27 August 2020: Crossbench Flexes Its Muscles

Fiona Patten Crossbench Victorian Parliament

The crossbenchers in the Upper House have flexed their muscles, forcing the Premier to the negotiating table. This demonstrates the collective power the crossbench wields over the Victorian Government. 

Earlier this week Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews indicated his desire to extend Victoria’s State of Emergency by 12 months, so that coronavirus restrictions can continue well into 2021. Victorian legislation must achieve a majority vote in both houses of parliament. The Victorian Government lacks a majority in the Upper House, and so must receive the support from the opposition, crossbench, or both in order to pass legislation. 

So, what is, who is the crossbench? It is a collection of members of parliament in the Upper House who are not part of the government or opposition. Victoria’s current crossbench is unusually large and unusually diverse. We have:

  • an animal rights party (yes, Andy Meddick is vegan)
  • a party favourable to sex workers’ rights (Fiona Patten’s Reason Party)
  • a party for taxi drivers
  • the Greens
  • a party about population control and limits on immigration
  • a party about law and order and the rights of victims of crime
  • a libertarian party
  • Shooters, Farmers and Fishers Party Victoria (the name gives you a clue)
  • a number of independents (including Adem Somyurek, expelled from Labor earlier in 2020)

It appears the crossbench united in their opposition to the government’s plans to extend the state of emergency by 12 months. This forced the government to the negotiating table and an amended bill seems likely. This incident is a reminder of the power the crossbench yields when it is united in its opposition to the government. 

If a sex work decriminalisation bill is tabled during this term of parliament, the crossbench will be crucial to its success.

24 August 2020: Conservative powerbroker resigns

Marcus Bastiaan resigns, branch stacking

Today Liberal Party powerbroker Marcus Bastiaan resigned from the party following branch stacking allegations. Mr Bastiaan denies allegations of branch stacking but apologised for “foolish and stupid things in my twenties.” He turns 30 this year. 

Despite operating in Australia’s most progressive state, the Victorian Liberal Party has for a number of years had a reputation for courting conservative Christian voters, most notably people of Mormon faith and members of Evangelical churches. The Liberal Party, being a ‘broad church’, strives to bring together two quite different groups. Small ‘L’ liberals value individual freedom, free markets and are relatively comfortable with socially progressive reforms such as assisted dying laws, euthanasia and sex work decriminalisation. However, conservative Liberals are more likely to identify with religion, particularly Christianity, and generally oppose socially progressive policies. 

Fighting between these two groups within the Liberal party is known as the ‘internal culture war’, with the conservative faction seeking to utilise aggressive tactics to boost their numbers and dominance within the party. Mr Bastiaan was the most notorious of the ‘internal culture warriors’. Channel 9’s 60 Minutes TV show, caught him out saying:

“… change the [party] constitution … and open up preselections for 2020 when we’ve got the numbers all eligible, we’re locked in, we’re institutionalised, we’ve got our members in the Upper House, we’ve got a state director around our finger.”

Earlier in 2020 it was Victorian Labor’s turn to face branch stacking allegations. Now it’s the Liberals turn. There have been the usual apologies, some denials, excuses, promises of investigations and now Mr Bastiaan’s resignation from the party. And of course, let’s not forget those homophobic and racist leaked texts in 2018. What seems clear is that once again we see people in politics using aggressive, dirty and unethical tactics to grab power. Nothing particularly unusual here. 

Another Liberal Party figure named in the recent branch stacking allegations is Michael Sukkar, the Federal Assistant Treasurer and Housing Minister. Mr Sukkar’s words recorded and aired by 60 Minutes give us a clue as to what all of this means for sex work. In the tapes, Mr Sukkar wants to rid the Liberal Party of those who supported voluntary assisted dying:

“My view is there is four people in the Upper House on our side who have broken faith: Simon Ramsay, Bruce Atkinson, Mary Wooldridge, Ed O’Donohue. I think we can get rid of Simon Ramsay. We can potentially get rid of Bruce Atkinson, that’s harder, but we can, it is still in the mix. So that is two out of the four gone.”

