PROSTITUTION is not causing major problems in the ACT.
We have world-leading legislation that empowers the workers, that has been in place for more than 20 years, and has been found to be working well through examination and report by the Standing Committee on Justice and Community Safety in February 2012. A committee chaired by the now Speaker, Vicki Dunne.
And now Dunne and fellow Liberal Giulia Jones are joining other conservatives in a study into prostitution in countries that have adopted the Swedish model. They claim it provides a feminist perspective by criminalising the purchaser of sexual services (in the vast majority of cases – the male).
When prostitution was legalised in the ACT in 1992 society did not collapse, moral attitudes were not eroded and the ACT did not suddenly become the haven for all things immoral.
Rather, the workers were empowered, the rights of consenting adults were not infringed and the risk of police corruption, a hallmark of other jurisdictions at the time, was avoided. The risks of the spread of sexually transmitted infections were minimised. Moral values were enhanced through tolerance and acceptance rather than making the most vulnerable into scapegoats.
The ACT Liberals have an even bigger problem with this ongoing campaign by Dunne and Jones as they head off to Sweden, South Korea and Europe with other conservatives from around Australia to reinforce their own view.
The way our community handles sex workers is one issue where the Canberra Liberals had the opportunity to behave as a liberal party, as they had in 1992, rather than as a conservative party.
Dunne has a different perspective from the rest of the committee. She included a dissenting report in the assessment by the Justice and Community Safety Committee. Her comments advocate at least partial adoption of the Swedish model and concluded: “Far from ameliorating those harms, the recommendations of the majority of the committee to normalise prostitution; cut back on regulation [and] water down health safeguards will encourage the spread of prostitution and increase the harm to individuals and the community alike”.
As I argued when the committee was conducting its investigation, apart from being conservative, the other issue is about logic.
The idea is that the purchasing of sexual services should be criminalised. Purchasing sexual services from women is somehow “enticing” or “intimidating” the worker into providing sexual favours which must therefore be “exploitation”.
The same logic, of course, would mean that every employer, no matter what the industry, somehow “entices”, “intimidates” or “exploits” each of their employees. The “principle” is just nonsense.
This is the same tool that has been used to generate the Swedish laws that have driven prostitution underground at the risk of a significant increase in the spread of HIV infection and which former High Court judge Michael Kirby describes as “an overreach of the law”.
Moral attitudes are easily cloaked in pseudo academic arguments. A submission by the Catholic Church to the committee is cloaked in feminist arguments around the Swedish model. The irony is not easily missed. The bastion of male power is using a feminist argument to justify their moral position of wishing to interfere in people’s sexual lives – as they have in so many other ways.
The government’s response to the committee on the “operation of the Prostitution Act is that, overall, the Act and the agencies responsible for its administration have significantly raised the level of protection of the health and safety of sex workers in the ACT and their clients”.
The government accepted changes that were suggested by the committee on issues such as ensuring the legislation covered the range of sex workers and that this be recognised in the title of the Act.
The question is when will the Canberra Liberals stop trying to deceive the community with its name and be honest enough to call themselves the Canberra Conservatives?
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health. He was chair of the Assembly Select Committee on HIV, Illegal Drugs and Prostitution and introduced the Prostitution Act 1992.