Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (11:48): I rise to speak on the Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill 2021, and at the outset I will say that Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party will be supporting this bill. I
look forward to making a respectful contribution to this debate given the stigma attached to sex work, but I suppose my contribution might be a little bit different in that I want to acknowledge the inherent vulnerabilities associated with sex work. It is only fair to the victims of crime who have been sex workers that we recognise this. I would like to state that given decriminalising sex-based street work will make this group of vulner
able women safer we think it is a good step forward, but I will discuss further our position on brothel workers and the missed opportunity this bill has faced.
However, the way this bill has been put together is, quite frankly, unprecedented. On such an important issue it is imperative that we get this right, and on so many levels this consultation has let some people down. Two weeks at the end of August was the consultation period. Interestingly, the bill was presented to Parliament just six weeks later. The government apparently conducted the consultation and then considered the 900-plus submissions and introduced a bill six weeks later. Now, I could be cynical, but I could bet that this bill was partially, if not completely, drafted before the August consultation period. It went ahead anyway to give the impression that the government consulted everyone. This is because many stakeholders were excluded from the Patten review months and months earlier, brothel owners and women’s advocacy groups among them. Well, the victims of crime commissioner was not fooled. She issued a statement when the bill was released. In it she noted that the government was implementing the review’s recommendations but would not publicly release the
Patten review itself. She stated:
… I want to express my dissatisfaction and disappointment with the review process …
It goes on to list a number of ways the consultation was anything but satisfactory. What was most poignant about this letter were these words:
Without a transparent approach to the research and consultation, it is not clear how the Patten Review assessed the safety and wellbeing of sex workers and their risks of violence and exploitation.
The Municipal Association of Victoria had issues along similar lines, saying:
We are surprised and deeply disappointed in the limited amount of time Victoria’s 79 councils and the MAV have been provided with to respond to the proposed changes.
This just demonstrates the double standard that we have witnessed throughout this whole debate. Ms Patten and the sex work lobby want to recognise the sex industry as any other type of industry but will not release any details about this report. The irony here is that in the response to an FOI request for the report by another stakeholder, the government stated:
Disclosure of the document would be contrary to the public interest because they relate to matters on which government has not yet made a final decision. Such disclosure could lead to debate outside of the established decision-making processes that are in place for such matters, which would interfere with and potentially undermine the process.
What process? The process of democracy. Given the government has made a final decision on the policy, why shouldn’t it be released now if this was indeed the basis for refusal? The government has since told my office that privacy concerns are the reason for not releasing the report, because it names sex workers who were consulted. Notwithstanding that most sex workers use pseudonyms, my office communicated that we would be happy to receive a redacted version—but we have heard nothing. On asking at the crossbench bill briefing, we were told there would be a feedback report provided to MPs, and this was supposed to capture the consultation, including generally who was consulted and more importantly who was not. To date, as of today, we have not seen a feedback report. It is not surprising to see the bill being more contentious than it needed to be. The person asked to conduct the review, Ms Patten, has petitioned for the sex industry in the past and is the head of a key lobby group. In 2015 my colleague acknowledged that women with heroin addictions would not often choose to be sex workers if they thought they had an alternative but stopped short of calling it exploitative. She has lobbied for decades for the availability of liquor in brothels and a number of other things that the bill will also codify. I am trying to ensure that this does not happen again with my amendment, which will require the Victorian Law Reform Commission to conduct a review of the legislation in five years, which I shall speak about later. We do not even know if the New Zealand model or any other country’s approach has been considered. New Zealand’s law decriminalised street-based sex work offences, providing more rights for sex workers, such as work cover, removed the policing approach and replaced it with a workplace health and safety approach. Importantly, though, it still maintains a certification system
for brothels that have more than four workers, called a brothel owner certificate. This is sensible, and even if it was considered, we do not know why it was not backed through the review that we cannot see.
The victims of crime commissioner’s submission called for a fit and proper person standard as is required in other industries, on which I completely agree, and I am curious as to if this was considered or not. To make all of this just a little bit more archaic, we also do not know what regulations will be in place to promote or require safe sex practices or on advertising or any other regulation for that matter. That will apparently be sorted out later.
