Victoria currently has a licensing/legalisation system of sex work laws. This is not the same as decriminalisation. Under Victoria’s existing licensing model, councils decide where licensed brothels can operate according to planning laws. The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has the authority to hear disputes between business owners (including brothels) and councils about planning applications. Victoria Police has the role of investigating and shutting down unlicensed brothels.
Local Government Organisations
The Municipal Association of Victoria is a membership association and the legislated peak body for local government. Membership is voluntary; 78 of the 79 councils across Victoria are members. In October 2017, the MAV’s State Council passed a resolution,
“That the State Government review enforcement of the Sex Work Act 1994 in order to establish and appropriately resource an interagency taskforce to successfully prosecute unlawful operations establishing in shopping areas and near schools as ‘massage’ businesses, given the significant Public Health and Wellbeing risks to the Victorian community.”
Local Government Professionals (LG Pro)
Local Government Professionals (LG Pro) is a membership-based association for people working in local government. LG Pro provides representation and a collective voice in influencing local government policy and inter-governmental relations.
New South Wales Local Planning Panels
Unlike Victoria, which has a licensing model of sex work laws, NSW decriminalised sex work in 1995. While Victoria relies on councils to decide where brothels can be located, NSW has recently introduced a more flexible system to process brothel planning applications: LPP’s. In March 2018, NSW established Local Planning Panels (LPP) for all councils in Sydney plus Wollongong City Council.
LPP’s comprise independent panels, separate from councils, that process, among other applications, brothel planning applications. Each panel includes representatives from the local community.
One of the factors contributing to the proliferation of unlicensed brothels in those states which allow brothels (VIC, NSW, ACT, QLD), is the high number of rejections by councils of brothel planning applications. This provides an incentive for some brothels to operate illegally as massage shops. Some councils have rejected applications out of hand without reasonable grounds for objection. LPP’s were established to ensure the application process is fair, impartial, and eschews corruption.
LPP’s provide an example of a measure which addresses a public concern without criminalising marginalised communities and unnecessarily involving police resources.
According to the NSW Department of Planning and Environment, during their first year of operation LPP’s processed three brothel applications, all of which were approved.
Sex Work Law Reform Victoria will be paying attention to the success or otherwise of Local Planning Panels in New South Wales. Victoria would not be able to introduce a form of Local Planning Panels without amending the Planning and Environment Act 1987 (Vic).
Last Updated: 5 August 2019