Submission to the Northern Territory Exposure Draft Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2022

Scarlet Alliance submission to the Northern Territory Exposure Draft Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2022 on August 22, 2022.

“Sex workers in Australia have long been subjected to discrimination and vilification with devastating impacts on our safety, housing and accommodation, financial stability, and mental health and well-being. While decriminalisation does break down many of the legal barriers that sex workers face in accessing labour rights, decriminalisation does not eradicate the pervasive stigma surrounding sex work and discrimination against sex workers and our work. Sex work stigma is an issue that is informed by the historical and contemporary marginalisation and demonisation of sex work as a moral and social issue that neccesitates control and containment.

This submission outlines the pervasive discrimination, vilification and sexual harassment experienced by sex workers in the Northern Territory and the detrimental effects that this has on our work, health, relationships, safety and experience of equity. We make recommendations as to how the NT Anti-Discrimination Act 1992 (ADA) must be amended, as well as recommendations regarding the conciliation process. This submission is one of the many policy documents that Scarlet Alliance, SWOP NT and other sex worker peer organisations have produced in the fight to obtain robust anti-discrimination protections. We urge the Commission to review this policy work and more importantly to meet our demands therein. As a community, sex workers collectively resist, mobilise and advocate for our human rights, industrial rights and right to be free from discrimination. We urge the NT Government to continue to support sex workers in our resistance to the criminalisation, targeting and surveillance of our work as well as our fight to obtain robust anti-discrimination protections for all sex workers.

We acknowledge that the Northern Territory government is world-leading in its approach to the human rights of sex workers, and this is reflected in the recent decriminalisation of sex work and the current attempt to protect sex workers from discrimination under the ADA. However, we believe that the Exposure Draft Bill does not go far enough in some areas, and will unfortunately fail to protect all sex workers under the suggested wording and definitions for the proposed attributes. In order to wholly support the benefits of decriminalisation, and the full intention of the Sex Industry Act 2019, it is essential that this Exposure Draft Bill enacts protections for sex workers in a way that protects all sex workers through the attributes of ‘current or past sex work’ and ‘sex worker, current or past’.

Through our extensive consultation process we are able to provide definitions that will adequately protect all sex workers and our work including ‘Erotic Live Performers and Adult Entertainers’.

The Northern Territory Labor Government in the implementation of the Sex Industry Act 2019 has already fully decriminalised sex work, aligning sex work to existing laws and regulations as well as enabling access to industrial rights, protections, and responsibilities. This enables the sex industry to operate in accordance with the laws of the Territory and the Commonwealth as they apply to all individuals and businesses generally, including laws governing employment, occupational health and safety, workers compensation and rehabilitation, planning, taxation and discrimination.

In 2022, the Northern Territory Government has documented in the Principle Paper for Achieving Equality in the Northern Territory 2021 (tabled in Parliament 16 February 2022), that the amendments to the ADA in 2022 will protect past and current sex workers and sex work.

The active engagement of Australian politicians and governments with sex workers affirms that workers’ knowledge is integral to assist in developing and implementing a fully decriminalised framework. This engagement is recognised as best practice for sex industry workers and their businesses to obtain effective safety protections and industrial rights. The Northern Territory has demonstrated the importance of best practice partnerships between sex workers and government and provides evidence for the critical reforms to decriminalise sex work, in other states and territories throughout Australia. Ensuring robust anti-discrimination and vilification protections through the attributes of ‘sex work’ and ‘sex worker’ in the ADA will be another best practice example of leadership by the NT government to protect the rights, health and safety of all workers.

The failure to protect sex workers under anti-discrimination law has been detrimental in NSW, the first jurisdiction in the world to decriminalise sex work in 1995. Despite decriminalisation, sex workers continue to experience systemic discrimination and vilification, which affects our health, well-being and access to basic needs such as housing, financial, legal and health services, education and other employment. This shows that even in the absence of laws which heavily regulate or criminalise some or all aspects of our work, discrimination remains a pervasive issue for sex workers. It further shows that a lack of robust anti-discrimination protections can effectively undermine the beneficial intent of decriminalisation. Fortunately, in NSW there is currently a Bill before the NSW Parliament to provide anti-discrimination and anti-vilification protections for sex workers, using the attributes ‘sex work’ and ‘sex worker’3 – the attributes that we believe afford the strongest protections for sex workers.”