allow sex workers to work from home or still require individual sex workers working from home to apply for a development application. This failure to effectively do their role in implementing decriminalisation has led to multiple problems that could be addressed if councils were to follow the intention of the legislation and not discriminate against the sex industry.
- Providing safe working environments for sex workers is an essential factor of a successful regulatory model.
- Brothels which are non-compliant with council requirements are not ‘illegal’, and describing brothels as illegal is inflammatory and incorrect.
- Sex industry businesses are not different to other business and there is no basis for the assumption that special laws and regulations are required to manage non-compliant brothels differently to other non-compliant businesses.
- Councils already have significant brothel closure powers to address non-compliant brothels.
- The failure of councils to consider Development Applications from sex industry businesses on the basis of planning and amenity impact (the impact on other businesses or residents) has meant many development applications not approved by council are then considered by the Land and Environment Court and found to have met the requirements for approval. This process is unnecessarily costly for both businesses and councils.
- Even though the Land and Environment Court has confirmed that offensiveness and morality are not relevant planning considerations,6 brothels continue to be ‘perceived as outlaws’ and ‘regarded as inherently awful, disorderly, and hence warranting and requiring exclusion from the community by councils.’7
- There are minimal to nil amenity impacts of sex industry businesses, and this has been demonstrated in NSW, through experience and research. Research from 2008 demonstrates that after 13 years of decriminalisation in NSW, only one brothel owner had been ordered to cease operation due to amenity impacts, and there had been no complaints relating to amenity impacts for private sex work.8
- The key issue that councils appear to have with decriminalisation is that they must actually demonstrate some kind of proof or produce evidence of a premises being used as a brothel before they are able to cut off utilities and close down businesses. This is an important protection to reduce corruption.
- Decriminalisation removes police as the regulators of the sex industry. Licensing models re-introduce police as the regulators on the non-compliant sector, and police corruption was one of the main reasons NSW was decriminalised.
- Licensing models promote the development of a two-tiered industry whereby many are excluded from operating legally – often because meeting the requirements of licensing is excessive or unreasonable9
- Despite the significant financial resources invested into identifying trafficking in Australia, consistently low government statistics show that the media-estimated incidence of trafficking in Australia is inflated.
6 Liu, Lonza and Beauty Holdings Pty Limited v Fairfield City Council (1996).
7 Penny Crofts, ‘Brothels: Outlaws or Citizens?’ (2010) International Journal of Law in context, 6:2, 151.
8 Scarlet Alliance and Nothing About Us Without Us, Submission to Shadow Attorney General Chris Hatcher on Sex Industry Regulation in NSW, September 2010, 10.
9 Christine Harcourt et al., ‘Sex Work and the Law’, Sexual Heath 2(3) 121–8 at 125.
This inquiry is loaded, and the committee is stacked conservatively. You can access the terms at http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/regulationofbrothels
Submissions do not have to be long and are an important way to let the Committee know you do not support changes to the regulation of brothels in NSW.
Send submissions by post or submit online.
If you are in the following electorates, your local member is on the Committee: Ku-ring-gai, Oxley, Gosford, Miranda, Summer Hill, Sydney, and Holsworthy. Local members should represent their electorate, and as a member of their electorate they should meet with you.
Let other sex workers and supporters know about the inquiry and why it’s important that we have our voices heard.