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Frequently Asked Questions - Laws and regulations

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Questions about sex industry laws and regulations in NSW

Yes. Sex work, running a sex industry business and being a sex worker are all legal in NSW—but only if they are done according to NSW laws and regulations.

Anyone over 18 may provide sexual services to a person over the age of consent in exchange for money, goods or favours.

For more information on your legal rights and responsibilities, check out our section on sex work law.

Employers have a responsibility to protect the health of sex workers by providing free safe sex equipment. Employers that do not protect the health and safety of workers, contractors, clients and visitors to the workplace can face legal action under laws regulated by WorkCover.

For more information you can phone WorkCover on: 13 10 50, or download a copy of their Health and Safety Guidelines for Brothels. You can also contact SWOP for advice and referrals.

Sacking any worker for being pregnant is discrimination and is not allowed under federal legislation. It is also discrimination to sack a worker because of their age, race, gender, sexuality, marital status, HIV positive status or disability. Sacking for these things may be unlawful in certain circumstances.

Discrimination claims can be made with Fair Work Australia within 12 months.

SWOP can provide referrals to community legal centres. Phone our information line on (02) 9206 2166.

Yes. If you are on Centrelink benefits, any extra income you earn needs to be declared—including cash in hand jobs. Centrelink is known to investigate reports into undeclared wages.

The Welfare Rights Centre can give you advice on problems with Centrelink. They are a free and independent legal centre providing information, advice and advocacy.

Phone: (02) 9211 5300 or Free Call: 1800 226 028
Visit: www.welfarerights.org.au

Permanent, part-time and casual employees that are regularly employed by a particular employer for at least six months are covered by unfair dismissal laws.

If you feel you have been dismissed without good reason you should contact a lawyer or community legal centre as soon as possible. Unfair dismissal claims must be lodged with Fair Work Australia within 14 days.

For more information about your rights, contact the NSW Office of Industrial Relations NSW (OIR). The OIR can also help you with enquiries about unpaid wages and fines. 
Phone: 131 628
Visit: industrialrelations.nsw.gov.au

Fines—such as penalties for lateness—are illegal. Employers withholding part of a workers wages as a fine can face legal action by the worker to recover the wages.

Working bonds are legal—but only if returned to the worker. Bonds are like personal loans given by the worker to an employer to be returned when they finish working.

If the employer does not return the bond, they can face legal action by the worker to recover it. Courts can make orders that the bond be returned. Failure to respond to a court order can lead to action by the sheriff to enter the workplace and seize the assets of the owner, equal in value to the bond.

More information on bonds and fines can be found here.

NSW Industrial Relations laws give workers the right to take court action to recover lost earnings. You can get free advice from a community legal centre or by phoning SWOP on (02) 9206 2166. We can help with writing letters of demand for withheld earnings.

For more information on debt recovery and letters of demand, visit the Arts Law Centre of Australia.

Yes. Anything you earn must be declared to the Australian Tax Office (ATO) and the appropriate amount of tax paid. This can be done via a self-assessment on the ATO website.

Alternatively, you can choose to hire an accountant to complete your tax return for you. To find a suitable tax agent or accountant, ask other sex workers for recommendations. Some accountants also advertise in The Professional or leave their business card at the SWOP office.

The ATO conduct compliance visits to sex services premises, so it is good to be prepared and paying the right amount of tax. For more information on your rights when you are visited by ATO staff, click here.

The ATO has produced the following resouces, which are a good place to start:

Everyone involved in the sex industry has legal rights when dealing with government departments and authorities—although these rights vary with each authority. Some government departments have stronger investigative powers than others.

Sometimes, multi-departmental teams will target certain industries and investigate at the same time—such as Centrelink, Immigration, the Tax Office and Police.

SWOP suggests all sex workers and sex services premises owners read about their rights and responsibilities in advance. It can also be useful to have a printed copy of this information available in your workplace. Click here for more information.

When dealing with government departments, you always have the right to:

  • ask department officers to show their identification and any warrant to make sure the person is a genuine officer and has the necessary authority, and
  • refuse government staff entry to your workplace if they do not have authority.

If you are not sure of your rights when a department representative visits you, ask them to explain the purpose of their visit and how you might be expected to help. You might also be able to request that the person visit on another day and time, arranged by agreement.

If you are concerned, you can ask to speak to the person’s supervisor by phone to confirm their authority to enter the premises and speak with staff.

Sex workers have reported to SWOP that people have knocked on their door and pretended to be from council or other government agencies. This is another good reason to always ask for ID and to phone their department to check things out!

If a government officer asks to interview individual sex workers, those sex workers may have the right to choose where and with whom they speak. For example, a sex worker who agrees to speak with taxation or immigration officers must:

  • be able to speak with the officers in private
  • have two government officers present, and
  • be able to dress appropriately prior to the interview.

For more information about your rights when visited by government authorities, check our section on sex work law.

Laws covering sex work are different in each state. What is legal in one state can be illegal in another, so it is always important to check things out before working in another state.

If you are working outside NSW you should contact the local sex worker project for information and advice.

You need to contact your local council environment and planning department, because each council has its own rules and regulations for sex work and sex services premises. Usually you will find what you need to know in your council’s Local Environment Plan or Development Control Plan.

To find out about the sex industry rules and regulations in your local area, you can:

  • read the relevant planning policies—Local Environment Plans and Development Control Plans are available from the planning department of the local council, on council websites or at a small cost
  • ask council planning officers about the existing consent for premises or the policies that apply over the phone, by mail, email or by appointment—do this with care. The staff may be required to act on information you share with them about unauthorised or illegal premises, and
  • get advice from professional town planners about whether your business is lawful, or can become lawful, in a particular building or location in that local council area.

For more information about how councils regulate the sex industry, check out our section on sex work law.

Yes, you always need council approval to operate a brothel. Brothels are also known as “sex services premises”—that is, they are places where sexual services happen.  

To run a sex services premises you usually have to put in a Development Application (DA) and get approval from your local council. Here are some key things you should know:

  • Brothels are legal in NSW but, like other businesses, approval from local council is required.
  • The property owner will need to sign the application to run a brothel.
  • Many council planning policies restrict brothels to industrial zones.
  • Approval from council only applies to the premises—it cannot be transferred to other properties or locations.
  • Don’t set your sights on a site without investigating the council’s brothel zoning laws.
  • Talking with the council planners as early as possible can be to your advantage—but if you are already running the business do this with care. Council staff may be required to act on information you share with them about unauthorised or illegal premises.
  • Engaging private planners and solicitors should be done only when you need them.
  • Councils have planning staff who can assist you with your application and plans.    

We have lots of information about councils and development applications in our section on sex work law.

You need to find out from your local council what its planning regulations say about working privately. Some councils will allow one sex worker to work from their own home without a development application. But many councils have regulations that classify all workplaces that provide sexual services as brothels.

If this is the case in your area, the same regulations and laws that apply to sex services premises apply to solo operators. You may be required to put in a development application for your home business.

Working from a strata apartment can be an issue, because the body corporate may require occupants to seek its approval before operating any home-based business.

We have more information on working privately in our section on sex work law.

Yes. Under the law, any premises where sexual services are provided is legally considered a brothel.

The law is clear that—even if you advertise and/or pretend to be a massage parlour, sauna bath, steam bath, photo studio, facility for physical exercise or health studio—if your business provides a sexual service, it is legally considered a brothel or sex services premises.

For more information on the definition of a brothel and how to apply to council, check out our section on sex work law.