“I was in the public gallery of the South Australian House of Assembly yesterday afternoon when MPs explained why they would not be supporting Steph Key’s private member’s bill to decriminalise the prostitution trade in South Australia,” FamilyVoice research officer Ros Phillips said today.
Vincent Tarzia, Liberal MP for Hartley in Adelaide’s north east suburbs, said most of his constituents opposed the bill because it would damage the social fabric of their community. The legislation had many practical problems as well as moral problems.
Adrian Pederick, Liberal MP for Hammond (Murray Bridge) said the Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill would make local councils responsible for controlling brothels and street prostitution. Councils are already stretched to the limit, and controlling all forms of prostitution is something they are not equipped or resourced to do.
Mr Pederick read out a 2012 submission about a similar law in New Zealand by the then Deputy Mayor of Christchurch, Ms Ngaire Button.
Ms Button said that Christchurch had gone through tough times since huge earthquakes wrecked the CBD, but the Sex Work Reform Act 2003 had only added to the city’s problems, including financial problems.
NZ Police no longer control prostitution, and council inspectors cannot handle it. The Christchurch City Council tried to limit the placement of brothels, but the owner of three brothels took the Council to court – and the Council lost. It cost Christchurch ratepayers $100,000.
Ms Button said the Christchurch City Council had no power to regulate street prostitution, which was causing great public nuisance. “The street walkers fight about possession. They yell at each other across the road, and there’s mess [including condoms, needles, faeces] in people’s gardens, because there are no toilets.” She said husbands had been solicited in their driveway as they came home from work, and that pimps and exploitation were problems as well.
The Deputy Mayor was not aware of any prostitute murders before the sex industry was decriminalised in 2003, but since that time three Christchurch sex workers have been murdered. “Yet the law was supposed to make it safer,” she said.
Ros Phillips said Ms Button had given a very different picture of New Zealand prostitution from the one reported by a 2008 NZ parliamentary committee, which claimed the law was working well. “The NZ Sex Work Reform Act passed by just one vote in 2003,” Ros Phillips said. “Yet the 2008 review committee did not include any MP who had voted against the bill. There was concern expressed at the time that the committee had ignored or discounted evidence they received about problems with the new law.”
SA Premier Jay Weatherill has said that parliament will be prorogued in the summer break, so all legislation still on the notice paper – including the Decriminalisation of Sex Work Bill – will lapse.
“I urge Steph Key not to re-introduce her bill next year,” Ros Phillips said. “I suggest that she consider instead a bill to implement the Nordic model, where exploiters and customers are penalised, while sex workers are given compassionate help to leave the industry and retrain. The Nordic model has cut sex trafficking by half, and is now operating in Sweden, Norway, Iceland, South Korea and Canada.”
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