By ADAM LANGENBERG
STATE Parliament could vote on decriminalising sex work within months after an Upper House committee recommended South Australia become the second state to do so.
Liberal MLC Michelle Lensink said she hoped Upper House MPs would vote on the contentious issue before Parliament’s winter break in August. The seven-member committee received 87 written submissions and went on interstate brothel tours after it was formed in 2015.
Ms Lensink, who raised the Bill in 2015, said she didn’t believe “there was a need to delay” debating the legislation after the majority of the committee agreed it should be passed with no amendments.
“It would be good to vote on this before the winter recess in August,” she said. “MPs should have a good grasp of it (decriminalisation) just by reading the report and hopefully be in the position to vote on it shortly”.
Opinions among the committee were split, with Labor’s Tung Ngo, Liberal Andrew McLachlan and Rob Brokenshire from the newly formed Australian Conservatives all disagreeing with the report’s recommendation. In a joint statement, Mr McLachlan and Mr Brokenshire acknowledged current laws were outdated, but said the evidence “did not successfully make the case for decriminalisation”.
They agreed with the Australian Catholic Lobby that the Nordic model – where criminal charges apply to someone who pays money for sexual services, but not the sex worker themselves – was the best solution.
The Lower House most recently rejected Ashford MP Steph Key’s Bill to decriminalise sex work in 2013, but Ms Lensink said her Bill was spurred on by a lack of debate on the issue in the Upper House. Ms Lensink’s Bill would decriminalise sex work by amending five separate pieces of legislation, allowing the profession to be regulated as are other professions.
All MPs would be able to vote according to their conscience on the legislation, with Ms Lensink saying it was “too early” to gauge the prospects of it passing the Upper House. Unions SA and sex workers have advocated for decriminalisation so sex workers can stand up for their rights and negotiate better work conditions. The Law Society also supports legalisation.
SA is one of just three states where all sex work remains criminalised, alongside Tasmania and Western Australia. Legalising at least some forms of sex work has been adopted in Queensland, Victoria, the ACT and the NT,
while NSW has decriminalised all forms of sex work. Mr Brokenshire said the focus should be on discouraging people from becoming a sex worker or paying for sex rather than promoting it as a career.