Two Liberal Party figures front the conservative faction of the party have been caught out trying to get rid of the more moderate socially progressive Liberals. This is not a good look for the Christian conservatives and the scandal will not help them. 

Mr Sukkar sought to rid the Victorian Liberal Party from two (presumably) more socially progressive Victorian Liberal MPs – Edward O’Donohue and Bruce Atkinson. Both continue to sit in the Upper House of Victoria’s Parliament. And the Upper House is exactly where the Victorian Government needs opposition and crossbench support to get a sex work decriminalisation bill passed. 

Fiona Patten’s Sex Work Review continues and a sex work decriminalisation bill is expected. A scandal that weakens the far right faction of the Liberal Party and leaves the moderate Liberals in a secure position helps the prospect that a sex work decriminalisation bill could pass both houses of parliament.

Providing sex workers with human rights, dignity and legal rights shouldn’t be about factions, political parties and Christian groups. After all, according to the Bible, Jesus forgave a prostitute and showed kindness towards her (Luke 7, versus 38-47). But this is politics in 2020.

For anyone interested in the Liberal Party’s ‘internal culture war’ The Age’s senior journalist Farrah Tomazin is doing an excellent job covering this unfolding story.



24 July 2020: Social Distancing and Sex Work

Restrictions sex work

How to have a sex work booking AND practise social distancing at the same time! Only in Victoria …

We know Victoria’s sex work laws are often weird, to put it mildly. They get weirder when it comes to what is defined as sex work. Picture this scenario – a client and a sex worker are in a room together. He’s fully dressed. They’re standing (or sitting) 1.5 metres apart from each other, as per the Covid Restrictions on social distancing. They’re talking dirty and he reaches down to have a rub of his Victorian manliness, on the outside, note, he’s not even putting his hands inside his pants. At no time do the two people touch each other. Does this count as sex work? Surely not. 

Well, no, everywhere else in the world, it wouldn’t.* 

But in Victoria, it does! See our What is Sex Work page for the legal definitions of what constitutes sex work.

Hence, we applaud any recommendations in Fiona Patten’s Review to legally redefine sex work, cos we don’t think that the scenario above ought to be considered sex work

How did a definition like this come about? This legal definition of sex work was designed to cover grey areas when it came to regulating activities taking place in strip clubs back in the bad old days. 

 *note: We make this claim with the disclaimer that we haven’t examined the entire global body of sex work laws, so don’t quote us. An equally odd definition of sex work may exist in another jurisdiction’s legal code. Who knows? Let’s know if you find something.



16 June 2020: Marlene Kairouz Resigns

Today Marlene Kairouz resigned as Minister for Consumer Affairs. Ms Kairouz was responsible for regulating the licensed portion (as little as 20%) of Victoria’s sex industry. We take a look at her time in the role and the challenges her predecessor will face. 

The Minister for Consumer Affairs is responsible for Consumer Affairs Victoria, which licenses and regulates a range of businesses, from builders, tradespeople and real estate agents to brothels. Consumer Affairs Victoria interacts directly with the sex industry by administering Victoria’s notorious licensing system of sex work regulation. This system is despised by both sex workers and sex industry businesses. Years of frustration with this unworkable licensing system is what ultimately led the Victorian government in 2019 to announce a sweeping review of the system. 

The Victorian branch of the Labor Party has long been known to have factions and divisions. Recently sacked Minister for Local Government Adem Somyurek was described by Channel 9’s “60 Minutes” as ‘a factional kingpin’. Marlene Kairouz, also caught on camera on the 60 Minutes episode, was close to Mr Somyurek and aligned with him in the right faction of the Labor Party.  Adem Somyurek was Marlene Kairouz’s representative in the Upper House, after all. Any questions in the Upper House about sex industry licensing and regulation were directed to him. Now that Mr Somyurek is gone from cabinet and the Labor Party itself, investigations by IBAC and Victoria Police are likely, and the people closest to Mr Somyurek will be in the spotlight. 

