DECRIMINALISATION OF SEX WORK: Hon T Franks


The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (22:37): I would like to thank all honourable members who have made a contribution to this debate and to echo the words of the various reflections that we come to this place as representatives and to do the best job that we can on behalf of our constituents. That does not mean that we all hold the same opinions, of course; in fact, that is the very nature of a democratic place such as this council. But the reason we are here is to make decisions on behalf of our constituents. The decisions we make do affect and impact on the lives of many people.

I want to acknowledge that in the gallery tonight there have been supporters of the decriminalisation of sex work—sex workers themselves, who are often silenced in this debate. I want to start by addressing the media reports and the press conference that was held on Monday on the Parliament House steps purporting to be representatives of sex workers who opposed the decriminalisation of sex work. I note that the Hon. Clare Scriven had somebody from the HOPE Collective in Queensland, but she also had somebody who was described in the article in The Advertiser as a sex work researcher, Dr Helen Pringle from the University of New South Wales. Dr Helen Pringle was quoted in TheAdvertiser as stating that decriminalisation had:

…been proved to be an absolute failure in New Zealand and New South Wales.

She was further quoted as saying:

It has done nothing to improve the situations for women and has resulted in huge increases in prostitution and the related issues of women and girls being trapped in exploitation.

Dr Helen Pringle's comments on the public record have prompted correspondence to her. I have a copy of that and I am happy to circulate that to members via an email at a later date. That correspondence is authored by Basil Donovan MD FAHMS, who is the Professor and Program Head of the Sexual Health Program at the Kirby Institute for infection and immunity in society at the University of New South Wales. That correspondence is dated today, at 4.03pm:

Dear Dr Pringle

I write in reference to your comments in the Adelaide Advertiser this week, made in your capacity as a sex work researcher from the University of New South Wales, Sydney (UNSW), and would particularly like to draw your attention to the following quote—

That is the quote to which I have just drawn the attention of members of this council. It goes on to state:

As an academic and Head of the Sexual Health Program at the Kirby Institute, UNSW and someone who in my professional capacity as a sexual health physician worked to provide health services for sex workers in Sydney for 15 years prior to decriminalisation of sex work in 1995, I find your comments disappointing at best. What concerns me, in particular, is the 'absolute failure' remark which is not grounded in an evidence-base and is counter to the empirical research findings of most of your UNSW colleagues, often dating back decades. Whilst you are entitled to have a personal moral stance in this regard, what amounts to a propagation of misinformation brings both your discipline and UNSW into disrepute.

I have already received several complaints about your remarks from the public, sex worker organisations and individual sex workers alike. They were quite incredulous because such a statement not only reflects poorly on yourself but all of UNSW and its associated research. If you have any peer-reviewed empirical data (not anecdotes or opinion) to support your argument, I would appreciate it if you shared them with me.

In the meantime, I have taken the liberty of attaching a few academic publications and reports from peer-reviewed academic journals based on empirical data that counter your contentions. I would hope that after familiarising yourself with these and the body of research published in this area, that you would see fit to consider a public retraction of your comments. Additionally, having personally witnessed the brutality and widespread police corruption over the years around sex work and sex workers, I utterly repudiate your assertion about the failure of decriminalisation in New Zealand and NSW, and would suggest that anyone who advocates a return to those very dark days should be questioned about their motives.

I have copied in the Acting Head of the School of Social Sciences and the Director of the Kirby Institute, to draw their attention to this serious public health matter.

Sincerely

Basil Donovan

I draw members' attention to that because not everything you read in the newspapers is true. Certainly, we look forward to the evidence being provided for Dr Pringle's remarks or, failing that, the call for her to publicly retract those remarks. I will share that email and those documents with members of this parliament.

I note that, in this debate, there was much talk of trafficking, so I will go to that first. The Hon. Tung Ngo may have been well-meaning when he raised the issues of trafficking, but his words that those who have brought this legislation to this place do not care less and do not support trafficked women and girls could not be further from the truth. I ask him to reflect upon those particular words.

