Queensland Laws

last updated 07/11/2022

The Bill for the decriminalisation of sex work was voted in by the QLD government on 2 May, 2024. The laws will come into effect on 1 August, 2024. We are currently updating this page to reflect these changes. Please follow @Respect.QLD and @DecrimQLD on Instagram for more updates.

How to use this resource

This resource contains information for sex workers on the laws about sex work in Queensland. This information is not intended to be legal advice. It is provided as a guide on sex work laws to help you navigate working in Queensland.

Sex work laws can be confusing and difficult to comply with and can compromise our safety. They are different in each state and territory, so sex work activities that are legal in one state may not be legal in another. 

Most sex work laws in Australia are about work that involves in-person contact and direct sexual services, so this resource is focused on those kinds of sex work. Resources on other types of sex work, including stripping, porn and online work, are forthcoming.

If you’ve been charged or received a fine or official notice while doing sex work or have further questions about the laws, contact Respect Inc for advice and support.

Queensland’s sex worker peer organisation
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Queensland’s peer-only sex worker organisation is Respect Inc. Respect has offices where you can drop in and visit in Meanjin (Brisbane), Gimuy (Cairns), and on Yugambeh & Kombumerri land (Gold Coast), as well as outreach services in other locations. Contact Respect to access support, advocacy, safety advice, safer sex supplies, peer-led workshops, the Crimson Clinic, and referrals to sex work-friendly professionals.

Framework - licensing regime
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Sex work in Queensland operates under a ‘two-tier’ licensing system combined with laws in the Criminal Code. Under this regime, a very small number of brothels are able to operate legally by obtaining a license and being regulated by the Prostitution Licensing Authority (PLA). However, most other types of sex work businesses, including escort agencies, massage parlour work, street-based sex work, and working in pairs and in small groups or collectives, are criminalised.  

Private/independent sex work is permitted, but many aspects of the work are criminalised, with sex workers unable to legally work with other sex workers or from the same hotel as another sex worker or to implement common safety strategies. 

It is estimated that only 10% of sex work in Queensland occurs in licensed brothels, indicating that a significant portion of the Queensland sex industry operates outside of the law.

On  2nd May 2024, the bill to decriminalise sex work was voted in by the Queensland Government. Decriminalisation will come into effect on 1st August 2024.

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Historically, Queensland regulated sex work and sex workers as a threat to public health. The Act for the Suppression of Contagious Diseases 1868 allowed sex workers to be held and ‘treated’ by authorities, and the Health Act Amendment Act 1911 criminalised offering sexual services. 

In the late 1980s, the Fitzgerald Inquiry into police misuse of powers, corruption and political corruption led to the establishment of Queensland’s Crime and Corruption Commission. The Fitzgerald Inquiry report detailed systemic police corruption and misuse of powers in relation to the sex industry in Queensland, which brought the laws and their enforcement into prominence in the media and popular consciousness. A Criminal Justice

Commission (CJC) inquiry was recommended and held in 1991, followed by a Parliamentary Criminal Justice Committee Report. 

Reform was slow to start, and the momentum from the Fitzgerald report was lost. The Prostitution Act 1999 came into effect in 2000 and combined with the Criminal Code laws that criminalise sex worker safety strategies and regulations to form the licensing regime that is in place today. Queensland sex workers have long advocated for law reform that prioritises sex worker health, safety and rights, which are all undermined by the licensing regime that criminalises most sex work workplaces and sex worker safety strategies. Police entrapment is also legal in Queensland and is currently used as an enforcement tactic, with police posing as the clients of sex workers.

Due to the tireless advocacy of Queensland sex workers, a Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC) inquiry into the sex industry laws began in 2021 and is currently active, with sex workers advocating strongly for the full decriminalisation of sex work in Queensland as the only framework that can deliver safety, human rights and access to justice for Queensland sex workers. For more information on the law reform process, you can follow Respect Inc and #DecrimQLD on social media.

