The Consumer Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 (Vic)

In September 2019, the Victorian government introduced the Consumer Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 (Vic) which passed the Lower House. As of 25 November, it is scheduled to be debated on 28 November. Clauses 100-102 of the Bill relate to sex work. We propose amending the Bill by withdrawing these clauses. Read our joint position statement on this Bill below. 

Joint Statement Proposing Amendments to the Consumer Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 (Vic)

25 November 2019

Sex Work Law Reform Victoria is a lobby group representing the legal interests and human rights of sex workers. Humanists Victoria is actively engaged in projects aimed at alleviating suffering and maximizing personal autonomy and responsibility. They advocate that victimless ‘crimes’ committed by consenting adults should not be penalised.

We seek amendments to the Consumer Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 (hereafter the Bill). The Bill aims to change a wide range of consumer laws in Victoria. Clauses 100–102 seek to change Victorian sex work laws and their interaction with freedom of information (FOI) laws. 

One of these clauses also provides Victoria Police with immunity from prosecution should they divulge sex workers’ personal information to any person in the course of police work. Thus, if the Bill intends to further protect sex workers’ privacy and personal information, it is incompatible with this goal. 

We believe the proposed amendments duplicate existing secrecy provisions and introduce limitations on freedom of information and freedom of the press. The Bill contravenes the freedom of information principle upholding one’s right to access government documents via freedom of information processes. We propose that clauses 100–102 of the Bill be withdrawn. 

The Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic) establishes a process by which self-employed sex workers (private escorts) are exempt from the requirement to hold a licence. To qualify for this exemption, sex workers must provide personal information to the Business Licensing Authority. The Sex Work Act requires that the Authority enter those details into a register (known as the “exempt register” of exempt sex work service providers).

Due to the stigma surrounding sex work, sex workers on the exempt register are concerned that their personal information remains confidential and inaccessible to the public. Numerous privacy protections apply to the exempt register, both within the Sex Work Act 1994 (s24) and the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Vic), therefore sex workers’ personal information held on the exempt register is already inaccessible to the public. Section 24(3) of the Sex Work Act already confines inspection of the exempt register to the Director of Consumer Affairs, Business Licensing Authority staff, Victoria Police and authorised local government officers.

There is no evidence to date that FOI or sex work laws regarding sex workers’ personal information have been breached. This suggests that existing laws work to protect the personal information of sex workers. 

The Bill seeks to prevent scrutiny of the administration of the Business Licensing Authority (BLA) by preventing aggregate data derived from the exempt register from being obtained via the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Vic). Non-personal aggregate data derived from the exempt register does not contain or reveal personal information. In 2016, Consumer Affairs Victoria published aggregate data relating to the private worker register in their 2015/2016 annual report. [1] Concerns have been raised that publication of aggregate data derived from the exempt register would discourage sex workers from registering their personal details with the Business Licensing Authority. On the contrary, since 2016 there has been a steady rise in the number of self-employed sex workers registering with the Business Licensing Authority. [2] 

Victorian sex workers have opposed Victoria’s existing sex work licensing system since its inception in 1994. The ability to scrutinise the administration of this licensing system is crucial to the advancement of sex workers’ rights. Furthermore, the Bill restricts sex workers from obtaining, via FOI, their own data recorded on the exempt register, as well as the way in which their personal information may have been used. 

Access to data via freedom of information laws is a democratic right. 

The Victorian government tabled the Bill two weeks before the international Your Right to Know campaign. Clauses 100-102 of the Bill oppose democratic freedom of information rights.

Aggregate data derived from the exempt register can be used in various ways:

  • To identify changes and trends within the licensed sex industry
  • To better understand where supports need to be directed, e.g. such data reveals a reduction in the number of sex workers working in licensed brothels, and a steady increase in the number of self-employed sex workers. Aggregate data reveals that approximately 20% of registered self-employed sex workers are male, which may suggest a need for more support service provided to male sex workers.

The state government already regularly publishes aggregate data pertaining to marginalised communities in the form of Quarterly Reports on HIV. [3] This HIV aggregate data is then used as an evidence base to improve public health and direct funding where it is most needed.

The Bill seeks the unnecessary removal of access to aggregate data derived from the exempt register. Blocking access to aggregate data does not apply to other industries regulated by Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV). 

We are not aware of any consultation by CAV with sex workers or relevant sex worker organisations. In Victoria, these organisations include Red Files, RhED, Salome’s Circle, Scarlet Alliance, Sex Work Law Reform Victoria and Vixen Collective. Of particular concern is the fact that the Bill provides the police with immunity from prosecution should the police divulge sex workers’ personal information to any person in the course of performing police duties. 

Given that the Bill does not enhance privacy protections for sex workers’ personal information recorded on the exempt register, we propose amending the Bill by withdrawing clauses 100–102.

SIGNED BY: 

Sex Work Law Reform Victoria 

Humanists Victoria

[1] https://www.consumer.vic.gov.au/annual-report/previous-annual-reports Table 2, page 16

[2] In 2016 there were 724 sex workers on the exempt register. By 2019 this figure had risen by 61% to 1167.

[3] https://www2.health.vic.gov.au/public-health/infectious-diseases/infectious-diseases-surveillance/infectious-diseases-surveillance-reports-hiv-aids 

Click below to download a PDF version of our joint position statement.

Call to Action

Some key points about the Bill

  • The Bill provides no additional privacy protections for self- employed sex workers as existing laws already ensure the exempt register is inaccessible to the public
  • The Bill does nothing to enhance the safety of sex workers, or reduce violence in the sex industry
  • There appears to have been no consultation with sex workers prior to the tabling of this Bill on 11 September 2019

We encourage sex workers and supporters to: 

  1. Read our position statement and the Bill itself
  2. Write or call one of the following key MP’s expressing concern with clauses 100-102 of the Bill and calling for these clauses to be withdrawn. 

Dear [enter name of MP]

I am writing to raise my concerns over the Consumer Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 (the Bill) introduced into the Legislative Council on 17 October 2019.

Whilst I am not opposed to the passage of the Bill, and support the principle of updating consumer laws, I have concerns about clauses 100 – 102, which seek to amend the Sex Work Act 1994 (Vic).

As a [a sex worker/supporter of sex workers], I believe there may be unintended consequences with the passage of clauses 100 – 102.

My concerns are that:

  • the Bill is unnecessary as existing sex work laws already adequately protect the personal information of sex workers from being disclosed to the public;
  • the Bill winds back freedom of information principles which are necessary for open and transparent government;
  • the Bill provides too much power to police in their handling of the personal data of sex workers;
  • there was no apparent consultation with sex workers.

I respectfully request that you consider supporting the amending of the Bill to withdraw clauses 100 – 102.

Yours sincerely

[insert your name]

The Five Key MP’s to Write To

 

A. Marlene Kaiourz (Minister for Consumer Affairs)

(03) 8685 1555

marlene.kairouz@parliament.vic.gov.au

B. Adem Somyurek (Minister Kairouz’s representative in the Legislative Council)

(03) 8392 2202

adem.somyurek@parliament.vic.gov.au

C. Neil Angus (Shadow Minister for Consumer Affairs)

(03) 9877 5628

neil.angus@parliament.vic.gov.au

D. Gavin Jennings (Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council)

 (03) 8392 5708

gavin.jennings@parliament.vic.gov.au

E. Fiona Patten (crossbencher, supporter of sex work decriminalisation)

(03) 9386 4400

fiona.patten@parliament.vic.gov.au

Last updated: 25 November 2019

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