Wednesday 19 October 2005

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - The Government's motives for introducing this bill at this time concern me, Mr President. The present situation in Tasmania's sex industry has been constant for many years so the question needs to be asked: why the pressure to rush in to change it?

The Government's original intention as it stated when introducing its Sex Industry Regulation Bill 2005 in June this year was to promote the welfare and occupational health and safety of sex workers, to protect children from exploitation in the sex industry and to safeguard public health by regulating the sex services industry.

As I said then, the bill was well intentioned but in my view was never going to achieve those aims. One reason was the lack of opportunity for a full public discussion to ensue and subsequently the lack of understanding about the public attitudes to the implications of the bill, although I will say it has been very enlightening to observe the Government's desire to move on this legislation now, causing it to listen to the concerns of the members and to hear their valuable input from their electorates.

As I said in my previous speech, the basic flaw in the sex service industry is that everything is weighted against vulnerable women who are more than likely being exploited for profit and are exposed to health risks and violence from their clients. The Attorney?General is now quoted as saying that because we cannot regulate it, we are making it illegal. I believe we can be forgiven, Mr President, for thinking that the Attorney?General's present position smacks somewhat of pique.

Will the Government now make illegal everything that it cannot regulate? Can it stamp out brothels or will it merely drive the sex service industry underground, as some in the industry have suggested.

Mr President, I said of the original Sex Industry Regulation Bill that there had not been sufficient time, particularly for independent members in this House, to properly consider it. I said it was a rushed job and most of us in this House would not be rushed. My comments in June are even more appropriate now. Mr President, I cannot help but be a little suspicious about this bill and I doubt that it can achieve those laudable aims of the previous bill which are repeated in the title of this attempt. I will quote:

'An Act to impose certain restrictions on the operation of sexual services businesses in order to protect children and sex workers from exploitation in the sex industry, to safeguard public health …'

Mr President, we have seen three variations on the bill since last Friday. As the member for Huon said earlier today, it just looks like legislation on the run. I have attempted to take legal advice on aspects of the bill but it seems to be a work in constant progress with ever-changing clauses that have been very difficult to pin down. However there are some general concerns.

It gives police the power to enter premises without a warrant. An accused person seems to be denied the right to question the person who provides information to a police officer and this would seem to enable a person to maliciously provide false information to a prosecutor knowing they will not have to verify their allegation in court. Provisions that make it illegal to not use prophylactics would seem hard to enforce. How could a court decide, beyond reasonable doubt, that a prophylactic was not used? It seems that a mother can have sex in a home with a companion while a child is present but not with a paying client, yet this bill could have the result of forcing more sex service providers to work from their homes.

I do have some concerns too for the clients and, as we have been told in earlier briefings, they come from all levels of society, as was mentioned - the judiciary, Parliament House, the police force and so on. It is possible that they may only be able to continue stable relationships because of the availability of sex workers.

Mr President, this bill will outlaw all brothels or premises with more than two sex service providers. Will this mean many mini brothels run by two independent workers probably in residential areas? We have heard in briefings that sex service providers have not been given much opportunity to examine, discuss and to comment on this bill. We heard yesterday in a briefing from the Scarlet Alliance that more sex service providers will be forced to work from their own homes, allowing them no separation of home and work life and making their home addresses vulnerable.

Sex workers believe that this bill gives police too much power as regulators. They also believe it will encourage people to dob in sex workers. They believe, and I think with good reason, that sex workers will be forced onto the streets. Mr President, Tasmania does not have a street sex industry like Kings Cross or Melbourne's St Kilda so do we really want a street sex industry, say in Launceston's Elphin Road or maybe down Sandy Bay Road? I think not.

Not only have sex industry participants not been consulted on this bill, the general public have had no chance either and I do not think that is the way to legislate. I would like to quote the view of the CEO of Tasmanian Council of Social Service, Matt Rowell, that all stakeholders needed the opportunity to consider the implications of the legislation prior to Parliament considering the bill. So far all the consultation has been over legislation to regulate the sex industry by legalising brothels and registering individual sex workers. However this latest draft version is nothing like what we were consulted on.

'Sex Workers, Industry Operators and Community Service Organisations need the opportunity to consider the bill and what it means for both workers and their clients, as well as the many community service organisations that currently work closely with the industry by providing counselling and health service to workers.'

That is a sensible comment by TasCOSS, Mr President. Perhaps we should also look at Mr Rowell's call for a select committee to enable proper input from the public.

Mr President, I have outlined some reservation about the Sex Industry Offences Bill. I feel that this House is proceeding with caution in its consideration and I will do likewise. I would say again, I cannot help but feel that we are being rushed with this bill for no apparent reason.