Election 2013 Western Australia March 9

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Sex Industry itMatters

Greens Sex Worker Law Reform and Protection

Following our request to WA political parties on their policy on Sex Workers the Greens have followed up with confirmation of the following feedback supplied to the WA Attorney General in 2011.

Greens Statement

Re: Prostitution Reform Feedback

I am the Greens (WA) spokesperson on Justice and I make this submission on behalf of the Greens (WA), an organisation with approximately 1000 members in WA.

Introduction

The need for Sex Work Laws

The Greens WA have consistently lobbied for comprehensive legislation that decriminalises all aspects of sex work and regulates the industry, with an emphasis on good public health outcomes. The Greens WA support the intention of this Bill in its attempt to regulate the industry but not in its intent to require all sex workers to be registered. I have serious concerns regarding the consultation process, policy development and the central elements of the draft legislation with regards to how they will operate in practice versus the stated legislative intent. 

The Consultation Process

The 2008 attempt by the Labor Government to introduce legislation would have decriminalised WA’s sex industry. That legislation was the result of an extensive review conducted by a working party (of which I was a member) that valued transparency and accountability, and incorporated a lengthy consultation process with a wide variety of stakeholders. Importantly, the consultation process involved input from sex workers. It seems extraordinary that the people most knowledgeable and to be most affected have not been consulted in this current process. 

The Attorney General called for public comment on the Green Paper but it is questionable how genuine his offer for public input is, when twice he refused to meet with the national sex worker group, Scarlet Alliance, in the drafting of legislation, and when he publicly stated that in pursuing legislation he is not interested in satisfying the sex industry or other interest groups. 

If the current government had chosen to interact with the sex industry it would have ensured the proposed laws would have prioritised the health, safety and wellbeing of sex workers, and addressed issues that are of actual concern, rather than being guided by myths and stereotypes. Importantly, a high level of input by the sex industry would, in all likelihood, have resulted in a higher level of compliance with any changes. 

Much of the past and current debate provided by Liberal Members of Parliament is based on antiquated ideas of morality, chastity and perceived third party exploitation, with the need to ‘save sex-workers’ who are still referred to as ‘prostitutes’.  This means that real issues of concern such as improving occupational health and safety, alongside civil, human, legal and health rights, are overshadowed.

Policy Development

In contrast to the open and accountable methods adopted by the previous government, no information has been made available regarding the inter-governmental working party that developed this model. 

According to the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO),[1]media statements suggest the Terms of Reference of the inquiry were skewed towards a particular outcome with alternative or differing views not welcome. The Attorney-General ruled out meaningful consultation with the sex industry saying in the media that:

                [his]…fundamental concern is not, and has never been, to fulfil the wishes of those who operate commercial sex work. They are not the key driver for this legislation. 

AFAO argue that this approach by the Attorney-General stands in opposition to Australia’s own successful partnership approach to the prevention of HIV whereby sex workers should inform sex industry regulation. Sex workers, as a cohort with low rates of HIV but who continue to be at high risk of HIV infection, are recognised as playing an essential role, in partnership with governments, to ensure the continued successful response to HIV. Sex workers are recognised as playing a role as the safe sex educators of their clients, and implementing safe sex practices into their workplaces. Therefore, sex workers’ success in this area is threatened by legal frameworks that undermine public health outcomes. 

Draft Legislation

The Bill continues to use language such as prostitute, prostitution and prostitution business which is out-dated and offensive. 

The Bill will make sex service premises the only legal option for a workplace, removing the ability for sex workers to work privately from their own homes or rented accommodation and forcing sex workers to work for third parties and be relegated to industrial zones. This is seen as unsafe by many sex workers and is likely to force them to work illegally or to create clandestine operations. 

The Bill will mean that all sex work involving consenting adults will be illegal, except that which occurs within a small number of state-sanctioned sex service premises in a handful of industrial areas. This will be a first in WA’s history. Staff at the sanctioned sex service premises will be registered and information collected in order for sex workers to be registered will remain well after the person has left the industry; placing the sex worker, their children, relationships, housing, future employment, physical safety and even ability to travel overseas at risk. We consider this to be an unacceptable infringement of their civil liberties. 

Currently it is not illegal to work as a sex worker but the proposed legislation will require all individual sex workers, managers and operators, to be fingerprinted. This requirement goes unexplained but it clearly treats everyone working in this sector as criminals. Thus sex workers and those in other roles in the sex industry are being treated as criminals without reason or evidence to warrant this extreme approach. 

A 20 October 2010 media release by the Attorney-General, suggests community safety is enhanced by the proposed laws which would heavily strengthen police powers. In his media statements, the Attorney-General referred to the industry being heavily policed. The resources of the Western Australian police service are already tightly stretched and the additional role of regulating the operation and location of sex industry businesses and individual sex workers would only aggravate the existing pressure on resources. Community safety will surely be lost as police resources are diverted away from crime and on to this new role of regulating sex workers’ workplaces. 

The Attorney-General refers to the proposed model as similar to that of Victoria and Queensland. As has been well documented, the Victorian and Queensland models cause ongoing issues for both states as they create a ‘two tiered’ industry; the smaller component being the licensed sex service premises and the larger being those unable or unwilling to comply. The Sex Work Licensing Authority in Queensland publishes annual reports which show the model has cost more than $6 million in the ten years it has operated – an expense to taxpayers that has resulted in only 25 licensed sex service premises throughout the state and a high percentage of non-compliant sex industry businesses.[2] This cost is in addition to the team of Police within the purpose-created Prostitution Enforcement Task Force, formed to address non-compliance: a result of the flawed model rather than the result of sex workers’ wish to operate outside of the law. 

