Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill

Second Reading

In continuing my remarks, having acknowledged the contribution of members speaking on this bill, I wish to commend the thoughtful contributions respectfully delivered to the benefit of all those listening to this debate. May I also acknowledge Eva Nikitas, who is a legal research officer of our research library here at Parliament House, for her comprehensive work identifying South Australia's current laws, the history of previous attempts, the legal approaches and, of course, the current laws around the country. This is always an important assessment that is done and, on this occasion, it has been admirably carried out by Eva.

Stakeholders have been many—the people of South Australia—but there are two I would like to acknowledge. One is the South Australian police and particularly the enforcement unit. They have repeatedly made themselves available for consultation and consideration of this bill and foreshadowed amendments. The other is the Commissioner for Consumer Affairs, Mr Soulio, who, in the event that the legislation does pass and has the favour ultimately of the parliament, has been very helpful in his advice as to what role he might play in a proposed regulation of the industry.

The key aspect of this legislation, which has been important to me and to many, whichever way they propose to vote, is that we must stop punishing the providers of service in this industry. We must do that. Some will think that others may be punished or should be, but it is very important that in 2019 we take a new brush to how we might deal with the provision of this service and the industry generally.

We must protect women particularly from being assaulted and abused and who feel unsafe to be able to go to the police in those circumstances. We must protect women against exploitation in their chosen field and workplace and we must support those who want to change career. There have been specific and unique aspects of that proposed in the bill. Most importantly for everyone here, we must maintain criminal sanctions to ensure that children and vulnerable persons are not able to access or be a provider of services in this industry.

The most recent and contemporary assessment of the sex work industry has taught me three new things, but it may be different for others. Firstly, the advance of the industry in 2019 means that overwhelmingly we have sex workers who operate their business on a mobile phone. It is quite a new dynamic and it has meant that there is mobility and self-management for many.

However, the spectrum of those continuing to be engaged in this industry is vast. We have the confident advocacy of members of the profession who are in coalition and who have bravely and confidently presented their arguments—indeed, they are proud of the services that they make available to those in the community—to a cohort, again principally of women, who are and remain vulnerable. They are living under a veil of silence. They are not confident to step forward. They are in need of our protection and continue to be vulnerable. I think we need to appreciate the diversity and breadth that we are working with.

The second thing that has become clear to me and confirmed—and there are foreshadowed amendments if we have the opportunity to debate them—is that there is a general South Australian public intolerance for what is known as street soliciting or public soliciting. I think it is important and incumbent on us to ensure that we respect that overwhelming concern. I do not know how many times I have had people during this debate come to me to say, 'I think you are absolutely right, Vickie. Decriminalisation is wrong. We can't let that situation abide, but don't let them be in my street.' I think we need to recognise that.

The third is that, just as we have in other industries, whether it is gambling or alcohol sales, there is a certain element of concern relating to the exposure of the vulnerable and/or young. We need to recognise that. I think the importance of having a framework of regulation is overwhelming. Accordingly, regulations to operate a business where sex workers are employed would also form part of a proposed amendment that I have foreshadowed during this debate.

I would welcome the opportunity for members to be able to contribute to this. They may well have the capacity and desire to improve it, and that is great; however, at this point, I urge members to consider supporting the final and second reading of this bill at this stage. That will enable to us to discuss, thrash out and confer on how we might bring about a balance between protecting the women who are currently in this industry and ensuring that we quell the fears that have been raised about a practice that has otherwise been behind closed doors for which the public have a level of intolerance.

I think the public are sympathetic, but there is a level of intolerance that we in this chamber must embrace. I would urge members to support the second reading of this bill so that we may deal with this, and show South Australians that we are mature in our approach to this issue, that we are willing to take on the tough issues and that we are willing to accommodate their concerns.

In conclusion, can I say that there is one area of very significant change on which I have been educated by South Australia Police and, in particular, their enforcement unit. Once we sat down and spoke to them, they were able to explain their areas of concern and how we might address them, rather than going back time and again to this threshold decision of whether we even open up the debate. I sincerely thank them for that. I urge members to consider supporting the second reading so that we may deal with the hard issues.