: The Select Committee on the Regulation of Brothels 2015

The Select Committee on the Regulation of Brothels 2015

Penny Crofts and Jason Prior
New South Wales

Just prior to the 2011 election, the NSW Coalition government stated in a press release that it would crack down on illegal brothels by ensuring all brothels were licensed and improve the co-ordination of councils’ compliance officers with authorities such as WorkCover NSW and NSW Health — ‘the best weapon for disrupting and dismantling illegal operations and forcing compliance by licensed operators.’ The primary focus of these promised reforms was crime and corruption associated with the sex industry.

Recently, the Select Committee on the Regulation of Brothels released a report recommending exactly those pre-election commitments made by the Coalition government. Although the Committee expressed strong support for the continued decriminalisation of the sex industry and rejected the Scandinavian approach (which criminalises clients rather than sex workers), the bulk of the report is dominated by a concern about crime.

The Report is heavily dependent upon the evidence of Deputy Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas and his assertions of (potential) criminal activities associated with sex work. Kaldas provided broad generalisations of fears associated with brothels that are heavily and repetitively quoted in the Report. He asserted that the industry is associated with sexual servitude (‘one woman held in sexual servitude is too many’), use of illegal workers and extortion by or involvement of organised crime and outlaw motorcycle gang groups. He was also concerned about the proliferation of massage parlours offering sexual services. His primary claim was that the industry is under-regulated and that ‘it is probably harder to get a dog and get a dog licence than it is to work in the sex industry at the moment’.

Leaving aside the absence of any concrete evidence to support any of Kaldas’ claims and also the disagreement by sex worker and health representatives and contemporary academic research, the Report makes it manifestly clear that the sex industry is regulated, just in ways that are not dominated by criminal law. Thus sex services premises must go through local council planning procedures, and are governed by a raft of existing regulations for health and work safety. In addition, the offence of operating a massage parlour and offering sexual services exists but has not been investigated or prosecuted by police.

Although the Committee notes that the recommendations in favour of licensing and increased police powers are ‘not original’, no evidence is provided as to whether and how these recommendations have actually worked. The ‘evidence’ in the Report is slippery and difficult to analyse. There is a lack of detail. For example, the category of ‘illegal’ brothel is not broken down. The Report focuses on ‘illegal’ massage parlours offering sexual services, but recognises that 40 per cent of the sex services industry is made up of home occupations — and that the law is ambiguous as to the legality of these businesses. It has long been recommended that home occupations (sex services) should be removed from the category of brothel and be allowed to operate without development consent — subject to council rules about amenity and number of workers that apply to any home occupations. This would automatically and easily resolve the bulk of the ‘illegal’ industry operating in NSW that is frequently the subject of media hype.

Three of the seven members of the Committee (Members for Sydney, Summer Hill and Gosford) disagreed with the emphasis upon crime and the disproportionate weighting of the views of Deputy Commissioner Kaldas. They asserted that ‘little concrete evidence is presented to support these claims’ and that the ‘report does not elucidate how licensing would stop an underground industry or protect sex workers’.

PENNY CROFTS is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney and JASON PRIOR is Associate Professor and Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney.

(2016) 41(1) AltLJ 66
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