Applicable legislation
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  • Prostitution Act 1999 (governs licensed brothels, the PLA, the use of PPE, advertising, and criminalises street-based sex work)
  • Prostitution Regulation 2014 (governs the technical aspects of the brothel licensing system)
  • Criminal Code 1899, Chapter 22A (defines criminal offences and penalties for private sex workers, illegal sex work businesses, collectives and hiring support staff to help with private work)
  • Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (outlines police powers in relation to sex work, such as the power to entrap sex workers by posing as a client, ‘consorting offences’ and ‘move on’ orders used against street-based sex workers)

General information and laws about sex work

Definition of sex work
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“Prostitution” is defined as a commercial arrangement involving sexual intercourse, masturbation, oral sex and/or any other activity “that involves the use of 1 person by another for his or her sexual satisfaction involving physical contact” (Criminal Code 1899).

“Unlawful prostitution” is defined as 2 or more sex workers working in the same location unless that location is a licensed brothel (Criminal Code 1899).

Safer sex practices
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Queensland law heavily regulates sex workers’ sexual health. It is illegal to provide or offer sexual services without a condom or other safer-sex PPE (maximum penalty 100 penalty units – Prostitution Act 1999).

Sex workers in licensed brothels are required to get regular STI tests and provide a Certificate of Attendance to their brothel manager – see licensed brothels: STI testing below.

It is illegal for clients to ask for or accept an offer for sexual services without a condom or other safer-sex PPE (maximum penalty 100 penalty units – Prostitution Act 1999).

The Scarlet Alliance Red Book Online provides a wide range of sexual health information for sex workers by sex workers and includes information on testing, safer sex, harm reduction, and workplace health and safety. 

Many STI and BBV are ‘notifiable infections’ in some or all states and territories. This means that diagnosed cases of these infections are confidentially reported to state or territory health departments. You can find more information on the notifiable conditions in each jurisdiction on our BBV, STI and the Law resource, or contact your local sex worker peer organisation for support if you’re concerned about any impact this might have on your work.

General sex work offences
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The following laws apply to all sex work. Under the Prostitution Act 1999, it is illegal to 

  • Interfere with a condom or other safer-sex PPE, use damaged PPE, or continue to use damaged PPE (maximum penalty 100 penalty units)  Note: this provision makes it illegal for a client to sneakily remove or not use a condom without a sex worker’s knowledge or consent (commonly known as ‘stealthing’).
  • Publish sex work advertising that does not comply with the advertising guidelines (see Advertising below) (maximum penalty 70 penalty units or fine up to 10 times the cost of advertisement). These guidelines are commonly enforced.
  • Cause or threaten injury, cause or threaten damage to someone’s property, or use intimidation, harassment or fraud to make someone continue to do sex work (maximum penalty 200 penalty units or 7 years imprisonment).
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Sex work advertising (for both establishments and private/independent sex workers) must comply with guidelines issued by the PLA. The guidelines place restrictions on the format, content, language and pictures that are allowed to be used in sex work advertising. Sex workers cannot describe a service or refer to a massage in advertising. Any website linked to your advertising must comply with Queensland laws, i.e., must not advertise a service that is illegal in Queensland (for example, a doubles service, even if it indicates the activity is intended for clients in other locations), and must say it is restricted to people 18 years and older. Advertising compliance is enforced by both the PLA and the police, and the associated fines can be significant. Police review sex worker advertisements in Queensland to identify illegal activities offered.

The PLA’s explanatory guidelines and checklist and Respect Inc’s advertising information can help you reduce the likelihood that your advertising makes you at risk of being fined or policed. The advertising laws are very confusing and not well matched to the activities we undertake as sex workers, and there is no mechanism for a sex worker to confirm if an advertisement is compliant.

Direct discussions between a sex worker and clients, such as a conversation during a booking or a text message exchange, are not considered advertising. For example, it is legal for a sex worker to agree to provide a client with a massage in a text message when arranging a booking. Conversations and text messages can still be used as evidence against sex workers if negotiating services that are illegal, including condomless services and doubles.

