Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill

Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill

Second Reading


The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS ( 17:27 :05 ): I rise to support the second reading of this bill. I have raised a number of issues which I will elaborate on in relation to the bill with my colleague the Hon. Michelle Lensink. I commend her for her sincere work in an area that, like many of us, she sees as quite a bizarre situation that we have here in South Australia; I think that minister Gago referred to it as unworkable. There are many other views I think in the community about the fact that we have this sector of our community, and it will always be with us.

It is my view that I commend people who are sincerely trying to improve the way that we deal with a sector that will always be here. Having said that, I also commend the long work of the member for Ashford, the Hon. Steph Key in another place, who has a sincere attitude to many issues, some of which I agree with and some which I do not necessarily agree with, but many of them remain emphasised in the sincerity to improve the situations that are not as good as they could be.

Like other members, I have become aware that the New South Wales Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation, the Hon. Victor Dominello, has launched an inquiry into the current New South Wales prostitution legislation and the relationship between state and local government bodies under that current law. This inquiry is due to report later this year and I believe it would be prudent to assess the outcomes of this report and how they may be utilised in relation to the bill that is before us.

When I was recently in New Zealand I spent some time in discussions with a New South Wales Liberal colleague, Ms Melanie Gibbons, who is actually a member of that committee. I know they are working very seriously along the lines of trying to improve what they currently have. However, to say that the fact that they are having a review means that the system is all broken and not working I think is a nonsense.

Any system that is put in place will always need some review and some improvement. This, among other reasons, is why I will be supporting the contingent notice of motion, as suggested by the Hon. Mr Wade, if this bill is successful through its second reading. I think it will be a good thing for a select committee to examine the New South Wales report as well as a number of other pieces of information in relation to improving the current bill.

While I will be supporting the second reading of this bill, there are a number of issues that I have raised with the Hon. Michelle Lensink. I have flagged, I suppose, the possibility of bringing some amendments in, but I certainly intend to put them on the record. In the likelihood that there is a select committee, they are the sorts of things that I would hope would be looked at by the committee.

I have concerns about clause 21, which will in effect repeal section 25 of the Summary Offences Act 1953, namely the offence of soliciting prostitution in a public place. I am concerned that by repealing this offence there will no longer be any restrictions on solicitation for the purpose of prostitution in a public place, which could allow for what commonly may be referred to as street walkers to be active and picking up clients wherever and whenever they choose. I am concerned about what effect this will have on local communities and what kind of culture this will build in the industry. I would suggest that this offence be retained so that if prostitution is decriminalised in South Australia it would be limited to consensual sexual activity taking place in brothels or private premises.

The bill before us proposes to repeal the entire part 6 of the Summary Offences Act 1953, which ultimately currently outlaws the operation and usage of brothels. While this will be necessary to decriminalise prostitution in South Australia, I do not agree that all offences relating to the operation and usage of brothels can be repealed without a comprehensive legal framework being put in its place to ultimately regulate an acceptable standard of how, when and where prostitution may be carried out.

I would suggest that rather than the wholesale repeal of offences relating to brothels, further development of additional clauses in the bill be developed to take into consideration the following matters. First, a detailed framework for the safe establishment and operation of brothels which directs what body shall have the power to enforce the said framework. This framework could include:

Firstly, the expected health and safety standards for the premises operating as a brothel, the workers within the brothel and those wishing to procure sex; the mandatory use of condoms; the display of appropriate literature around the premises promoting safe sexual conduct; regular health checks for workers within the brothel and perhaps random drug and alcohol testing like other workplaces; and the mandatory installation of panic buttons in areas of a brothel being used for sexual intercourse.

Secondly, where a brothel may be located, providing for planning guidelines for local government and in which kind of zoning brothels may be approved by a council and be able to operate.

Thirdly, the requirements for individuals who may work and/or enter a brothel, such as ensuring that individuals who work within and/or are on the premises of a brothel are over the age of 18, ensuring that individuals who work within a brothel are willing participants in the industry and are in good health, and ensuring that those entering a brothel for the purpose of procuring sexual services are over the age of 18, and perhaps not subject to domestic violence orders or have been found guilty of other assault-related offences.

Fourthly, which individuals or groups may own a brothel, and whether it is pertinent to include a requirement for these individuals or groups to be of good and reputable character or other criteria, and how many brothels an individual or groups may own at any point in time.