One of the main reasons, aside from reducing stigma, that we will support the bill is encouraging sex workers to come forward with intelligence about crime. We believe and hope that the intel given to police by sex workers would benefit hugely. By decriminalising street-based offences we also hope that relationships with police benefit. My staff have been met with a question from pro sex work lobbyists that echoes the discussion paper of why sex work should be different to any other workplace. The victims of crime commissioner puts this best, and I quote:
While this is an admirable objective, it is potentially naïve to hold other industries up as safe workplaces that can be replicated in the context of the sex work industry and its complexities of workplace safety. In my words, it is an inherently dangerous occupation for workers—maybe not all, but certainly many. We know that many violent sexual predators often exploit sex workers as a precursor to more heinous crimes. Adrian Bayley is a sick and tragic but prime example. While this all makes sense to us as a justice party, it is really the way the bill has been put together that
we find issue with. I want to reiterate something I said earlier about some people not acknowledging or recognising the inherent vulnerabilities of sex workers. To reduce stigma we need to recognise those that are sex workers. They can be someone who is a single mother, someone who has a substance abuse issue, someone who is homeless, someone who has a history of trauma and of course there are those who choose to be sex workers. This is not the entire industry. My office spoke to some incredible people speaking on behalf of the
sex work lobby, and I thank them for their time. Our party was designed to support children and the vulnerable, and whether people choose to admit it or not, sex workers are vulnerable. Studies have shown that involvement in sex work tends to be transient and opportunistic. According to the AIDS Council of New South Wales, the average period spent in the sex industry is about 2½ years. This is backed up by a Crimes and Misconduct Commission report from Queensland which found that most sex workers indicate they would like the opportunity to retrain for another career. To reinforce this, a 2015 Australian Institute of Criminology report, Migrant Sex Workers in Australia, found that half of such workers would stop sex work if they found other ways to earn money.
I would like to reiterate that you can have a respectful debate and encourage destigmatising of the industry whilst acknowledging the complex reality of sex work. A range of research pieces by Perkins, Pivot Legal Society, Sanders and Campbell, Child Wise and Lantz found that the people most likely to become sex workers were women entering sex work because of: childcare responsibilities; supplementing the family income; following relationship breakdowns finding themselves to be singleincome earners; leaving state care and needing to find an income; and increasingly university students needing to support themselves through university. The evidence is very, very mixed when it comes to drug use, but there is certainly substantial evidence
to suggest that the sex worker community have a high incidence of drug use. One of my staff visited St Kilda Gatehouse’s CEO, who provided a world of knowledge about the street-based sex work
industry. For those unaware, the Gatehouse is a safe space for women involved in street-based sex work in St Kilda. Over 98 per cent of their clients have heroin or other substance abuse issues, are homeless, experience intergenerational poverty or have other challenges. They have 350 people coming through their drop-in centre every year needing help. Now tell me how this problem does not exist? I was glad to read that Ms Patten actually visited the facility, back in December, because I know she is familiar with the vulnerability that I am referring to.
This is not to say that all sex workers are vulnerable or have dependencies. That is not what I am saying. My point here is that by acknowledging the evidence and clear reality that many sex workers actually need help with these things, like long-term employment, housing, alcohol and other drugs, mental health and other issues, you may find less dependence of such persons on sex work. Just on this, we have been informed that that there are no longer any outreach programs for sex workers in Victoria. So despite the government’s and Ms Patten’s intention to provide a safer place for sex workers, for those who want to leave the industry there is no outreach help available, and this is incredibly disappointing. If you speak to Victoria Police’s specialist unit, you will realise that things you did not think could happen in this state actually do: women are exploited for money; there are pimps; international students are pushed into sexual servitude to repay debts. This happens right here in this state. Here are some of the facts. One Melbourne study found that nearly all of the participants had experienced sexual assault or other violence ‘at least once’ since they started working, according to Child Wise. Of concern is that a number of studies from the 1970s until recent years have established clear links between childhood sexual abuse or other trauma and sex work. According to research, the correlation between intrafamilial childhood sexual abuse and sex work as an occupation varies between 31 and 73 per cent. One sex worker my office spoke to told of her 11 years experience as a sex worker in Queensland, New Zealand, New South Wales and Victoria. In each jurisdiction, despite their different laws, she would experience some sort of physical or sexual assault, including choking, which is one of the most common, bruises, bite marks and a range of other coercive behaviours. She said she had experienced stealthing at least 30 times. A 2015 survey undertaken by the Australian Institute of Criminology and the Scarlet Alliance that informed their migrant sex worker report found that 80 per cent of respondents
came from Chinese-speaking countries. Shockingly more than half of them had experienced domestic violence in the past, with some still seeking basic financial stability after fleeing abusive relationships.