Advertising sex work services can also be impacted by federal advertising and internet laws, as well as the requirements of private advertising service providers.

Police powers
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Police have extensive powers to investigate sex work offences and commonly use them to police private/independent sex workers working together, escort agencies and street-based sex work. While investigating sex work offences, undercover police can pretend to be either sex workers or clients, may commit acts that would otherwise be crimes (although not if the action is likely to involve a sexual offence) and use surveillance devices with a warrant. These powers are currently actively used in Queensland. Police also have broad ‘move on’ powers if they suspect that you are ‘soliciting’ in a public place. This means that police have the power to ask you to leave certain public places, even if you are not working or intend to work in the area. 

If you have experienced police entrapment or are concerned about an interaction you have had with police in the course of doing sex work, contact Respect Inc.

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It is generally illegal to discriminate against a sex worker on the basis of ‘lawful sexual activity’ (Anti-Discrimination Act 1991). While there are limitations on what is protected and in what circumstances, it is possible to lodge a discrimination complaint in Queensland if you have been treated less favourably because you are a sex worker, particularly in relation to health services, employment, banking, and other goods and services.  

However, there is an exemption in Queensland that makes it legal for an “accommodation provider” (which applies to both landlords/real estate agents and short-stay accommodation providers like hotels and motels) to

  • refuse to provide accommodation to a sex worker,
  • evict a sex worker, or
  • treat a sex worker unfavourably in connection with accommodation if the accommodation provider reasonably believes that you or another sex worker is using or intends to use the accommodation to do sex work (Anti-Discrimination Act 1991). There must be grounds for this ‘reasonable belief’. 

Another exemption that allows discrimination applies to some situations where your employment includes providing direction to children. 

The protections of the Human Rights Act 2019 (QLD) may also provide protection to sex workers across a number of areas outlined in Division 2. If you have experienced discrimination or human rights violations relating to sex work or your status as a sex worker, contact Respect Inc for support.

Types of sex work

This section describes laws, enforcement practices and penalties applying to particular types of sex work.

Brothels & parlours
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Brothel work is only legal within licensed brothels in Queensland. The brothel licensing system is overseen by the Prostitution Licensing Authority, with individual licenses needed for each operator and manager. There are several conditions that must be met for a premise to be used as a licensed brothel. As a result, there are only 20 licensed brothels in Queensland. Licences are only issued for brothels that are permitted by the relevant Local Planning Scheme, which means that local councils also regulate the location and operation of brothels in their local government areas. 

Working in a sex work business that is not a licensed brothel is illegal (maximum penalty up to 7 years imprisonment – Criminal Code 1899). It is also a crime to be a client of an illegal sex work business (maximum penalty up to 7 years imprisonment – Criminal Code 1899) or to enter or leave a place that has been declared to be an unlicensed brothel (maximum penalty 60 penalty units or 1-year imprisonment – Prostitution Act 1999).

Licensed brothels: STI testing
  • Sex workers working in licensed brothels are required by law to be tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) every 3 months
  • Sex workers in licensed brothels must not knowingly work while they have an STI (maximum penalty 100 penalty units – Prostitution Act 1999).
  • Managers must not knowingly allow a sex worker to work while infected with an STI (maximum penalty 120 penalty units – Prostitution Act 1999).

Respect Inc has created a template certificate and information that can be completed by your GP or sexual health nurse.

Licensed brothels: offences
  • Brothel operators and managers cannot discourage sex workers from using condoms and other safer-sex PPE (maximum penalty 120 penalty units – Prostitution Act 1999).
  • Brothel operators and managers cannot advertise for employment for sex workers (maximum penalty 100 penalty units – Prostitution Act 1999).
  • Brothels cannot have more than 13 staff on-site at any one time and must comply with other requirements of the brothel license (maximum penalty 200 penalty units or 5 years imprisonment – Prostitution Act 1999).
  • Alcohol is not permitted in a licensed brothel (maximum penalty 40 penalty units – Prostitution Act 1999).
  • People under the age of 18 and some people with disability are not allowed to enter a brothel (maximum penalty 14 years imprisonment – Criminal Code 1899). 
Licensed brothels: proof of age and police powers

Workers must show the brothel manager photo ID (e.g. passport or driver’s license) to confirm their age prior to starting their first shift. Brothel managers must record your working name and the type of ID shown but are not legally required to retain a copy. If you agree to a brothel making a copy of your ID, that copy must be returned to you or destroyed when you stop working at the brothel.

