The Australian Sex Party has called the WA Prostitution Bill a ‘dangerous step backwards’ in health promotion. The 2011 Bill, introduced into WA Parliament by Attorney General Christian Porter last week, was developed without proper consultation with sex workers or sex worker organisations, and acts in direct opposition to the health safety, and best interests of sex workers.
Sex Party Candidate Zahra Stardust says “This Bill will severely increase sex workers’ likelihood of harassment, vilification and imprisonment and decrease their access to health and support services”.
The Bill bans sex work in residential or suburban areas and prohibits escort agencies, forcing sex workers into brothels. The Bill then requires sex workers to disclose their legal names in the workplace, meaning that sex workers are singled out for surveillance, restricting their opportunities for employment and further education and introducing bias in custody cases. The WA Bill criminalises the clients of sex workers, despite international evidence that this has severe consequences on the safety of sex workers themselves. The Bill criminalises all street-based sex workers, despite no evidence that they cause adverse societal impact.
The Bill increases police power, despite the finding of the Woods Royal Commission that systemic corruption and misuse of personal information is rife when police act as sex industry regulators. Ms Stardust says, ‘Police powers to issue move-on notices, stop, detain and search anyone on suspicion that they have breached the law, and to order invasive cavity searches of sex workers, mean that sex workers will be unlikely to seek police assistance in the event of a crime.’
She continues, ‘The Bill will be disastrous for sex workers’ occupational health and safety and industrial rights, as an unlicensed sex worker under the Bill is expressly excluded from accessing Workers’ Compensation. The Bill also prohibits advertising for any staff relating to sex work services, preventing sex workers from advertising for drivers, receptionists or security. This will clearly present obstacles to sex workers’ health, safety and access to support.’
Further, the Bill criminalises all migrant sex workers, providing that a licence can only be issued to an Australian citizen or permanent resident. This means that sex workers on student or temporary visas are immediately rendered illegal, subject to heavy penalties, experience reduced access to health services, are denied access to peer education programs and are increasingly marginalised. The Bill introduces heavy penalties (up to 3 years imprisonment) and fines (up to $50,000) for non-compliance.
Low rates of STIs and HIV among sex workers illustrate that sex workers are highly aware of safer sex practices and are skilled at negotiating and managing risks. The recent Law and Sexual Health (LASH) study in Western Australia by the Kirby Institute states that ‘health promotion for the sex industry is much easier when the target group is not covert and is working without the daily fear of a criminal prosecution.’ Similarly, the World Health Organisation acknowledges that ‘Legislation criminalising prostitution-related activities has frequently been identified as a barrier to the promotion of safer sex practices.’
Ms Stardust says, ‘The Bill is contrary to Australia’s whole-of-government approach to Social Inclusion, Australia’s National Strategies on HIV and STIs, and United Nations best-practice. Instead, the Bill imposes heavy penalties, imprisonment, and rights violations upon sex workers, and is a dangerous step backwards in health promotion. The overall effect of the Bill is to reduce sex workers’ autonomy, rights, health and safety in the workplace.’
The Sex Party Convenor in Western Australia, Bret Treasure, describes the proposed legislation as The Banishment.
“Sure. Let’s send all the sex workers to Welshpool. Where no-one will hear the screams.
Is the Government so completely out of touch with reality that it imagines sex work will cease? The new legislation means self-employed sex workers (the majority) will not be able to report anything to the police for fear of being charged with prostitution. Where will they get protection? It’s a rolled-gold invitation for pimps and organised crime, orchestrated by the West Australian Government.
The Liberal Government will be shocked to learn that prohibition does not work. Why? Because the profession fulfils a social need and has for thousands of years. The Attorney General says ‘sex work is an undesirable activity’. Undesirable for whom? The idea that it is okay to have sex but not charge money for it recalls ancient Christian attitudes towards money lending. Decisions about prostitution should be based on contemporary social research, not on a 2,000 year old moral code”.
Liberal MPs are being allowed a conscience vote on the issue and the Australian Sex Party urges Western Australians to write to their Liberal MPs, asking them to show some common sense and vote against the Bill.