DECRIMINALISATION OF SEX WORK: Hon T Ngo


The Hon. T.T. NGO (19:57): I rise to speak against this bill in its current form. It is important to note that this bill is exactly the same as the previous bill that was introduced by the Hon. Michelle Lensink back in 2015, which passed this house unamended by 13 votes to 8 in 2017. I want put on the record that I, again, do not have a moral objection to allowing consenting adults to have sex in private with the exchange of money involved. I am about having a compromise. I am about having a bad bill and finding ways to improve it. I have heard previous speakers mention that we should just let this bill through even though there are bad elements of it, and then we will work out how to improve it down the track. I think it is important we get it right from the start and then down the track we will make it better.

If the bill is passed unamended like last time, I am concerned that the rights of many South Australians are not being addressed here, as people will be seriously impacted by the unintended consequences from the passing of this bill. It seems that some honourable members only care about their moral judgements and are unwilling to address some of the genuine practical concerns with this bill. This all-or-nothing approach should not be supported.

Let me speak on some of the practical issues that I previously spoke about in this council and in the select committee of which I was a member. I will speak about these issues again because I believe they are important issues and because, as legislators, we ought to address them. I may sound like a broken record, but I do not think I am being unreasonable in asking for these changes.

In this bill, local councils are unfairly being given the responsibility of policing brothels without being given the tools and guidelines to be able to reject applications for sensitively located brothels or to enforce the closure of noncomplying brothels. My understanding is that local councils will be required to consider brothel applications just as if they were any other development application. There are no specific zoning restrictions or guidelines established in this bill. Some councils have written to me previously on these issues and have expressed concerns about how they will be able to enforce the closure of noncomplying brothels.

How does a council deal with or assess a brothel application when many members of our community may not be comfortable with a brothel operating in specific areas, particularly near schools or places of worship? What are the rights of local residents in objecting to a possible application? Can council reject a brothel application because it is too close to a school, childcare centre or place of worship, such as a mosque or Buddhist temple? For example, the Pennington primary school is next door to a Vietnamese Buddhist temple. If someone wants to operate a brothel close by, does Charles Sturt council have every right to reject their application because it does not meet the local expectation that a brothel should not be there?

Similarly so with the Marion Mosque on Marion Road—and I take this opportunity to congratulate the Muslim community and all my Muslim friends on their celebration of the end of Ramadan last night. Ramadan is one of the holiest events on the Islamic calendar, during which Muslims fast and spend extra time praying and being charitable. The Marion Mosque is on a main road, most likely zoned commercial. It is located next to a car yard or a motor mechanic workshop-type business. There is a chiropractic and massage business across the road.

What would stop someone from purchasing one of those properties close to the Marion Mosque and opening a brothel? In this case, it is likely that Marion council would have no choice but to approve the application on planning grounds. To me, council should be able to have a choice of objecting to this application. I do hope that guidelines are established for council to assist them with managing brothel businesses.

My other concern with this bill is the removal of the police's general power of entry if they suspect that there is an element of criminality in a brothel business. The police have a job to do to protect the community from harm. We must have trust in our police. They are there for that reason. I cannot believe some supporters of this bill are implying that the police cannot be trusted. They would rather believe and side with the criminals.

What about the transnational sex slave trade, which has flourished in jurisdictions where sex work has been decriminalised? State and federal policing authorities, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria, which have decriminalised and legalised sex work respectively, are reporting growth in these abhorrent activities. I note that the New South Wales parliament Select Committee on the Regulation of Brothels in New South Wales pointed out that, between July 2012 and August 2015, the Australian Federal Police received 90 referrals Australia-wide for suspected sexual slavery matters; 68 were accepted for further investigation. Of these, 56 were in relation to New South Wales and Victoria.

In South Australia, when Chief Inspector Denise Gray appeared before the select committee of which I was a member in 2016, she advised that SAPOL has intelligence, particularly from interstate, that there are instances where women from overseas are offered a new life in Australia, sometimes a certain job or education when they get here, but it does not end up occurring. The women are told that to get the job or education promised they must pay off their debt by working as prostitutes in certain places, providing certain services, but sometimes it is a never-ending debt. That was evidence given by the police, meaning that, although some women may have agreed to work in these places on the condition that they receive an education or a different job when they have paid off their debt, they are being exploited.

When Assistant Commissioner Linda Fellows gave evidence to the same select committee in 2016, she advised that roughly 180 brothels of varying size and sophistication operate in South Australia. In terms of serious organised crime involvement, there is intelligence that says, firstly, that outlaw motor cycle gangs are connected to or linked to probably between 5 and 10 per cent of those operating brothels. Those numbers may seem small, but they are still numbers.

Around 30 per cent of brothels known to SAPOL are what SAPOL would call Asian brothels, meaning brothels that have Asian workers or are operated by Asian owners. Some of those Asian brothels are of concern to SAPOL as intelligence suggests that there are women who are either here as illegal immigrants or are on temporary visas, or have been brought into the state for a short period of time and are then moved to another state.

We all know why criminals allow those women to stay for only a short period: so that women cannot establish a social network. They do not speak any English, and their passports are most likely confiscated. These are the women our local police are concerned with and want to help. Isolating these women is a method that criminals use so that it will be difficult for authorities or the community to know who the women are and what they are doing. In turn, the women cannot seek help. Assistant Commissioner Linda Fellows was clear that not all these brothels operate in this manner. I will say that again: the assistant commissioner stated clearly that not all of these brothels operate in this manner but that it is still an issue in many of them.