I also note that just this week in Mexico City they are moving to the decriminalisation of sex work, specifically to counter trafficking. When we talk about trafficking in Australia, there has been a lot of contention that sex work 'tops the list', I think the Hon. Rob Lucas stated, in regard to trafficking. The figures do not bear that out. The government's own—as in the commonwealth—and the AFP figures, in fact show us the complete opposite.

In 2015-16, 130 of the 169 human trafficking referrals received by the Australian Federal Police related to forms of exploitation not involving the sex industry. Of the 80 clients on the support program, in 2015-16, 65 of those 80 were experiencing exploitation other than in the sex industry. So, 15 of the 80, yes; 65 of the 80 were not. That is not top of the list in terms of trafficking. I will in a moment seek leave to table Trafficking in Persons, the Australian government response document of 2015-16, the eighth report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Human Trafficking and Slavery, and draw members attention to this, because this is in fact the source document one should be using when we discuss trafficking in this place. I seek leave to table that document.

Leave granted.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: In terms of trafficking, those organisations that do address trafficking should have their voice heard in this debate now, and I further draw members' attention to the statement of the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women. It is a statement of 2013, which defended against the attacks on UN research calling for the decriminalisation of sex work, and that October 2013 statement states:

US-based NGO Equality Now has launched a campaign against some UN research into HIV, human rights, and sex work, which concluded that States should decriminalise sex work. GAATW-IS [the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women] regrets that it is necessary to make clear that not all anti-trafficking organisations support the claim made by Equality Now that decriminalising prostitution will increase human trafficking. On the contrary, GAATW's years of experience working on trafficking in persons, all over the world, has led us to the opposite conclusion. GAATW-IS advocates for the decriminalisation of sex work, for labour rights for sex workers, and the conceptual de-linking of sex work and trafficking in persons (for example here). We have documented the harmful effects of anti-trafficking measures on specific groups of people, such as the sex workers who are affected by raids on brothels carried out ostensibly to find people who have been trafficked, a finding echoed in the Sex Work and the Law report. Such a bias in approach also often overlooks other forms of labour trafficking.

The reports that have also triggered this call to mobilise against the UN are the Global Commission on HIV and the Law's 2012 Report, HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health, published by UNDP, and Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific, also published in 2012 by UNDP, UNFPA, and UNAIDS. GAATW-IS thank these agencies for their work on these reports—for their focus on the health and rights of, and for their collaborative approach with, sex workers. Recognising sex workers as partners in the work on HIV and human rights is an important step to ending the epidemic. It is a good practice that should be repeated in all other research on issues that affect them. We also welcome UN women's recently shared position statement on sex work…

We were told at the beginning of this debate that this was the pimps' bill, the decriminalisation of pimping. In fact, those of us who support this bill were accused of promoting pimping.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: On a point of order: the Hon. Ms Franks is impugning things to have been said that were not said at all, and I ask her to withdraw.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Could the Hon. Clare Scriven please make clear that this is not a pimp support bill, then, and that those proponents of this bill do not support pimping and then I will withdraw, but my understanding of her words were that proponents and supporters of this bill were supporting pimping. That is what was said when she made her opening statement.

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN: I believe Hansard will record that it was the 'pimps' protection bill' and I would point out that, in any case, if this is simply a job like any other, a pimp is simply a manager in the words of those who want to support this bill so there would be no offence in any case.

The PRESIDENT: Yes, the Hon. Ms Franks, it is only on what the member has said, so I ask you to restrain any imputation.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: What imputation, Mr President? Could you please explain?

The PRESIDENT: The imputation that a member had argued the bill was referring to pimping. I did not hear certain aspects of pimping, and I have listened to most of the debate. I do not wish to draw on the debate. I am just asking—

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: The member claimed that the bill supported pimping—

The PRESIDENT: —you to restrain yourself.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: —and I am just repeating what the member claimed.

