The findings of this report were not supported unanimously and I have significant concerns about recommendations that water down the system of decriminalisation.
It has been an honour to serve on the Select Committee on the Regulation of Brothels and to gain valuable insights into this important area of public policy. The committee received a great depth and breadth of evidence from a range of experts, stakeholders and workers to gain better insights into the regulations around sex workers and brothels in New South Wales. However, it has become apparent over the course of the past few weeks that this inquiry appears to have been established with an outcome in mind—that is, the licensing of brothels.
I make it clear that the findings of this report were not supported unanimously and that I, along with the member for Sydney and the member for Gosford, have significant concerns about recommendations that we believe water down the system of decriminalisation that has delivered such positive outcomes for sex workers and the community in terms of safety, health and police integrity.
The Wood royal commission in the 1990s made the determination that removing police as the regulator of brothels was in the community's best interests. The current system of decriminalisation makes the regulation of brothels the purview of local councils, which manage brothels under their local environmental plans [LEPs]. On the whole, the evidence presented to the committee was that this system works well, with very few complaints about authorised brothels impacting local amenity and communities. A small number of problems arise with unauthorised brothels, with councils often feeling ill equipped to monitor and regulate brothels operating outside the scope of the existing regulatory framework.
While I understand the community's concerns about unauthorised brothels—concerns that are shared by the sex industry, I might add—the Government appears intent on beating up the issue. This is an approach that I believe is unhelpful at best. The final report makes claims of criminal activity and sexual servitude in unauthorised brothels. Of course, any such reports are deeply concerning and any incidence of sexual servitude or criminal activity is unacceptable. However, there is no evidence that New South Wales sees a higher rate of criminal activity or sexual servitude than other jurisdictions, including Victoria and Queensland, which employ a licensing system.
There is also no evidence to suggest that licensing will limit the incidence of unauthorised brothels, with Victoria's licensing system having little impact on the number of unauthorised brothels in that State.
Introducing a licensing system here will only diminish the positive health outcomes that decriminalisation has afforded, making it more difficult for sex workers to engage with outreach organisations and propagating an underground industry that poses risks to sex workers. I do not want to see the safety and health of workers in the industry compromised.
I do not want to go back to the bad old days, when a large section of the sex industry was underground. The committee heard compelling evidence from a range of health experts, including the NSW Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant, and the AIDS Council of New South Wales [ACON], who raised serious concerns about the potential public health impacts of licensing brothels. ACON said:
- We believe a licensing system would be a dangerous and retrograde step, as experience elsewhere shows it to almost inevitably produce a second tier (often larger than the official licensed tier) of sex industry premises which are difficult for outreach programs to access, increase the potential for crime and corruption and do little to increase public health outcomes or improve sex worker health and safety.
I have the utmost respect for the NSW Police Force. However, we cannot overlook the significance and the success of the reforms emanating from the Wood royal commission—reforms that were difficult yet necessary. The NSW Police Force has made significant efforts to restore the public's trust and the community will not tolerate any watering down of hard-fought safeguards against corruption. We can do more to improve existing regulations, including better resourcing of councils to give them the expertise to deal with unauthorised brothels. Introducing licensing is driven not by logic or evidence but by ideology, and I completely disagree with it. I oppose the report.