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Sex workers more confident for law reform second time round

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An Adelaide sex worker advocacy group says it hopes a new bill to decriminalise sex work in South Australia will have the support of a “younger and more progressive” parliament.

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The Sex Industry Network will rally outside parliament on Friday for International Sex Workers Day after Greens MLC Tammy Franks earlier this month introduced new legislation to legalise sex work in state.

The Legislative Council passed a similar bill in July last year however it failed to pass the lower house before the March election.

Sex Industry Network manager Sharon Jennings said the prolonged parliamentary process made her feel like she was “banging her head against a brick wall”.

She said the group was in the process of organising meetings with the 19 new politicians that were elected into parliament in March to discuss where they sat on the issue.

“All we’re asking for is equal rights, it shouldn’t be that hard but unfortunately the wheels of parliament grind slowly,” Jennings told InDaily.

“We’re just hoping that now we’ve got a new government and there’s 19 new politicians in parliament and, as far as I’m aware, now that we’ve got some more younger and more progressive people in the seats, they will actually see this for what it is.”

Franks said she was “very confident” the bill, now in its second reading, would pass through the upper house. She said she felt more confident the new Liberal government would speed up the passage of the bill following the departure of former Labor opponents Michael Atkinson and Tom Kenyon, both from the party’s Right faction.

“We have a better chance with the new Liberal Government who is more committed to moving it through quickly (but) it’s still early days yet,” she said.

SA Best MLC Frank Pangallo told InDaily the party had yet to finalise its stance on the issue, but there was “no doubt” that parliament needed to move to have the sex work industry decriminalised.

He said his concerns included how authorities would regulate the industry, the potential for increased soliciting on streets and the protection of sex workers’ safety.

“The last thing we need is seeing a line of sex workers like what we see at the moment on Hanson Road,” Pangallo said.

“We need to dot the i’s and cross the t’s and make sure what we pass satisfies authorities.”

Pangallo said his office would today seek to organise a meeting with police commissioner Grant Stevens to discuss the issue.

New Labor legislative member Clare Scriven said she hadn’t yet looked at the bill closely but she didn’t think decriminalising sex work would reduce demand or prevent the abuse of women.

She said she hadn’t yet decided on whether she would seek to add amendments to the bill.

The sex worker industry has for a long-time argued decriminalising their work would lead to better safety for workers.

South Australia remains one of only three states in Australia – alongside Western Australia and Tasmania – where sex work remains criminalised.

“We don’t stop working just because the industry is criminalised, it just means that we’ve been put in a position where we’re vulnerable,” Jennings said.

“People commit crimes against us knowing that we’re in this space where we find it difficult to report.

“We desperately need the laws to change so that we can be more open about mistreatment both in the workplace by employers and also obviously potential by any problematic clients.”

Sex Industry Network will rally on Parliament House steps from 4pm on Friday.

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