Passage of the Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill 2021 (Vic) now seems unlikely to pass into law this year, due to intense debate on an unrelated bill in the Upper House.
Having lived in one of the most locked down cities in the world during the coronavirus pandemic, both voters and MP’s have strong, and often divergent views on the state government’s legal powers to impose sudden, and (and some say draconian) lockdowns.
The PUBLIC HEALTH AND WELLBEING AMENDMENT (PANDEMIC MANAGEMENT) BILL 2021 (Vic) seeks to change the way public health and coronavirus restrictions are imposed. It has been intensely debated for weeks. Last night, for 21 hours the Upper House debated this bill, accepting a number of amendments.
The Upper House concludes for the year at the end of this week, which means some lower priority bills must be delayed until February 2022. The sex work bill increasingly looks like it could fall into this category.
For around two weeks, four Upper House MP’s have been in exile, banned from entering the parliament and prevented from voting on any bills. Three of these crossbench MP’s, Tim Quilty, David Limbrick and Catherine Cumming, set up a ‘parliament in exile’ inside a small underground nightclub – the Chaise Lounge club in Melbourne’s CBD. Their suspension as it stands was to apply until early February 2021, well after a vote on the new sex work decriminalisation bill had passed.
So what do these three ‘rebel’ MP’s have to do with sex work? In order to pass law, the Victorian Government needs the votes of at least 3 additional crossbench MP’s. All three of these are MP’s the government needs to help get sex work decriminalisation across the line.
Last night and this morning, all three announced they would comply with vaccine mandates and return to parliament to vote on a number of bills, including the Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill 2021.
David and Tim are supportive of sex work decrim, and will likely vote for the bill. This very much helps us get the numbers needed to get this bill over the line.
The coronavirus pandemic has loomed large over the campaign to decriminalise sex work in Victoria. From shutting down the sex industry to preventing in person meetings with members of parliament, everything changed once coronavirus hit Victoria.
And now, ongoing debates about the appropriate level of government power and government transparency when responding to pandemics has stepped up. On the same day that the Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill 2021 (Vic) is scheduled to be debated in the Lower House, a bill to drastically alter government powers to respond to pandemics is also being debated.
The PUBLIC HEALTH AND WELLBEING AMENDMENT (PANDEMIC MANAGEMENT) BILL 2021 (Vic) is already generating controversy, with some widely differing views.
With around five weeks remaining on the parliament calendar, the Victorian Government has an ambitious target to swiftly pass a significant number of bills. As the media remains distracted by mainstream issues such as appropriate responses to pandemics, the sex work bill just might quietly, and quickly pass into law by Christmas.
Will Victoria’s sex work decriminalisation pass into law if key MP’s are prevented from voting for the bill?
Yesterday, 14 October 2021, the Legislative Council passed a motion requiring MP’s to be vaccinated and provide proof of vaccination in order to physically attend parliament. Those who don’t comply will be suspended, which means they cannot vote on bills.
The Victorian Government needs crossbench support in the Upper House to pass legislation. Right now, the MP’s most likely to be suspended as a result of the vaccine mandate are all crossbenchers – David Limbrick, Tim Quilty and Catherine Cumming.
Any suspension of MP’s will change the voting pattern and shift the government’s majority position when voting on bills. This vaccine mandate could impact the Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill 2021 gaining enough votes to pass into law.
The pandemic, and our response to it, continues to dance around the progress of this bill.