Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill 2021 – Second Reading Debate

Ms ADDISON (Wendouree) (15:47): I am very, very pleased to stand up here to talk about this important landmark legislation that we are debating today and also have the opportunity to clear up some misnomers that have been presented by the opposition. I am going to keep my comments short because I would like to give the member for Brunswick his full 10 minutes, so I will just make a few comments before ceasing.

I am really pleased to speak in support of the Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill 2021, a significant bill that will decriminalise sex work in Victoria and make sex work safe. Given calls for sex work reform across Australia and growing interest in decriminalisation, the time to act is now. I am proud to stand with MPs from my side of the house, and I thank the Minister for Women, the member for Footscray and the member for Buninyong for their excellent contributions.

I believe it is important to support this bill because it will remove offences and criminal penalties for consensual sex work and repeal public health offences. It will repeal the Sex Work Act 1994 to instead regulate sex work through existing government agencies and business regulation, and it will update and modernise planning, public health and anti-discrimination laws to support a decriminalised system.

Not only will this bill improve the safety and protection of sex workers, it will legitimise sex work and lead to a shift in community attitudes about sex work. The current system serves to entrench stigma and discrimination against sex workers. We need to put an end to this, and this bill is an important step.

Our government believes that sex work is legitimate work and that it should be regulated through standard business laws like any other industry across Victoria. It is important to note that this bill will only decriminalise sex work between consenting adults. State and federal law enforcement agencies will continue to enforce laws to protect children and workers from coercion and address other forms of non-consensual sex work.

I am very disappointed that the opposition are not supporting this important legislation. Sex work has been decriminalised in New South Wales for more than 25 years. We are 25 years behind New South Wales when it comes to this issue. This idea that this policy or this bill has been rushed is false.

I would also like to talk briefly to some aspects of the amendment that has been put forward by the opposition, because the member for South-West Coast seems to have a lack of understanding of what this bill seeks to achieve. With regard to Ms Patten’s 2019 review findings, let me be really clear. The recommendations are confidential. This is because the terms of reference for the review required the recommendations to remain confidential. The member for Lowan has claimed that the member for Footscray has seen the review. This is not correct. She has not seen this. I have not seen this. No-one has seen this. That is not true, because it is confidential.

Ms Kealy: On a point of order, Deputy Speaker, I ask the member to withdraw. I find the comment she made offensive. She said that I have misled the house, and I have not done so.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I ask the member for Wendouree to withdraw.

Ms ADDISON: I will withdraw, but I will stress—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: You withdraw unconditionally.

Ms ADDISON: I withdraw. I would like to stress that that review is confidential. No-one has seen it. The minister has received the reference. The minister has received the confidential findings of the review, and they have not been seen by anyone else—not by me, not by the member for Footscray, not by anyone.

Also I would really like to address this amendment that the Liberals in the opposition have put forward that we need to have the police actually define what ‘near’ means. I see that is in their amendment. I would like to clarify that currently the use of the word ‘near’ does not have a fixed legal definition. It is currently used in the Sex Work Act 1994. ‘Near’ is common throughout Victoria’s criminal laws, including stalking and loitering of the Crimes Act 1958. When it comes to getting clarification around the term ‘near’, that is really up to the courts to decide. I am glad the Shadow Attorney-General is here as well, because it really goes to the heart of lawmaking in Victoria. But ‘near’ is a very common term throughout Victorian criminal law, so that amendment should not take place.

The other accusation that has been put is that we have not widely consulted on this bill, and that is not true. I disagree with the assessment made by the member for Euroa. There were 12 face-to-face sessions in terms of briefing and consultation, 101 participants, 698 people who completed surveys and 159 written submissions. This is clearly an area of policy where the department and the ministers involved have gone very, very wide and far to ensure that we are very much in step with community values and expectations.

This is an important bill. I thank the minister for the work that they have done on it. I also thank the Minister for Women and I thank the Minister for Workplace Safety. I would also like to add my thanks to Fiona Patten, a member for Northern Metropolitan Region in the other place, for the incredible amount of work that she did.

This legislation is so important because it is about workplace safety, keeping our sex workers safe and making sure that we live in a Victoria where everyone is protected at work.


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