Fiona Patten has spent close to a year conducting a Review into the best way to decriminalise sex work in Victoria. Fiona was tasked with conducting the Review on behalf of the Minister, and she consulted with dozens of sex industry and other stakeholder groups in the process. This week Fiona handed her much anticipated recommendations to Melissa Horne, the newly appointed Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation.
Fiona Patten has been lobbying for the sex industry for decades – she is the founder of Eros, and the Australian Sex Party, which became the Reason party. She knows the industry inside out, having spent countless hours publicly defending brothels, porn and sex work more broadly. She worked in the industry herself and is clearly comfortable and fluent when discussing sex and sex work publicly.
Most politicians are nothing like this. They shy away from discussing sex, or sex work. Sex work is not a subject that comes naturally to them. They avoid it, like most people. And when they’re forced to confront it, the most common reaction is discomfort, silence, awkwardness. Melissa Horne will face a sex industry desparate for reform, impatient and tired of decades of suffering under our wretched sex work licensing system that threatens the majority of sex workers with prosecution.
Melissa Horne is in many ways very different from Fiona Patten. Familiar with ministerial portfolios, she is new to the role of Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation. Navigating a way to implement law reform during a global pandemic, while her party is under fire over the response to coronavirus, and with the competing narratives surrounding sex work, was never going to be easy. In fact, sex work decriminalisation is notoriously difficult. Which is why only three jurisdictions in the world have decriminalised sex work. It seems logical that some kind of bill will be tabled in 2021, but the government hasn’t yet confirmed anything.
We don’t yet know if the list of groups who made submissions will be made public. We also don’t know whether the Minister will choose to publish Fiona Patten’s final report.
What we do know is that now the ball is now firmly in the court of Melissa Horne. She’ll decide what happens next.
Listen to Fiona Patten interviewed alongside Lisa from Sex Work Law Reform Victoria representative on 16 October 2020. Interview aired on Australia’s sex work radio show, Behind Closed Doors.