The proposed model will provide sex workers in Western Australia with no legal option other than to work from licensed sex industry businesses, and the regulatory model will cost the West Australian community dearly through a regulatory framework with excessive operation and compliance costs. We have had strong feedback that a great number of sex workers will find the proposed model too unsafe and will therefore feel forced into unlicensed, unregulated workplaces. Health promotion delivery will be negatively impacted as non-compliant sex service premises and private workers will ‘go underground’ to avoid detection. 

Most problematic is the establishment of police in a regulatory role – a model abandoned in other states like NSW after resulting high levels of police corruption were identified. Furthermore, giving the police an increased role in sex industry regulation is contrary to the findings of numerous inquiries in Australia (including WA) that have found corruption and the potential for corruption in the relationship between the police and the sex industry. 

Recommendation 

While the former Labor Government’s model was a result of careful consideration of the impacts of the different models of regulation, both in Australia and internationally, it derived its proposed framework primarily from the New Zealand model. New Zealand decriminalised its sex industry in June 2003 and released an evaluation report documenting the effects of decriminalisation after the fifth year. The Sex work Law Review Committee’s review of the operation of the Sex work Reform Act 2003 is based on research undertaken by the Christchurch School of Medicine and Victoria University’s Crime and Justice Research Centre.[3] The report finds the New Zealand model to be an overall success and describes an industry with significant safety improvements for sex workers, noting that the fears expressed by conservatives leading up to the decision to decriminalise have not resulted in a growth of the industry, nor the many other perceived ‘risks’. 

Closer to home, a comparative study undertaken by Basil Donovan, et al.,[4] considered the impacts on sex workers and the rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) under different models of sex industry regulation in three different states of Australia. WA, NSW and Victoria were considered. Importantly the outcome demonstrated that sex workers’ sexual health was good in NSW, where the industry is regulated through a partial decriminalisation model, and had better outcomes than Victoria. Victoria is currently regulated by a model similar to that outlined by WA’s Attorney-General for introduction there. In addition, the study found that the Victorian model was even less effective than that currently in place in Western Australia. 

The Western Australian Government’s decision on regulation of the sex industry comes at an interesting time in history, coinciding with mounting evidence for the decriminalisation of sex work. In the most basic of terms, the evaluation of the New Zealand model demonstrates decriminalisation can be successful. Australian research shows the sexual health of sex workers in NSW (the only Australian state with a partial decriminalised industry) as superior (with low rates of STIs) when compared to other states with different models of regulation. There is growing global recognition that decriminalisation of the sex industry represents the best practice model of sex industry regulation for both human rights and HIV prevention outcomes. 

In balance, there is no benefit for Western Australia to implement a model shown to be costly and which promotes non-compliance. Western Australians are being told that the government’s model will make their communities safer, when in fact this legislation has the potential for the reverse outcome. 

It is important to recognise that in terms of affecting change on those who buy or sell sex services, that legislation is a blunt instrument.

[It is also important to note then when making legislation that sex work laws are ineffectual – they have little lasting effect on those who choose to buy and sell sexual services, and that changes in sex work laws determine whether those working as sex workers seek their clients on the streets, in sex service premises or through escort agencies.]

Widespread and fundamental changes in the way the community understands sex work is, therefore a necessary component of change. Without it, sex work law reform is a fruitless exercise of simply reworking the incorrect assumptions which underpin the criminal law into modern administrative provisions. The government’s use of language, such as micro brothels, pimps and prostitutes will do little to help the community to understand sex work but a lot towards the continuation of myths and fear surrounding the industry. 

Policies should be designed to increase alternative occupational choices of women to expand employment opportunities since research shows that economic factors are the overwhelming motivating force for women entering the industry. Although it is acknowledged that some women will enter the industry for reasons other than financial, the need for women to enter sex work can only be significantly reduced through long-term economic and social measures and not through legal restraints. 

Legislative and policy changes are not enough on their own. Education programs are also required to work to changing the ideas of the general public on sex work. It is necessary to educate the community to support sex work reform and recognise that although not necessarily condoning sex work, changes to the law are required. 

Conclusion 

The Greens WA neither condone nor condemn sex work but recognise its existence and the need for sex workers in the industry to be afforded the same occupational health and safety protections as any other worker. The Greens WA will only support comprehensive legislation that addresses the following: 

  • decriminalises the sex industry in Western Australia; and ends the systematic corruption caused by any containment policy;
  • prepares appropriate guidelines for the sex industry to improve sex service premise conditions;
  • allows sex workers the same rights as other taxpayers;
  • provides protection for workers in the sex industry under industrial relations legislation;
  • allows State health regulations to address the health of people in the sex service industry;
  • recognises that only by legalising and bringing the industry into closer contact with outreach and social services can moves be made to improve the occupational health and safety of people making a living from the sex service industry;
  • removes penalties for street sex workers who work within approved ‘red light districts’ and their clients;
  • ensures such ‘red light districts’ are safe and have adequate outreach workers and facilities;
  • creates a suitable legislative framework to control and monitor the industry and protect both workers and clients; and
  • supports the ban on child sex work and exploitation. 

In line with submissions from the Scarlet Alliance, AFAO, Buddhist Council of WA, the Public Health Association, and representatives from the medical profession, the Greens (WA) oppose the following changes to: 

  • License and register sex workers and auxiliary staff.
  • Increase criminal penalties for non-compliance.
  • Expand related police powers.

Yours sincerely

Giz Watson MLC

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