Marlene Kairouz, whilst gone from the cabinet, retains her membership in the Labor Party and her Lower House seat of Kororoit in Melbourne’s western suburbs. She maintains her innocence of any wrongdoing:

“I look forward to the opportunity to clear my name and am confident any investigative process will do so.”

In resigning of her own volition, Ms Kairouz appears to have approval of the Premier. Of her decision to resign, he said,

“I would refer you to those statements and I believe they have both made the appropriate decision.”

Mr Andrews said he did not ask Ms Kairouz to resign and had not spoken to her prior to her decision to do so. 

It’s only fair that MP’s are given the benefit of the doubt, and we wait for any investigative process to unfold before judging individuals. But as sex workers’ rights activists, our core duty is to fight for the human rights, legal rights and interests of sex workers in Victoria. This is part of our Purpose, as outlined in our constitution. 

Former Minister Marlene Kairouz, despite her former portfolio responsibility for licensing the sex industry, was not particularly engaged with the sex industry. She was responsible for regulating dozens of other types of businesses; perhaps her focus was on more conventional industries. Victoria’s Sex Work Act places many unreasonable burdons on sex workers, much to the anger of the sex industry as a whole. Section 67 of the Act places a burden on the Minister for Consumer Affairs – it requires the Minister to appoint a Ministerial Advisory Committee relating to the sex industry. The last time this Committee met was 3 March 2014. 

In contrast to sex workers who may breach the Sex Work Act, the Minister doesn’t face criminal penalties for failing to comply with the Act. In fact, Ministers don’t face any penalties for failing to comply with section 67. 

In 2019, the government quietly passed a consumer law Bill which amended a small number of sections of the Sex Work Act. Both Marlene Kairouz and Adem Somyurek read in the bill (in their respective houses of parliament), with Mr Somyurek answering questions about the sex industry sections of the Bill. 

SWLRV identified a lack of consultation with sex workers in the lead up to the bill being read. We also publicly identified unsupported statements made by these two Ministers in 2019 as part of our submission to OVIC regarding freedom of information matters. 

The new Minister for Consumer Affairs will face the difficult task of sex industry reform in Victoria. On 30 September Fiona Patten will hand her recommendations regarding reform to the Minister. Whether or not Fiona Patten’s report and recommendations are made public is at the Minister’s discretion. The Minister will also need to decide whether they want to reinstate the Sex Work Ministerial Advisory Committee as required in section 67 of the Sex Work Act

Sex work decriminalisation is always incredibly complex and the details will be contested, both within and outside of the sex industry. And this will happen during a global coronavirus pandemic, with a shrinking economy, rising unemployment, and a polarised political landscape where voters have record low levels of trust in government, and while government debt rises. 

Sex industry reform was never going to be easy.

3 June 2020: A Healthy Dose of Self-Criticism?

Sex workers often point to the police and the government as being the sources of our problems. And, no doubt, with a majority of sex workers still criminalised in Victoria under outdated sex work licensing laws, the very system we live under seeks to oppress us in a range of ways. 

Victoria Police, like all police forces in Australia, get a bad review by most sex workers. But when you read the horror stories from sex workers in the USA, you can’t help but feel that, by global standards, Victoria Police are doing a better job than most.

Fiona Patten’s Sex Work Review will consider ‘sex worker advocacy for safety and wellbeing’. And this raises the question of how successful we’ve been in fighting for our own rights. 

Are sex workers powerless beings swept up by the currents of society, with no agency to determine the direction of their industry or their rights’ based movement?

Activists from all walks of life have proven to be poor at self-reflection and criticism. What role have sex workers themselves played in reducing Victoria to the point where we lag behind the other states when it comes to law reform?

