In November 2019, the Andrews Government commissioned Upper House crossbencher and Reason Party’s leader, Fiona Patten, to lead a review of sex work regulations with the intention of decriminalising prostitution.
Ms Patten – also the former leader of the Sex Party – has been a long-time advocate for decriminalising the industry in the name of promoting a safe work environment in prostitution and removing stigma.
Last week, while all attention was on the Premier’s dictatorial Pandemic Management Bill, the government quietly passed the Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill 2021 in the Lower House, and managed to escape scrutiny from the media and concerned citizens of Victoria.
Fortunately, the bill wasn’t passed without the Liberal National Party pointing out its flaws and hypocrisy.
The bill doesn’t provide sufficient safety measures and protections for sex workers and the general public as it claims. In fact, the bill repeals or amends some of the safety safeguards of the Sex Work Act 1994 and other legislations, creating greater risks to both the sex workers and the community.
For example, the bill:
- Removes the requirement of safe sex practices between prostitutes and clients (eg. stealthing will no longer be illegal) – Clause 8
- Abolishes mandatory testing for sexually transmitted infections and allows sex workers to work with a sexually transmitted infection in order to “remove discriminatory, industry-specific public health offences” – Clause 9-10
- Legalises street-based sex work in most public places – Clause 28
- Prohibits property owners from refusing to rent their properties for legal sex work, in order to prevent discrimination against sex workers – Clause 36.
In short, the bill fails to achieve the occupational health and safety reforms on prostitution that the government has claimed.
On the contrary, it encourages the flourishing of the sex industry at the expense of the health and safety of prostitutes. It puts prostitutes in a more vulnerable position, so they could easily be exploited by pimps and human traffickers.
The Shadow Minister for Consumer Affairs, Roma Britnell, did a great job of scrutinising the bill and rightly pointed out:
“People who engage in sex work fall into a number of categories, but for many it is the result of limited choice. People may feel locked into the industry because they are homeless or out of work or for a number of other reasons.
“We really should be seeing in this bill support for people working in the sex industry by resourcing three areas that feature most prominently in literature on best practice for exiting from sex work: drug treatment; housing; and training (education and employment). An Australian survey of sex workers conducted by the Crimes and Misconduct Commission in its review in Queensland found that most sex workers indicated they would like the opportunity to retrain for another career.
“Now, we must allow them to leave the industry if they so wish but not just cast them aside when they do so. We must support them, and I see no evidence in this bill that the government has appropriate plans in place for that.”
Ms Britnell was spot on by identifying that the help that sex workers truly need is that which can help them exit the industry. This bill doesn’t aim to achieve that but instead plunges them deeper into the pit of prostitution.
By comparison, the Nordic Model approach to prostitution has been proven to be a great success in helping sex workers to exit prostitution and end human trafficking.
Originating in Sweden in 1999, the Nordic Model of prostitution legislation is progressive and innovative, and is quickly gaining traction internationally. The system targets the demand for prostitution by criminalising the actions of pimps and buyers, rather than the actions of prostituted persons. It includes public education programs to discourage the purchase of sex, as well as comprehensive exit programs, and social and economic support to assist prostituted persons to leave the industry.
The Nordic Model has been highly effective in reducing the market for prostitution and sex trafficking, and has been endorsed by the European Parliament as best practice for preventing sexual exploitation. It is now in operation in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Canada, Northern Ireland, France, Ireland, and Israel, and is being acknowledged globally as the Human Rights model.
In light of this, the Australian Christian Lobby has been an advocate for the model for years.
Therefore, we congratulate the Liberal National Party for scrutinising and voting against the bill, and we urge the Coalition to seriously consider the Nordic Model.
As the bill will arrive in the Upper House for debate in mid-November, may I encourage you to:
- Email your Upper House MPs to express your concerns about the Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill 2021 and advocate for the Nordic Model
- Email Roma Britnell MP and other Lower House Coalition MPs to thank them for voting against the bill