EXCERPT Tied up in red tape: state policy on sex work in South Australia

I’m late.

I run across the road and try not to trip or drop the contents of my makeup-laden handbag on the road. Abi and Arianna (Ari) smile and wave to me from their table in the café, an offering called My Kingdom For A Horse. The paint scheme inside is divine: a tri-coloured horizontal stripe that skates its way around the café interior. Bright red, orange and yellow fly past us on whitewashed bricks. It’s got a daggy-new-again feel, like my puffer jacket in the 80s. Something you were once embarrassed by, because your mum made you wear it on cold casual days at school. Something you squeal over with delight when you see it again, after you’re old enough to make your own decisions and your mum doesn’t care what you wear anymore. 

The wait staff here are super attentive and come over with tablets to take our orders. We all end up ordering the exact same brunch: Huevos Rancheros, and a shitload of coffee. While I chow down on baked beans, eggs, avocado and sour cream, they tell me about what it’s like being a sex worker in Australia, where the Bureau of Statistics classifies you as ‘Occupation 451813’. It sounds fine, as long as particular State Governments would stop with their moral objections (yes South Australia, I’m looking at you).  

Sex work in Australian states functions within one of three approaches: decriminalised, licensed, or criminalised. Restrictive legislation and policy make it difficult for sex workers to have the same rights to occupational health and safety as other workers.‘Decrim’ is a form of regulation that recognises sex work as a legitimate occupation. In this framework, no specific laws are designed to regulate sex workers or related activities. Instead, sex workers are subject to the same laws that regulate other businesses, like occupational health and safety regulations, tax laws, zoning regulations and employment laws. This framework is supported worldwide by Amnesty International, United Nations, the World Health Organisation, Global Alliance against Trafficking of Women, sex worker organisations worldwide, and the Victorian and federal Greens. 

New South Wales is one of only two places in the world where sex work is decriminalised (the other is New Zealand). Abi and Ari strongly support it, and wish it was in place in their home states. Abi says it would make her job “no different to if I was decorating wedding cakes”. As it stands, if she works in her own state, she’ll be paying the Australian Tax Office with one hand while dodging handcuffs from the South Australian Police.