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.
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.
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.