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Bill decriminalising sex work to be tabled in Victorian parliament by year’s end

3 Nov 2021 20:11:42
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Minister says law would give sex workers same rights as ‘any other worker’ and bring Victoria state in line with NSW (New South Wales state in Australia) and NT (Nothern Territory state in Australia).

Legislation to decriminalise sex work and provide sex workers with standard workplace rights and protections will be introduced to the Victorian parliament by the end of the year.

The consumer affairs minister, Melissa Horne, said the state government had accepted a recommendation made by the Reason Party MP Fiona Patten, who was commissioned by the Andrews government in 2019 to conduct a review into sex work.

That review was handed to government last month.

Horne said the reform would bring Victoria into line with New South Wales, which decriminalised sex work in 1995, and the Northern Territory, and would make sex work safer.

Melissa Horne

“This is a really important reform that will bring into line the same rights and protection for sex workers as exist for any other worker in the state,” she said.

Dylan O’Hara, a spokesperson from the Vixen Collective, said it was a “huge day for Victorian sex workers”.

“Under the current laws, we are forced to make choices about how we work, where we work, with whom we work, in ways that impact our access to workplace rights, to safety, and access to justice as well,” O’Hara said.

“Decriminalising and recognising sex work as work empowers sex workers to work in a way that best supports our health and safety.”

O’Hara said advocates would work with the Victorian government to ensure it introduces “decriminalisation laws that don’t leave any sex workers behind”.

Horne said legislation would be introduced in state parliament “towards the end of this year”.

The Sex Work Act, which was introduced in 1994, will be abolished, and be replaced by the same business regulatory procedures that operate in NSW.

That means there will be no criminal offences or penalties for consensual sex work. The proposed reform also involves repealing public health offences that target sex workers.

“We will have a two-stage approach, firstly looking at the decriminalisation of sex work then moving through the planning provisions, local government regulations, and also skilling up organisations such as WorkSafe to make sure that sex workers have the same rights and protections as any other worker in the state,” Horne said.

Ingrid Stitt, the minister for workplace safety, said the reform was “about making sex work safe work”.

“We know that under the current system far too many sex workers are falling though the cracks and not being afforded the protections that they deserve,” Stitt said. “Through decriminalisation we will be able to ensure that the stigma is taken away from this work and that the discrimination ends.”

Fiona Patten

Patten, who has been lobbying for sex work to be decriminalised since before she joined parliament, said it was a “red letter day for the red light industry”.

“The government’s announcement [that] it will implement my recommendation to decriminalise sex work as legitimate employment will protect these workers and reduce the stigma and discrimination they have for so long endured,” she said.

“This is a case of making the world better by removing a discriminatory law, not imposing a new law. It simply extends to all sex workers the occupational health and safety, welfare and taxation coverage of any other employee.”

Cover photo: Josh Jerga/AAP

First published on theguardian.com on 13 August 2021

By Calla Wahlquist