Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 11 Hansard (24 September) . . Page.. 3180 ..
MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Health, Minister for Community Affairs and Minister for Women) (4.00), in reply: I thank members for their contribution to the debate. I would like to summarise and wrap up consideration of the bill. The bill essentially makes some finetuning amendments to the Prostitution Act. I think these amendments are significant and I also think they significantly improve the framework around the operation of the Prostitution Act and the regulation of the sex industry in the ACT.
The amendments, as Mr Stefaniak indicated, had their genesis in a review of the act that was undertaken by the Department of Justice and Community Safety in consultation with the Sex Industry Consultative Group. The most significant change made by the bill is the inclusion of the new offence provisions that will have the effect of excluding persons from the industry who have been convicted of particular disqualifying offences. The amendment will address the principal concern that has arisen with the existing legislation, which is the lack of any power to exclude unsuitable people from the industry.
The proposed definition of "disqualifying offence" comprises serious criminal offences, including crimes against a person, in particular those relating to children, and offences relating to drug trafficking and money laundering. The exclusion of persons who have a prior conviction for these types of serious offences is essentially a risk management mechanism. Such a mechanism is employed in many spheres-for example, police checks are undertaken to ensure that convicted child sex offenders are not employed as childcare workers.
The traditional link between organised crime and prostitution cannot be ignored and this is the basis for defining "disqualifying offence" by reference to these particular crimes. These amendments will have the effect of promoting the safety and welfare of sex workers, who are generally acknowledged to be vulnerable to exploitation.
The bill also includes some important amendments in relation to sexually transmitted diseases. The bill makes consequential amendments to the Sexually Transmitted Diseases Act 1956 to update the definition of STD in line with current expert medical advice. The bill also removes the current provision in the act in relation to designated medical officers. A designated medical officer is a doctor nominated by the Chief Health Officer for the purposes of the act.
Under the act, brothel owners are required to take reasonable steps to ensure that a sex worker does not provide commercial sexual services when infected with an STD. The effect of the designated medical officer provision is that, where a brothel owner relies on an examination by a designated medical officer to satisfy himself or herself that a sex worker is not working with an STD, he or she should rely on that as evidence in any subsequent prosecution. The rationale underlying the designated medical officer provisions when they were enacted was to minimise the potential for sex workers to shop around for false certificates that they do not have an STD infection.
STDs are notifiable conditions under the Public Health Act and, as such, are required to be notified to the Department of Health and Community Care by both the testing pathologist and the medical practitioner. The department follows up on all STD notifications with the relevant medical practitioner to ensure that the infected person has