Police have the power to enter a licensed brothel and inspect, copy or seize any item required to be kept by the licensee (e.g. copies of sexual health certificates). 

Sex workers in licensed brothels are not required to speak to police who enter the premises unless the police officer reasonably believes the worker may be a minor, in which case the worker must state their age (Prostitution Act 1999).

If you need further information or have any questions or concerns about record-keeping, workplace health and safety, or police access to brothels in Queensland, contact Respect Inc.

Escort agencies
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Escort agencies are illegal in Queensland. Both operators and sex workers who work for an escort agency can be charged. It is also illegal to provide an escort service in Queensland if you work for an escort agency located across the border. 

Independent/private sex work - incall and outcall
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It is legal to provide both incalls (subject to planning laws for residential-based small businesses) and outcalls as an independent (private) sex worker in Queensland. However, you need to work alone, and there are charges that relate to doing this work that you need to be aware of.

The most common charges against sex workers in Queensland in the last ten years are for ‘knowingly participating in the provision of prostitution’. Under this law, it is illegal for a person to participate “directly or indirectly, in the provision of prostitution by another person” (maximum penalty up to 7 years imprisonment – Criminal Code 1899). This means that sex workers who provide support services to other sex workers and non-sex workers who provide these services to a sex worker can be charged. This is true whether or not the person providing the service is receiving payment for it. This includes: 

  • receiving, directing or redirecting calls or messages or taking bookings
  • driving services,
  • security and safety calls,  
  • or receiving money on behalf of a sex worker,
  • assisting with advertising or other activities that enable the person to do their work.

These laws are currently enforced in Queensland and may be investigated by using entrapment (where police pose as a client) and surveillance devices – see police powers above. 

If 2 or more sex workers work together outside of a licensed brothel, this is illegal under the ‘unlawful prostitution’ laws in the Criminal Code 1899. This includes:

  • providing independent “doubles” or “duos” or any other service with multiple workers (whether incall or outcall),
  • sharing work premises with another sex worker, even if you aren’t there at the same time, and 
  • working from the same hotel as another sex worker because the definition of premises is very broad.

There are also nuisance laws that apply to sex work in general, which say that you can’t cause ‘unreasonable annoyance…or disruption to the privacy of another person’ (maximum penalty up to 25 penalty units – Prostitution Act 1999). This has been used against private/independent sex workers.

Street-based sex work
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It is illegal to do street-based sex work in Queensland or, as the law describes it, “publicly solicit for prostitution” (maximum penalty up to 30 penalty units or 6 months imprisonment – Prostitution Act 1999). In the last five years, there have been six ‘publicly solicit’ offences in Queensland, but policing practices can change. Contact Respect Inc for information on current policing practices. 

“Solicit” means offering to provide a sexual service OR accepting an offer for sexual services, and also includes ‘loitering’ (standing, walking, waiting) for the purpose of making or accepting an offer for sexual services. This applies to sex workers, clients and anyone negotiating on behalf of a client or sex worker.

Police officers may issue a ‘direction to move on’ to any person they suspect of trying to sell sex in a public place, requiring that person to stay away from the area for up to 24 hours (Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000).

Police may use entrapment (i.e. pretend to be a sex worker or client) in order to establish a publicly soliciting offence (Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000).

“Publicly soliciting for prostitution” is an “identifying particulars offence.” This means that if you are arrested on suspicion of this offence, a police officer may obtain your palm prints, fingerprints, handwriting, voiceprints or footprints, take a photograph of any identifying features, or take a measurement of any part of your body other than your genital/anal area or breasts. (Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000).