Sex Work Decriminalisation and the City of Monash
Once sex work has been decriminalised in Victoria on 1 December 2023, councils will become the most relevant level of government when it comes to the livelihood of sex workers. This is because local governments will become responsible for regulating the location of brothels and regulating home based sex work. In short, councils matter.
Unfortunately, some councils have bitterly opposed the decriminalisation of sex work, in part due to the unfounded concerns of a small number of vocal residents. In 2022, the City of Monash adopted a neutral stance towards pro-sex work planning changes .1 This neutral position is surprising, given a majority of councillors are affiliated with political parties supporting sex workers’ rights. Both the Victorian Greens Party and the Victorian Labor Party support the decriminalisation of sex work, via their respective policies. Nine of the eleven councillors in the City of Monash are either with the Greens or Labor.2 Despite this majority, the council has not passed a motion to support the pro-sex work changes.
The City of Monash is a local government area in the south east of Melbourne. Sex Work Law Reform Victoria obtained 23 pages of emails from the council. Five of the pages containing new information are included here. The emails, from 2021 and 2022, were obtained via Victoria’s freedom of information laws.
The emails and documents reveal a constituent’s fears and questions about the changing regulation of brothels, as well as an unfortunate desire to discriminate against the sex industry by prohibiting brothels. Former Mayor Stuart James and Councillor Josh Fergeus answer questions about why the Council will soon no longer be able to lawfully ban brothels once sex work is decriminalised on 1 December 2023, acknowledging the constituent’s frustration.
Read the Emails Here
18 Sept 2022
Cr Fergeus & constituent
A constituent asks Council eight questions about why Council will soon have no legal powers to restrict, monitor or prohibit brothels. After the constituent’s questions were answered, Councillor Fergeus sent an email:
‘I recognise that these responses will likely be frustrating to you, but the reality is that the Victorian Government has essentially removed almost all restrictions on sex work operation in the state. Moving forward, Council will have very little role in oversight or regulation.’
18 and 21 Sept 2022
Mayor James & constituent
A constituent asks Council eight questions about why Council will soon have no legal powers to restrict, monitor or prohibit brothels. Some of the questions are oddly phrased; one asks why Council can’t restrict brothels in the same way cigarette smoking is restricted under Local Laws.
We believe these emails offer a unique insight into how community members and councillors are responding to the decriminalisation of sex work. These discussions often occur in private, but documents obtained via FOI give us useful clues as to the thinking of councillors and their constituents. These documents demonstrate that community members are asking questions of their councillors about decriminalisation, underscoring the need for advocacy to local governments and their associations. This advocacy, from sex workers and their organisations, such as Sex Work Law Reform Victoria, is needed to dispel fears around decriminalisation.
Sex Work Law Reform Victoria is a not for profit organisation advocating for the legal rights of sex workers in Victoria. We are led by current and former sex workers and were the driving force behind Victoria’s decriminalisation of sex work in 2022. Founded in 2018, we are not affiliated with any political party. Our message to all elected officials is that sex workers’ rights matter. Read more about us on our website.
Freedom of information (FOI) is a legal process by which members of the public can obtain documents held by government agencies or councils. Work emails of all Victorian councillors are subject to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Vic).
This means all emails sent to or from City of Monash councillor’s email addresses are subject to Victoria’s FOI laws. Under FOI law, we can publish all documents without the permission of the councillors or the City of Monash. Following delays and a complaint to OVIC, the Council eventually provided us with the documents after over four months.
We requested the following documents from the City of Monash on 28 November 2022:
“A copy of emails, letters or text messages sent from Councillors which contain one or more of the following terms: ‘sex work’, ‘sex industry’, ‘sex trade’, ‘sex worker’, ‘prostitute’, ‘prostitution’, ‘brothel’, ‘transgender’, ‘(female) sex’, ‘female sex’, ‘sex assigned at birth’ or ‘sex they were assigned at birth’. The timeframe for this request is 26/10/2021 – 27/09/2022.”
Responding to Statements About Sex Work Decriminalisation
Councillor Stuart James is mostly accurate in his statements about sex work decriminalisation. However, we provide a minor correction to one of his statements.
Councillor’s claim on 21 September 2021:
SWLRV Response: This is incorrect. After sex work planning changes apply on 1 December 2023, all brothels, referred to in the emails as ‘massage parlours’, will be permitted in all zones where shops are permitted, and subject to the same controls, conditions, and requirements as a shop. Brothels, renamed ‘sex services premises’ will be classified under the land use term ‘shop’, effectively being treated the same as hairdressers. Generally, a planning permit is required to develop land for a shop and so a permit will also be required to develop land for a sex services premises (development of land includes the construction of a building or construction or carrying out of works). Details of these planning changes were made public by the relevant Department of Transport and Planning on 23 June 2022, almost three months before the then Mayor made the claim above. More about these important planning changes on this fact sheet authored by the Department.
Sex Work Law Reform Victoria’s YouTube Channel shows local government councillors discussing and debating sex work issues at council meetings. You can watch a video of the City of Monash confirming street based sex workers will not require small business permits from the Council.
Duration: Under 2 minutes
Sex Work Law Reform Victoria’s submissions about sex work policy, local government and amending planning schemes. We supported amending planning schemes to treat sex industry businesses the same way as hairdressing businesses.
Sex Work Law Reform Victoria’s YouTube Channel showing councillors debating sex work policy.
City of Monash
Victorian Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning Fact Sheet on Sex Work Planning Changes
We would like to thank the following in helping to obtain and documents in the possession of the City of Monash:
Sex Work Law Reform Victoria is not affiliated with any political party, councillor or local government. Sex Work Law Reform Victoria Inc. does not endorse or campaign for any political party or candidate. We believe all political parties can work towards enhancing sex workers’ rights and we encourage all political parties to take an ongoing interest in sex workers’ rights. We have never donated to a political party, candidate, councillor or local government. We have never received money from any political parties, candidates, councillors or local governments. We have never applied for or received grants from the Victorian Government, the federal government or any local government. We are a registered not-for-profit organisation. We are not a registered charity.
We understand sex workers have a wide range of views about politics and we respect diversity of views.
1. On 26 July 2022, the council passed a motion to note the pro-sex work planning scheme changes introduced by the Victorian Government. The motion neither opposed nor supported the changes. See items 1.1-1.2 from the meeting minutes:
2.There are 11 councillors. Councillors Geoff Lake, Nicky Luo, Rebecca Paterson, Brian Little, Paul Kilsaris, Tina Samardzija and Stuart James are with Labor. Councillors Josh Fergeus and Anjalee de Silva are with the Greens.
© Sex Work Law Reform Victoria 2023
Last updated: 25 April 2023