Outreach worker Leanne Melling and Jules Kim from the Scarlet Alliance spoke in support of the reforms. (ABC News: Jacqueline Breen)
Sex work has now been decriminalised in the Northern Territory — with the Territory Parliament voting 16-5 to repeal the NT’s old sex work laws and pass a new act.
- The Sex Industry Bill 2019 was adopted in the NT Parliament today
- Opposition Leader Gary Higgins withdrew his support for the bill
- Independent MLA Gerry Wood called again for a halt to the process and a full inquiry into laws around sex work
Tonight, Territory politicians voted to adopt the new legislation which means brothels, soliciting and home-based sex work are no longer illegal, although the Government refused to remove penalties for non-compliant advertising.
NT Attorney-General Natasha Fyles said the new act was about keeping workers safe.
“When you take the word ‘sex’ out of it, we are looking at it from a worker safety perspective and we are looking it from regulating it so our community has a say in it,” she said.
NT Attorney General Natasha Fyles said there would still be regulation about the location of brothels. (ABC News)
“We have taken the approach that this is something that happens in our communities and we want to regulate that so that communities can have a say on what activities take place and we look at this through a business framework.”
Ms Fyles also said the NT Government would not allow brothels to operate next door to childcare centres or schools but was not able to say exactly how far away the businesses could be.
Speaking on the bill, Member for Braitling Dale Wakefield broke down in tears.
“I do know many fabulous and fierce women who have been in the sex work industry in the past, in the present and possibly in the future and they deserve, like anyone, any worker anywhere to access services when and where they need it, to report a crime, to have a violence-free workplace and to be able to control the manner in which they do their job,” she said.
The Scarlet Alliance, the peak body representing Australian sex workers, said the vote meant that the NT had become just the third jurisdiction in the world to decriminalise sex work.
Sex Worker Outreach Program NT coordinator Leanne Melling has long been advocating for the change.
“It’s going to be a very huge relief, I think it will set a precedent as well for other sex workers who are fighting for rights,” she said.
“Sex workers have had a gutful of registering for life with police.
“It’s draconian, it’s problematic, it’s caused a lot of pain for sex workers.”
Country Liberals Party Opposition Leader Gary Higgins said the claim that sex work is the same as any other business “denies reality”. (ABC News: Andie Smith)
CLP withdraws its support for the bill
In a statement released earlier today, Opposition Leader Gary Higgins said his party was unable to support the bill because it did not “achieve the balance of public welfare with the rights and freedoms of individuals”.
Mr Higgins said to treat sex work the same as any other business “denies reality”.
“Sex work is different to hairdressing or pet grooming — it can be a risky enterprise for both workers and customers and the health risks are apparent,” he said.
“This bill makes no provision, aside from advertising restrictions, for the use of safe sex practices.”
Mr Higgins said the process also lacked transparency as regulations to accompany the bill were not tabled in the Legislative Assembly or provided in draft form.
The CLP said it was unable to support the bill because it did not “achieve the balance of public welfare with the rights and freedoms of individuals”. (Reuters)
“Given the amount of potentially delegated authority in the bill, the form of the regulations could have a significant impact on the operation of the sex work industry in the Territory,” he said.
“Whatever an individual’s attitude towards sex work in general, most reasonable people would not approve of sex work being performed in the house next door or on the same street as a church, primary school or day care centre,” Mr Higgins said.
“The Government has indicated that these matters will be dealt with under the Planning Act (1999) however, this is simply not good enough.”
Independent MLA Gerry Wood called again for a halt to the process and a full inquiry into laws around sex work.
He accused the Government of being “in bed” with the sex industry and individually implored female MPs to oppose the bill.
He said by the time the laws were reviewed in three years time there would be “more vulnerable young people in prostitution, and industry more entrenched”.
Mr Wood has advocated for the Nordic model, under which the purchase of sex is illegal rather than the sale.
A ‘world-leading example of regulation for the sex industry’
Despite these concerns, the bill had the backing of the industry representing sex workers — as well as the in-principle support of Law Society NT, the NT Women’s Legal Service, NT AIDS and Hepatitis Council and the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Commission.
Prior to it being debated in NT Parliament, the NT Government received 46 submissions about the bill — 27 supporting the decriminalising sex work in the Northern Territory and 19 against.
In her submission, Scarlet Alliance chief executive Jules Kim said sex workers in the NT had “long being campaigning for the full decriminalisation of sex work”.
“The passing of this bill will provide an unparalleled opportunity to capitalise on prior experience in other states and research to inform a world-leading example of regulation for the sex industry and effective, practical and accessible protections for sex workers,” Ms Kim said.
Another submission, from a sex worker named Astrid Leigh, said decriminalising the industry would make work safer for workers.
“Decriminalisation of the sex industry is the only model that gives sex workers access to justice and work health safety mechanisms,” Ms Leigh wrote.
“My experience of working in NT is that I felt that, had a crime been committed against me, I would not have felt safe to report it to the police.
“When I was the victim of a crime as a sex worker in NSW I was able to report it under the decriminalisation model.
“The perpetrator would have gone unreported if he’d been in NT, and would be free to continue to commit crimes against women.”
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