The PRESIDENT: Please go on, the Hon. Ms Franks.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: This bill does not support pimping. Indeed, decriminalisation is not the model supported by those who support pimping. Decriminalisation is of course supported by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, as you full well know. Amnesty International does not support pimping. Human Rights Watch supports decriminalisation. Human Rights Watch does not support pimping.

The World Health Organization supports decriminalisation. The World Health Organization does not support pimping. Zonta International, Soroptimist International, Scarlet Alliance, Sex Industry Network, the Women Lawyers Association of South Australia, the Law Society of South Australia, as much as they may be impugned, I am sure do not support pimping.

The Women's Legal Service of South Australia supports decriminalisation and I am sure does not support pimping. The Working Women's Centre, SA Unions, the Australian Services Union and, interstate, United Voice, who are, in fact, the union in New South Wales for sex workers, do not support pimping. Decriminalisation is not deregulation and it is certainly not a support for pimping. It is a support for sex workers. It is a recognition—

The Hon. C.M. Scriven: So how would pimping be prevented? Not at all.

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Ms Scriven, either raise a point of order or allow the member to sum up the debate.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: The Hon. Michelle Lensink outlined very well the responses to some of the concerns, but I will acknowledge some of the concerns raised today, and I thank members who did raise legitimate concerns. Again, the Hon. Tung Ngo, I do commend you for your candour, that you do not want street work on Hanson Road. I do not mean that in any amusing way. I am as concerned as any member of this place or the other one that we reduce street workers in this state. Street workers are the most vulnerable and marginalised in this industry, and in New Zealand, it was shown that when you brought in decriminalisation, the number of street workers decreased.

In fact, when I visited the New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective, as I know other members have such as the Hon. Steph Key, who previously brought this bill to this parliament, those workers were offered far more than condoms and coffee. There are extensive resources there to support them. They have been successful in ensuring workplace rights, in ensuring police protection and, indeed, stopping harassment, intimidation and bullying, and certainly not standing up for the pimps.

The New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective were, in fact, recognised with Dame Catherine Healy receiving Queen's Birthday Honours, making her a Dame for her services to decrim. A similar honour has been awarded to Julie Bates AO in New South Wales, for her services to decriminalisation. While the Hon. Frank Pangallo states he has not met a happy hooker, indeed, he was offered the opportunity to meet with Julie Bates AO several times. I am sure she would welcome the chance to provide a discussion with a happy hooker who has been doing sex work for many decades, currently now works in the aged-care industry in New South Wales and indeed possibly belies the many stereotypes portrayed.

Getting back to Hanson Road, I will now share with members a discussion I had earlier on this evening that is relevant to police powers in terms of their requirements that they request to keep street solicitation powers. The police currently have powers at their disposal that are not specific to sex work but that could address situations such as those the Hon. Tung Ngo has outlined that he wishes to see addressed on Hanson Road. We already have declared public precincts legislation, passed in the last few years in this place.

Such a precinct—and it is certainly on the SAPOL website for all to see—can be a declared public precinct, which is a strictly defined area that has been proclaimed to give certain powers to police to maintain public safety and order in that area. Currently, according to the website, City West is a declared public precinct. 'What does this mean?' the handy info from SAPOL goes on to ask. It continues:

To maintain public safety and order, SA Police are able to do the following in the Declared Public Precinct:

conduct a metal detector search of a person and any property in their possession for the presence of weapons

carry out general drug detection in relation to any person within the precinct

order a person/group posing a risk to public safety and order to leave the declared public precinct

ban a person who commits an offence of a kind that may pose a risk to public safety and order, or behaves in an offensive or disorderly manner within the precinct (for up to 24 hours)

remove children from the declared public precinct who are in danger of physical harm or abuse, behaving in an offensive or disorderly manner, or otherwise committing or about to commit an offence.

These powers give police the ability to issues expiation notices for offences within the geographic area or to issue barring orders covering the precinct. These are similar to, but in addition to, licensed premises barring orders.

Indeed, the maximum penalties involved are some $2,500. They certainly cut in at a lower level, and the highest are for those who are carrying weapons within that declared public precinct in terms of penalties.