Ever since the sex workers’ rights movement formed in Australia in the late 1970’s, Victoria has stood out, but not always for the right reasons. In the 1980’s we were world leaders when it came to peer-led activism and engagement with government. We secured funding to support our much needed activism. But along the way mistakes (and some big mistakes) were made. And that’s not something our community wants to talk about. Talking about blow jobs, threesomes, and all types of kinky sex acts is normal for us. But if you dare mention that we may have made mistakes or got things wrong… Now that’s taboo. 

Today Victoria stands out as the Australian state with a highly fractured sex workers’ rights movement. Fingers crossed this Review can reset the entire state of affairs.

1 June 2020: The issue of Discrimination

Will Fiona Patten consider the issue of discrimination against sex workers?

Fiona Patten’s ‘Review to make recommendations for the decriminalisation of sex work’ will consider many aspects of the sex industry, including:

  • workplace safety including health and safety issues and stigma and discrimination against sex workers.

So do sex workers experience discrimination? Most people don’t notice sex workers in society, as we are largely invisible. Our survival strategy is to remain under the radar. You probably know a few people who are sex workers, but you may not know that they are sex workers. And if you don’t know a sex worker well enough for them to share their personal experiences with you, how could you know whether sex workers experience discrimination?

Even many sex workers don’t realise the extent of the discrimination they could experience. This is because many of us hide our occupation. When filling in our tax return, we say “make-up artist” or “personal trainer”. When applying for a business bank account, most of us don’t dare say our occupation is sex work. We do this to avoid the discrimination we fear. 

Perhaps many people distrust sex workers; they may not believe us when we say we experience discrimination. But do you believe the banks? Their own policies lay out how they discriminate against us, and our website now systematically identifies the extent of this formal discrimination. 

https://sexworklawreformvictoria.org.au/financial-institutions-which-ones-discriminate/

This is an issue that the Review must consider. That, and the issue of how adequate  Victoria’s anti discrimination laws are in offering sex workers a remedy when such discrimination occurs.

26 April 2020: 35 Years After Marcia Neave’s Inquiry

Recently we heard someone describe Fiona Patten’s Sex Work Review as a once-in-a- generation opportunity for sex workers to have a say and reshape sex work regulation in this state. Who was fighting for sex workers a generation ago? 

It was 1985 and The Hon. Marcia Neave AO chaired the Victorian Inquiry into Prostitution, a landmark inquiry that put Victoria ahead of most of the world at the time. Reading over hundreds of pages of Marcia Neave’s reports, it becomes clear that most of her recommendations were largely in line with the principles of decriminalisation

Working with Marica Neave in the 1980s was Cheryl Overs, sex workers’ rights activist and founder of the Prostitutes Collective of Victoria. The 1980s was an exciting and radical time for Victoria. 

In 2020 Marcia Neave continues her work in law and public policy as the newly appointed Chair of Justice Connect. Cheryl Overs continues her academic career as Senior Research Fellow at the Michael Kirby Centre at Monash University. 

In 2020 will Fiona Patten be able to revive some of that earlier excitement and sense of hopefulness inspiring sex workers in the 1980s?






24 April 2020: Will we hear from clients?

prostitution client client of sex workers businessman

Who will make submissions to Fiona Patten’s Sex Work Review? We certainly hope to hear from a diverse range of sex workers, but it’s inevitable that anti-sex worker voices will be heard too. Last year the Northern Territory called for submissions on sex work reforms and a good percentage of the submissions came from Christian or radical feminist groups. These groups tend to favour the Nordic Model, which demonises clients, portraying them as one-dimensional violent misogynists. 

So will there be room in the inquiry to hear from clients? After all, there would be no sex industry without them. In certain circumstances, clients, like sex workers, are criminalised by Victoria’s sex work laws, and they, too, are arguably stigmatised. We seldom hear from clients in debates about sex work issues. Their voices are left out. Is it time to start listening to clients and encourage their voices to be heard?