Fifthly, a set of criteria or restrictions regarding how many prostitutes may be working on a premises being used as a brothel at any point in time. Similar restrictions and/or criteria have been implemented by interstate jurisdictions.

Sixthly, a set of criteria or restrictions on what can and/or cannot occur on the premises being used as a brothel—for example, restricting alcohol consumption, usage of drugs and the service of food.

These are a few issues that I believe may be necessary to be considered in developing a framework to replace the repealing of brothel-related offences in this bill, and I would hope that these issues could be further explored.

In relation to clause 22, with the repeal of section 32 of the Summary Offences Act 1953 relating to the power of police to enter suspected brothels, I believe it is essential to retain some kind of power for the police to enter and inspect brothels. The bill before us proposes to repeal this power and does not provide for any other kind of mechanism to allow police to inspect these premises, much like they already inspect nightclubs to ensure compliance with applicable laws.

My concern is that, if such a provision is not included, the only authority which would have the ability to inspect a premises being used as a brothel is the relevant local government body, which would simply inspect the premise for compliance with health, safety and building codes. I do not believe local councils are equipped to essentially enforce any kind of restrictions this parliament may place on prostitution other than those standards and codes councils already enforce for other businesses.

There are also several aspects of the practical operation of the bill that I might question, and I believe these matters warrant some further examination, and they are, namely, the Return to Work Act and Workers Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1986. Obligations under this bill appear unclear, and due to the contracting nature of the sex work industry, I am personally unsure as to who the responsibility for the provision of certain safe work practices would fall upon, and if SafeWork SA inspect the workplaces of sex workers to ensure a safe workplace is being maintained.

Another aspect is whether the Spent Convictions Act 2009 amendments proposed by this bill totally wipe prostitution-related offences from an individual's record. I am aware that Families SA clearances still take into consideration spent convictions and therefore any conviction may still follow an individual in certain industries.

The Equal Opportunity Act 1984 amendments will make it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis that they were once a prostitute; however, I am unsure whether, if a religious institution or school did not want to employ an individual based on their previous sex-working past because perhaps it is not in line with the beliefs of that organisation, this bill will remove this as a basis to not employ or engage that person.

Briefly, there has been mention of the decriminalisation of the sex industry in New Zealand. Having recently been at a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference on human rights in Wellington, New Zealand, and having had other discussions with members of parliament and other people in the community following that, I did raise this matter, and yes, there are some people in New Zealand who are not happy with the situation under that bill, but I did come across a lot of other people who believe that it is not perfect but that it has improved the situation in some of the major communities in New Zealand.

I think it is dangerous for people to stand up and selectively say that things in New South Wales are terrible, things in New Zealand are terrible, things in other places where they have taken some action are necessarily terrible, because in many instances I think there are a lot of people in those communities who do believe that the situation, while not perfect, is better than it had been. I think that is the main reason why I am prepared to support this bill going to the second reading, because I believe that we can do far better in this situation than we currently have.

Once again, I would like to commend the Hon. Michelle Lensink for her integrity in bringing this forward, and for her sincerity and courage, I think, in doing so, because she is intending to improve the current situation. She knows that the concerns that I have raised today have been raised with her and are sincerely held as things that I believe can be examined and could be used to improve the bill.

I personally know the experience and benefit I have gained when moving a private member's bill. You are on your own. We all know how many staff we get, and it is a lonely existence, despite the fact that some people may wish to help you. I know the experience and benefit that I have gained previously in moving private members' legislation in firstly having a committee examination of a bill. Members would remember that my first surrogacy bill was examined quite thoroughly by the Social Development Committee under the able chairmanship of the current Minister for the Environment. I hope that this examination is not quite as long as that; it certainly did bring back some improvements to that first bill.

Secondly, I would say that even in the case of my most recent bill, the questions, queries and suggested improvements that I got from colleagues and community members allowed me to address a number of aspects of that which ultimately meant that the bill, I think, was improved and passed this chamber and the other one without division. I do not, perhaps, dream that a bill on this subject is going to pass without a division, but I think there is the opportunity to take up a number of the issues that have been raised and to assist the Hon. Michelle Lensink in that bill coming back in an advanced state and certainly one that will benefit South Australian community and the sex work sector.

Let's not pretend that this is ever going to go away. It is a sector that has been in the community since day one. We need to do the very best we can to make sure that as a legislature we are treating that sector as something that is legitimate. It is there and we need to do much better than we are doing currently. I am pleased to support the second reading.