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Prostitution Amendment Bill

WA takes a new look at the world’s oldest profession.

WA Attorney General Jim McGinty established a Prostitution Law Amendment Working Committee in September of last year to examine the state of Prostitution Law in WA. The group was chaired by Sue Ellery, MLC and included John Hyde MLA, Giz Watson MLC, Lisa Bastian (Manager, Sexual Health & Blood-borne Virus Program, Department of Health), Kim Porter (Detective Superintendent, Organised Crime Division, Western Australian Police), Caroline Wright (Principal Policy Officer, Office of the Attorney General).

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The Committee released a report in January 2007, which recommended that the Prostitution Act 2000 (WA) be amended and WA adopt a minimalist legal model for sex work, similar to New Zealand’s. The proposed model would legalise brothels and require operators and managers of sexual services businesses to certify and display their certification on the premises. Currently, in WA it is not a crime for an individual to sell their sexual services, but brothels are ‘technically’ illegal, though the police have historically had an unofficial policy of ‘containment’ towards existing brothels.

Giz Watson MLC said of the proposed amendment, ‘The objective of the changes is to ensure better health and safety outcomes for sex workers, to ensure there aren’t opportunities for police corruption and to provide a fair system of licensing and regulations that will mean people who run brothels are now within a licensing system.’

The proposed laws have met with opposition from conservative and religious groups. The Australian Christian Lobby has campaigned against the legislation, bringing over Swedish activist Gunilla Ekberg to speak out against the amendment as leading to greater drug use and exploitation of women.

Janelle Fawkes, CEO of the Scarlet Alliance, the Australian sex workers’ association, has expressed her support for the bill, telling OUTinPerth, ‘The bill will go a good way towards recognising sex workers as workers who deserve the same rights as others. The approach makes sense when you consider sex work per se is not illegal and sex workers currently are paying taxes and contributing to the economy like other workers… Currently, it is unclear what rights sex workers have in relation to Occupational Health and Safety in the work place.’

Ms Fawkes said the bill would have implications for LGBTI sex workers as well.

‘The legislation is gender neutral and that in itself goes some way towards officially recognising the gender diversity within the sex industry… As male and transgender sex workers tend to work in the private sector of the industry in WA, there will be improvements in the ability to share costs and benefits by working in pairs if desired. Also, this model is not like some others that disadvantage co-op styles of working and give greater power to larger brothels. This bill provides the opportunity for a small cottage industry approach to work effectively and there are benefits for gay/lesbian and transgender workers in this model.’

Giz Watson also expressed her hope the bill would improve the situation for LGBTI sex workers, ‘I’m sure there are gay, lesbian and transgender people who work in the sector. I would hope the bill provides them greater safety, not just physical safety, but access to all the rights and entitlements anyone else in the work force has, in terms of worker’s compensation, insurance and regulation of the work place.’

The bill is currently being debated in the State Parliament.

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