These changes were made to the Summary Offences Act 1953, and they were enacted to maintain public safety and order in a defined area for which there is a reasonable likelihood of conduct in the area posing a risk to public safety and order and where the area is reasonable having regard to the identified risk. Indeed, the police and the current government already have the powers that the Hon. Tung Ngo seeks.

I ask members to consider that because these are not particular powers in relation to sex work. That is the point of this bill: the decriminalisation of sex work removes the criminal penalties around being or having been a sex worker. It is not deregulation. In fact, the Hon. Rob Lucas, who asked us to remove our scarlet-coloured glasses and then went on to outline just one of the many questions he will have in the committee stage with respect to the return to work and safe work provisions of this bill, went on to prove just how highly regulated industry is in this state.

There will be many debates, no doubt, about PCBUs, workplace injuries and STIs, and that was just one slice of the enormous amount of regulation that applies in every part of industry and will apply to the sex work industry. We have evidence there, and we have the examples of New South Wales. That is not to say that we will not have to create new codes of practice, that we will not have to create new standards.

In fact, work health and safety in this industry in New South Wales certainly is made to fit that industry, and there will be particular aspects to the industry, no doubt, that will require particular codes of practice, regulations, rules and policies and procedures, but they are not to criminalise sex work. They are to regulate sex work, to manage it so that we do not have public nuisance and so that we do have amenity and we do have a community that is more harmonious but that is indeed recognising that it has moved on and does not see sex work as a crime any longer.

The spent convictions were mentioned again by the Hon. Rob Lucas, as were the EO provisions. In answer to the Hon. Clare Scriven's question of what does this bill do in any way to help people exit the industry, I point her to those two provisions. They are there to help people exit the industry, to remove the criminality that clouds their lives, that pops up when they want to work at their child's canteen and they have to do a child screening check. It means that it sits on their records when they apply for other jobs. In fact, when they go through the general dealings with bureaucracy from day to day, these criminal convictions continue to follow them.

I do find it quite offensive in some ways that there is a supposition that people who have worked in the sex industry with adult consensual sex will somehow be a danger to children or should not be able to be employed in other industries. We have an example where we used to have a criminal offence associated with homosexual sex. Once upon a time, that was also equated with being a danger to children, and it was a conviction that followed those adults who had had consensual sex often through their entire lives.

In fact, it has only been in recent years that we have seen those convictions spent, even though in South Australia we led the way with decriminalisation of homosexual acts. That is an example that I think is relevant in this case. Community conversations and attitudes have changed. Should somebody who had been involved in the sex industry be clouded by their convictions for the rest of their lives? Personally, I do not believe that is the case. I think they should be able to exit the industry or, indeed, live their lives free of those convictions clouding them for the rest of their lives.

On that note, there was also some talk of equal opportunity provisions and schools not being able to discriminate against people who have worked in the sex industry and who have a related conviction. I note that religious schools already have the ability to discriminate under the EO Act. I am not quite sure where the Hon. Rob Lucas was going with that particular train of thought, though I do look forward to the committee stage where we explore that part more fully.

Advertising certainly is a concern. Outdoor advertising is regulated, but perhaps we need to take a look at that as an issue. I do not think that any members of this council would wish to see the sort of advertising that was proposed by the Hon. Rob Lucas or outlined by the Hon. Dennis Hood. That is a discussion to be had, and certainly a conversation I hope we will have to come to some consensus.

I want to talk about convictions within this industry and the reality of the situation currently facing those in the industry in South Australia. We have a criminalised industry. Previously, it was not heavily policed. That has all changed since this bill in its previous incarnation passed this place. Indeed, I draw members' attention to the statistics of sex work charges that were laid by SAPOL in the 2017-18 financial year.

The Hon. Connie Bonaros made some reference to a version of these statistics that was highlighted in The Advertiser. There has been a significant increase in the policing of sex work in this state. It happened around the time that the select committee reported and to the point where the bill previously passed this place and, indeed, to the current day.

