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.
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.
Fiona Patten and independent MP Ali Cupper have just announced their “coalition of independent women”. What will this mean for the prospects of sex work decriminalisation in Victoria?
Long time sex industry lobbyist Fiona Patten has been clear about her support of the decriminalisation of sex work. Ali Cupper holds the regional seat of Mildura, not a part of Victoria associated with a strong sex workers’ rights movement. Geographically speaking, Mildura is about as far away from Melbourne as you can get: 542km by road from the CBD.
The Victorian Government, currently held by Labor, has a clear majority in the Lower House and can easily pass legislation there, despite resistance from the Opposition. However, in the Upper House, Labor only has 17 of the 40 seats and needs additional votes to pass legislation. Decriminalisation in Victoria requires new law, a bill, and requires a majority vote in both houses of parliament. If Fiona Patten can convince Ali Cupper to vote for sex work decriminalisation, it means one additional guaranteed ‘yes’ vote in the Upper House.
Reflecting the conservative nature of her electorate, Ms Cupper said “[Fiona Patten’s] Reason [Party] takes the best conservative ideas and the best progressive ideas and melds them together.”
The ABC’s political reporter Richard Willingham covered this story on 4 December, 2020.