by News WeeklyNews Weekly
Law: Marcis Neave - Victoria's new Law Reform Commisisoner
, October 21, 2000
The Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks, has just appointed Professor Marcia Neave of Monash University as the state's Law Reform Commissioner, re-establishing a body abolished by the former Kennett Government.
Professor Neave - then a university law lecturer - was appointed by the Cain Labor Government in 1985 to conduct an inquiry into prostitution in Victoria.
She recommended the "decriminalisation" of prostitution, described under the euphemism of "sex work", on the basis that the existing laws were being ignored, encouraged corruption among police, and failed to protect prostitutes from sexually transmitted diseases.
The recommendations were adopted by the Victorian Government, which introduced the Prostitution Control Act, giving local councils the right to handle applications for the establishment of brothels, but with the Planning Appeal Tribunal having the power to override local councils on the issue.
The effect has been an explosion of brothels in the state, both legal and illegal, prompting one newspaper early this year to comment that "Victoria's booming sex industry is operating almost free from regulation".
There were reported to be 84 legal brothels, 31 licensed "escort agencies", and a further 1200 one-woman sex businesses registered throughout Victoria.
Additionally, there are many unlicensed premises, possibly amounting to hundreds more, judging from advertisements in the Yellow Pages.
Professor Neave's blueprint was then copied in other States.
New South Wales effectively legalised prostitution in 1995, when NSW Premier Bob Carr handing the issue to councils to be dealt with as a planning matter.
According to a press report, "There are believed to be 400 to 500 brothels in the city [of Sydney] - more than three times the number before legalisation." (The Sydney Morning Herald, August 30, 1999)
Queensland took the same route, with the same result, and South Australia is currently considering legalisation.
Interestingly, there is concerted opposition to legalisation in South Australia, in which the Festival of Light has played an important role, including bringing a woman who formerly ran a brothel, to Adelaide.
Linda Watson, who spent 20 years as a prostitute and Madam and now runs a prostitute rescue ministry in Perth, told a group of SA Legislative Councillors: "Don't legalise prostitution!"
She told MPs about her oppressed background. "I was sexually abused at the age of 12 and left school at 13," she said. "I ended up as a single mother with three kids and I was doing it tough.
"Then I got a job with a lawyer who introduced me to a madam, one of his clients. She said I would make 'good stock'. That's how they saw us girls in the business - 'stock'. At first I said, 'No way!' But she said I would make $2000 a week and I could just do it for two months. But I didn't realise then that I would find it very hard to get out. It is like an addiction." She said the emotional damage she suffered is still with her.
Linda Watson estimated that over 85% of the girls involved in prostitution use drugs. They may start out clean, but after the "honeymoon period" of three to six months they hurt so bad that they take drugs to ease the pain.
Linda said that even though the girls earn a lot of money - many up to $1000 a night - they don't keep it because it all goes on drugs and other things.
"When they come to my House of Hope, some of them don't even have a pair of knickers. They have earned thousands of dollars, but they have nothing.
"We give them a home, food and clothes, and we give them love. We started last year on 8 August, and we now have helped over 300 girls.
"Prostitution and drugs always go together," Linda said.
"Legalisation will not change that. It will make it worse. Legalisation would give prostitution the government stamp of approval."
Linda Watson said she had been approached by Triad gangs when she was in the sex business, and that a lot more organised crime is involved these days, including in the eastern states where prostitution has been legalised. She said it is very easy for organised crime to get a "clean skin" to front their brothel.
Linda stressed, again and again, that MPs should not go down the legalising road, because that would only make the problem worse. "If you legalise, prostitution will proliferate," she said.
The final vote on the SA Prostitution (Regulation) Bill may not take place until November.
In the position of Law Reform Commissioner, Professor Neave will again be invited by the Government to recommend areas of amendment of the law, particularly in areas of social policy.