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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 11 Hansard (24 September) . . Page.. 3179 ..

MS DUNDAS (3.56): Mr Speaker, as we would all know, prostitution is commonly known as the oldest profession and, to my knowledge, taking money in exchange for sexual acts has never actually been illegal and nor should it necessarily be. Sex workers provide services to disabled, lonely and social inept people who otherwise might have no sexual contact. And while paying for sex has always been legal, many parliaments have attempted to outlaw soliciting and the operation of brothels.

As history has proven time and again, outlawing brothels does not stop prostitution. Instead, large brothels are forced to close and small illegal brothels become more numerous. In addition, a high proportion of sex workers begin to operate out of escort agencies, with adverse consequences for their health and their safety.

While it seems largely possible to keep under-age activity and immigration offences out of a regulated industry, these problems flourish in an unregulated industry. In other jurisdictions police corruption has also gone hand in hand with illegal brothels, providing another strong argument in favour of legalisation. Historically, the Australian Democrats have fought for the legalisation of prostitution in other jurisdictions for all of these compelling reasons, and especially the safety of the workers involved.

Thankfully the ACT Assembly was progressive enough to pass the Prostitution Act in 1992 to keep the industry above ground and regulated. And just as it is in the public interest to regulate to prevent minors working in brothels, so too is there benefit in ensuring that the historic links between the sex industry and crime do not re-emerge, and that is the main aim of this bill.

I support the decision to allow people with convictions for minor offences to operate brothels and escort agencies but I also accept the decision to bar operators convicted of the more serious offences listed in the schedule of this bill. These offences all appear to have some connection with the kinds of offences historically associated with illegal brothels.

I also support the changes in the bill that improve confidentiality for operators of brothels and escort agencies. It is difficult to see what reason an ordinary member of the public would have for viewing the personal particulars of operators unless he or she was planning to harass the operator. So the limited list of people entitled to inspect the register does make sense.

The penalties under this bill appear a little uneven. I have difficulty seeing why deliberately providing misleading information to the government is a less serious offence than failing to notify the government that a brothel has ceased to operate. However, I have researched this and understand that the misleading information penalty has been set with reference to similar provisions in other acts, and for the sake of consistency I will not be seeking to amend it. So, overall, I am happy to provide support for this piece of legislation.

MS TUCKER (3.59): I will speak briefly. The Greens also support this bill. I think this is a very important improvement to the legislative framework. I also am comfortable with the responses to the scrutiny of bills committee report, in that I think there is a public interest which takes priority over the Spent Convictions Act.

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