In 2016, there were three charges of asking a child to provide commercial sexual services. Quite rightly so, that will not change under the new bill. There were two charges of engaging in procurement for prostitution. There were two charges of keeping a brothel. There was one charge of loitering for the purpose of prostitution. Sorry, the Hon. Tung Ngo, but Hanson Road was clearly not a policing priority in 2016. There was one charge of receiving money paid in a brothel in 2016 and there were two charges of using undue influence to gain commercial sexual services, something that I imagine would continue to be criminalised. That is in 2016, a total of 11 charges.

In 2017-18, we have a total of 211 charges. Those charges are: for keeping a brothel, from two in 2016 to 98 the following year; receiving money in a pay brothel, from one the previous year to 74 in that last year; being on premises frequented by prostitutes—which we are currently doing, I will just remind all members of the council—24 charges where there had been zero the previous year; and money laundering, 11, where there had been none the previous year.

On that note, money laundering has now seemingly become the charge of choice for SAPOL, seeming to purport that there is somehow this insidiousness going on that is not just sex work. However, when you read the sentencing comments that the judges have made in those cases, it is often migrant workers sending money home to their children—not always but more often than not. So money laundering is perhaps something that we need to look at in the spent convictions provisions of this bill should the police continue this behaviour. There are then four unknown charges of that 211. That is a document I had prepared by the parliamentary library, and I will also share that information with members.

What I will say—and the Hon. Michelle Lensink well knows this—is that the police in their representations to the select committee at times variously said that they did not heavily police this industry. Recently, Acting Commissioner Linda Fellows was on ABC radio saying that the policing priorities of South Australia Police were trafficking, illicit drugs and minors. I will just remind you that none of those 211 charges were trafficking, illicit drugs or minors in the last year. So I wonder where the real policing priorities lie, when just last Friday three brothels were raided.

Brothels in this state, by the way, can be a single room or a hotel room or a person's house. It is certainly not, as I think somebody mentioned before, the Dolly Parton establishment. There were three raids on Friday while sex workers were protesting on the steps. A worker has brought her concerns to my office and the office of other members of parliament in the last few months that she has been harassed and stalked, that she believes police have acted illegally in terms of harassing street workers, and that she has cause to believe that they are acting undercover in a way that is possibly unlawful. She had five officers on her doorstep this week and she is now too frightened to keep speaking up. The Women's Legal Service and the Women Lawyers Association of SA are willing to talk to members of parliament, if they are interested in these cases, because this is actually what is currently going on in South Australia.

What I will finally say is that, when SAPOL did not get their way and found that a decrim bill for sex work had passed the upper house, they actually raided brothels and used uncorrected, off the record Hansard from this parliament, from select committee proceedings, as evidence against those workers in those brothels, contrary to the parliament's processes, contrary to good policing process and certainly against anything that they say are their current priorities of trafficking, illicit drugs and minors.

So if we are really serious about trafficking and we do want to differentiate between sex work and trafficking, let's decriminalise so that the police can get on and actually look only at trafficking, rather than muddying the waters and treating people who are adults, who are consenting, in this industry as criminals, as collateral damage, while we continue to dither.

The Hon. Rob Lucas hopes that this is possibly the last time we will debate this issue in this place. I note that the first time this parliament debated this issue I had just left high school. I grew up in New South Wales, where street work has been decriminalised, and I used to play sport in Kings Cross on a Saturday morning, so I have grown up with street work. It has been decriminalised in that state since I was at primary school. I hope that now that I am in my 50s I will not be here as long as the Hon. Rob Lucas trying to make this legislation happen. It will not go away because decriminalisation is supported and promoted, not by the pimps but by those who believe in workers' rights, human rights and women's rights and we are not going away.

I will provide further information, particularly on the council matters, street work advertising and the other issues raised tonight in a way that I hope to continue to have these conversations, not just in this council but also offline. I look forward to the SAPOL briefing. I will certainly be raising my concerns in that briefing and at future opportunities. With those words, at this late hour, I commend the bill to the council.