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The findings of a parliamentary inquiry into the regulation of NSW brothels have drawn the ire of sex workers, and health professionals alike, after recommending the state abandon decriminalisation in favour of a licensing scheme for sex work.

The report, released this on Tuedays November 10, also pushes for an expansion of police powers, which would see cops made de-facto regulators of the sex work industry.

This last point is of particular concern to Janelle Fawkes, CEO of the Scarlet Alliance, the national peak body for sex workers. She fears a move back to the “paperbag days”, when sex workers either had to “hand over a bag filled with money, or provide sex for free” to police officers in return for having their businesses left undisturbed.

Sex work in NSW became fully decriminalised in 1996, following the exposure of mass police corruption during the Wood Royal Commission. Along with instances of bribery, money laundering, drug trafficking, and fraud, the Commission also found evidence of police extorting brothel owners and demanding sex from prostitutes.

“Alister Henskens [the chair of the inquiry] has made empty arguments about how his proposals won’t result in police corruption,” Ms Fawkes told City Hub.

“As sex workers, we know the ugly face of police corruption, and these recommendations aim to bring it right to our door. We will not stand for it.”

The Scarlet Alliance has been critical of the inquiry since its launch earlier this year, arguing that it is a politically motivated attack on sex workers by conservative council groups. The chair of the inquiry, Alister Henskens, has been an advocate of the licensing model since the start of the inquiry, despite the growing evidence supporting decriminalisation.

Under current legislation, sex work in NSW is subject to the same laws and regulations as other businesses in the state. Since decriminalisation, the Government’s approach has been to simply treat sex work as work, an approach has been endorsed by Amnesty International and the United Nations. This has lead to NSW having the safest sex industry in the world.

According to ‘Sex Work in New South Wales’, a report issued by the Kirby Institute in 2012, “decriminalisation of the NSW sex industry has resulted in improved human rights, netted savings for the criminal justice and health systems, and enhanced surveillance and health promotion programs for sex workers.”

The report was also critical of schemes that require the licensing of sex workers, finding that these often open the doorway to police corruption, and lead to worse public health outcomes. “Jurisdictions that try to ban or license sex work always lose track as most of the industry slides into the shadows. Prostitution laws are the greatest allies of the exploiters. In NSW, by contrast, health and community workers have comprehensive access to and surveillance of the sex industry. That access has resulted in the healthiest sex industry ever documented.”

Alex Greenwich, a member of the inquiry and MP for Sydney, has already moved to distance himself from the reports findings. In a joint statement with other dissenting MPs, he told the media that he is “concerned that increasing police powers, especially entry powers, could compromise the safety and privacy of sex workers, and ignores the historic links between police corruption and sex work as proven during the Wood Royal Commission.”

Community health organisations SWOP, ACON, and Touching Base have also voiced their objections to the proposals.

The Government has six months to respond to the findings of the report. So far, Victor Dominello, the Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation, has been tight lipped about the their response, telling City Hub only that the “Government will respond to the report’s recommendations in accordance with Parliamentary requirements.”