Mr GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (12:48): Child Wise research with young people in sex work in Melbourne found that 16 out of 30 participants had been in the state care system, while 13 had left
home because of physical or sexual abuse or neglect. For many sex workers on visas and migrant sex workers, family violence is also a common experience. We need transition services for these women who do not want to be part of the industry anymore, and they need to be funded properly. If the sex work lobby tried to turn this into a discrimination, I would ask them to consider that whilst they may be educated, enjoy their work immeasurably and be huge advocates for sex work and its perks, there are others who are not doing this work by choice. There are others being exploited, and there are those who have left the industry after traumatic experiences. You may have read in the explainer that I sent out with my amendments that the sex work industry in
the Netherlands is moving away from the full legalisation of sex work. They have the most well known industry in this space in the world, yet they are moving away from the system which we are about to adopt. Shortly after legalising the sex industry in the early 2000s the USA’s Department of State ranked the Netherlands as one of the top five countries of origin for trafficking victims worldwide. Given this, it is not shocking to see the Netherlands moving towards requiring all sex workers and sex work businesses to have a permit as well as raising the age of legal prostitution to 21. They say:
A national register of sex business with a permit will be set up. There will also be a register of prostitution permits.
They say that this is due to the growth of the industry and the fact that it is ‘unchecked’. Basically this means that with the passing of this bill without amendments we will have an unchecked industry with virtually no oversight. As other evidence shows, we will also continue to have a two-tier system like they still have in the Netherlands, where certain businesses avoid all planning processes and local compliance despite the bill seeking to move away from this two-tier system. Victoria Police, Professor Peter Miller, the Uniting Church, Project Respect, the Coalition Against
Trafficking in Women Australia (CATWA) and a whole range of other bodies are not happy with the supply of liquor in brothels. I have to say that I was a bit perplexed as to why we need to supply a substance that blurs the lines of consent into places where sexual services are offered. A review of literature on alcohol use among female sex workers and their male clients published in 2010 reviewed 70 articles covering 76 studies. The review found that alcohol use by female sex workers and their male clients was associated with adverse physical health, illicit drug use, mental health problems, victimisation and sexual violence. A study from the Netherlands found that sex workers working in contexts where alcohol was sold drank more than other sex workers and that clients’ use of alcohol increased aggression towards sex workers. Further, there are concerns among several groups that some brothel owners may adopt a practice of having their employees promote the sale of alcoholic beverages to their clients to drive up the profits of the alcohol side of the business. I really hope that this is not the case. Interestingly the discussion paper for the bill points to how the industry might benefit from liquor licensing but does not talk about the benefits for the workers themselves. This is disappointing.
I will speak further about my amendments in the committee of the whole, but I would like to have these circulated now if I can.
Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party amendments circulated by Mr GRIMLEY pursuant to standing orders.
Mr GRIMLEY: In short these amendments will seek to, firstly, transfer the minister’s delegate review to the Victorian Law Reform Commission, secondly, introduce an offence for prohibited
persons owning or running a brothel and, thirdly, introduce a brothel owners certificate. In summary, despite all of this talk of sex work reform and reducing stigma around the occupation, it
seems to have been lost on the policymakers that there are many sex workers who want to leave the industry. The government needs to provide a commitment that programs assisting with the transition from the industry will be available to all sex workers, whether citizens or those on visas. I would like to thank the number of people my office has met with in preparation for this bill, as we have not found it easy to assess and form an opinion on it in the absence of the review on which the bill is based. There are good bits in the bill, but as you can tell by my contribution we do not think it is perfect. We have tried to get as many perspectives on the legislation as possible to make sure as many voices are heard as possible. I would like to thank the New South Wales police and Victoria Police members, including those from the sex industry coordination unit, who do a tremendous job in trying to keep sex workers safe; Professor Peter Miller; Uniting; CATWA; Project Respect; Sex Work Law Reform Victoria; Scarlet Alliance; Vixen Collective, especially Dylan, who my office met with a few times; Tish Sparkle; St Kilda Gatehouse; Jade, a pseudonym, a former sex worker; a number of university professors who have researched in this area; the Queensland sex industry licensing unit; the owner of Lorraine Starr and other premises where sex work occurs; and a range of others. As you can see we have not taken this bill lightly at all and have sought opinions from far and wide. The welfare and safety of sex workers should be at the forefront of this bill.
In conclusion, we will support this bill due to its decriminalisation of street-based sex work but would caution that this bill does nothing to help women transition out of sex work, nor does it have any prohibition on criminals, sex offenders or other questionable persons owning premises or managing sex workers. This is a problem that we will seek to address through the amendments later.