At the Bishop Manning Lecture this week, speaker Melinda Tankard Reist is advocating the view that sex work is not work. This problematic way of thinking effectively positions NSW sex workers outside the workplace rights and protections that other Australian workers have access to.
By taking a whole-of-government approach, labour issues in all industries are dealt with by the same existing bodies. This is a cost-effective way of ensuring labour rights for all Australian workers. Sham contracting is sham contracting irrespective of industry; debt bondage is debt bondage irrespective of industry. We already have appropriate NSW Government bodies in place to address shoddy business practices and dodgy employers, and sex workers are entitled to have the same access to these public institutions as other workers.
Presented by the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations, a body tasked with ensuring Catholic institutions are fair and equitable employers, this lecture represents a retrograde step in ensuring the health, safety and human rights of sex workers. It flies in the face of local and global evidence that has proven, again and again, that decriminalisation of sex work is the best regulatory system for sex workers and public health. Decriminalisation removes the barriers to engagement with regulation and regulatory bodies that are produced by alternative systems of legalisation, licensing, regulation and criminalisation.
Our evidence base here in NSW shows that the decriminalisation of sex work back in 1995 has largely served the interests of sex workers, and the wider NSW population, well. It has resulted in very low rates of HIV and STI prevalence and incidence, high rates of access to health promotion and support services by sex workers, and increased capacity of sex workers to look after their own health and welfare.
The Nordic Model promoted by Tankard Reist, and other abolitionist policies, have been comprehensively rejected by all expert organisations, persons and bodies, both here in NSW and worldwide. With findings handed down earlier this year, this model was rejected by the NSW Legislative Assembly Select Committee on their Inquiry into the Regulation of Brothels. The Committee agreed that if implemented, this model of regulating sex work would lead to outcomes harmful to sex workers, sex worker health, and public health.
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