So why do honourable members in this house see fit to remove the police's right of entry to investigate and, in some instances, rescue young girls from exploitation and, in some cases, slavery and forced prostitution? Is it because the lives of some of these girls are not important, or because they were not born here and they do not have a vote, or because they are foreigners being moved around from one place to another and it is not an important enough issue for honourable members to change their deeply-held moral view on this issue? Basically, honourable members are disregarding all the practical concerns that are being outlined by local government, the South Australian police and the Australian Federal Police.

With the tattoo industry, many honourable members have voted to give SAPOL the right to enter tattoo parlours to investigate criminal elements that are associated with the tattoo industry. My question is: why is the tattoo industry more important and worthy of giving the police power to enter to investigate than the lives of many young foreign girls being hidden in brothels against their will? One excuse I have heard for not allowing police entry is that they will use it to harass some sex workers or brothel owners. This once again demonstrates that the honourable members supporting this bill do not have any sympathy toward these foreign women being forced into sex slavery. To me, this is pretty heartless in dealing with this issue that needs dealing with.

It seems as though those honourable members would rather protect some brothel owners and their interests instead. I would love honourable members who are in support of this bill to put on the record a response to that very question about girls and women from overseas being forced into the sex trade in Australia, and how removing police right of entry would help these women.

Another issue I would like to talk about is street prostitution, particularly sex workers on Hanson Road. For many decades now, at least 30 or 40 years, Hanson Road has become a well-known place for street prostitution. People often joke that Sydney has King's Cross and Adelaide has Hanson Road in terms of street prostitution. Many local residents and businesses have had to put up with the nuisance and the negative image of street prostitution on Hanson Road. Ask any local resident, local MP or local councillor about the main issues there, and street prostitution would be the number one issue by a mile. This is an issue that has been around consistently for decades and will not be going anywhere very soon.

The Hanson Road area is also a well-known area for its local Vietnamese-Australian community and businesses. It is also known as Little Saigon for its local Vietnamese restaurants, shops and businesses associated with the local Vietnamese community. I want to use this opportunity to ask honourable members to consider helping long-suffering local residents and businesses in eliminating street prostitution just on Hanson Road. I am seeking an amendment to maintain a ban on public soliciting on a 200-metre zone from Hanson Road for a trial of, say, four years.

I believe that many honourable members in this house do not have much association with Hanson Road and its surrounding area; therefore, it is very hard for them to understand, and they would not care less about the negative impacts of street prostitution for local residents on or near Hanson Road.

Let me make it very clear, Mr President and honourable members who are supporting street prostitution, that I am not proposing to get rid of street prostitution. I hope those honourable members can be at ease knowing that I am not out there to target street prostitution. As a matter of fact, street prostitution will flourish with the passing of this bill, but I want it to flourish somewhere else and not on Hanson Road, which is fair enough.

Can I quote from Caleb Bond, the great young local Messenger newspaper journalist; I think he was trained up by our great journalist Adam Langenberg. Caleb commented on his Twitter account recently, discussing an exclusion zone for sex workers on Hanson Road—I think he was referring to my article recently. I quote from Caleb Bond:

Everyone knows there are sex workers on Hanson Road…I’m not sure an exclusion zone would achieve anything other than to move them to another road.

That is 100 per cent correct. I never said an exclusion zone will reduce street prostitution. Yes, I do agree with Caleb. This is about moving the problem from Hanson Road to another road, but at least we fix the problem on Hanson Road which local residents have had to endure for many decades and move it to another road—in the eastern suburbs or in the city, where many honourable members live.

An honourable member: Burnside.

The Hon. T.T. NGO: Burnside, correct. Let me compare my amendments to a dry zone policy. Dry zone policies were set up to deal with drunkenness and alcohol-fuelled behaviour. InDaily online news recently did an article about the City of Adelaide council being asked to vote on a continuation of a dry zone for another two years. In the article, SA Network of Drug and Alcohol Services executive director, Michael White, told lnDaiIy that dry zones were akin to 'criminalising poverty' and had failed to reduce alcohol-fuelled antisocial behaviour in the city. Mr White also said, 'It doesn't solve the problem. It moves the problem.' He continued:

You might get a large group displacement where they move from the South Parklands to the West Parklands or the North Parklands, so it just cycles around and it's like moving the problem from my backyard to somebody else's backyard.

Local councils have the power to establish dry zones in conjunction with SA Police. I wonder how many honourable members in this place would try to stop the City of Adelaide continuing with a dry zone policy at their discretion? Many other councils also have this policy to declare a dry zone if they want to. I want to make it clear that I do not have a problem with the City of Adelaide or any other council enforcing this policy because, at the end of the day, they have to look after the interests of the local residents.

I am here to ask honourable members for a concession to at least look at a way to solve this very issue of street prostitution on Hanson Road. This is not all about me and the local Vietnamese-Australian community. The Port Adelaide Enfield and Charles Sturt councils, which represent more than 220,000 residents and have a combined budget of more than $200 million, have consistently expressed their belief that a ban on public soliciting should be maintained.

I urge honourable members to work with me on this issue, and I am confident that in a few years' time Hanson Road will not be talked about in the same way as today if a street prostitution exclusion zone is in place.