15 October 2021: Suspended from Voting

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.

13 October 2021: We Have a Bill

Yesterday, 12 October 2021, the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Melissa Horne, tabled the Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill 2021 (Vic).

This is a moment to celebrate: the Victorian Government begins the process of delivering on our hopes that sex work will finally be decriminalised after more than 40 years of lobbying from various groups in Victoria. In fact, the tabling of this bill marks the furthest advance Victoria has made in progressing sex workers’ rights to date. 

It’s a sad reality that, as we always feared, the bill seeks to retain some street solicitation offences. Sex work in public has always been very confronting to many people and we will continue to call for the clauses that criminalise solicitation to be removed. 

But the bill delivers well when it comes to anti-discrimination protections, prohibiting councils from discriminating against sex workers and putting an end to the sex work licensing system.

This bill also comes at a time when………

-we are on the eve of an election year (2022), the coronavirus pandemic reaches new crescendos, with a new record of over 2,000 new daily infections in Victoria.

-Melbourne breaks the world record for the longest coronavirus lockdown – 255 days and counting.

-A public corruption investigation casts a shadow over the Victorian Government, with more resignations.

-Melbourne sees violent protests against coronavirus vaccine mandates.

-The news media remains fixated and preoccupied with the pandemic.

It’s possible the parliament will manage to quietly pass a number of bills while the media remains focussed on the pandemic. Let’s wait and see.

8 September 2021: Liberals Take Back Matthew Guy

Liberal Party Leadership Spill

Yesterday, 7 September 2021, the Victorian Liberal Party removed Michael O’Brien as leader, reinstalling Matthew Guy.

The Victorian Liberal Party is currently in opposition and represents the conservative party in Victoria. They experienced a significant defeat at the last 2018 election. 

Matthew Guy acknowledged how hard it is to get air time for any opposition leader during a pandemic. 

ABC News’ Victorian state political reporter Richard Willingham gives us a hint as to what they leadership change might mean for sex workers. In his article, Willingham argues that ‘Matthew Guy is selling hope. His party needs it as much as Victoria does.’ Victoria has endured half a dozen coronavirus lockdowns, businesses have been ruined and people fear for the health of their loved ones and the virus continues to circulate in the community. The pandemic has indeed shown we all need hope. But it’s also shown us that fear also works in mobilising people. Look at the rise of the anti-vaccine movement, and bizarre Q-Anon conspiracy theories. 

Time and time again Victoria has seen individuals, groups and churches try to turn sex work into a wedge issue, fueling moral panic via fear based campaigns. We can only hope that the Victorian Liberal Party, keen to regain relevance, won’t try to politicise sex work via an irrational moral panic campaign about ‘sex work in the suburbs’.

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.