In 2010, Vicki Dunne prompted the ACT government to hold an inquiry into sex work laws in the ACT, compelling the Health Directorate, the Australian Federal Police and ACT Policing to prepare evidence for consideration.
One of the many rules of political inquiries of course is that you don’t call for one unless you pretty much know what the outcome will be. Dunne thought she did know: surely everyone would agree with her that sex work is “not normal”, a terrible scourge afflicting society and spreading disease and crime among an otherwise sober and boring Canberra. But no, other (some would say more informed) members of the public sphere in the ACT disagreed.
The Health Directorate made the following statement to the inquiry: “We note … the highly successful partnership approach [between government and sex workers] in responding to sexually transmissible infections… Sex workers are considered important public health partners and the ACT Health Directorate has explicitly acknowledged their importance in helping to contain STIs... Sex workers usually have greater levels of education and effectiveness in relation to the use of barrier protection, as well as a high degree of self efficacy in relation to the protection of their own sexual health.”
ACT Policing made observations that were similarly in contradictions to Dunne’s opinion: “… it is our view that the ACT has not experienced the same levels of correlation between the sex industry and criminality as other juristdictions… It is fair to say that we do not view the ACT sex industry as a provenance of significant criminality in this jurisdiction.”
As a result of such evidence the inquiry came to a predictable and reasonable conclusion that the ACT approach to sex work - decriminalisation - is effective. There was acknowledgment that there should be small improvement: program funding for peer education for sex workers of non-English speaking background, private sex workers should be able to work in pairs, removing the obligation for individual sex workers to provide personal details to the public record, and clarify laws in regards to sexually transmissible infections. But no recommendation for a drastic turn around in the ACTs current manner of accepting, tolerating and recognising sex work as work. This emerging from Dunne's own inquiry. Nothing to see here, time to move along.
Three years later Dunne - this time with Gulia Jones on side - now pretends that the inquiry never happened. The two of them headed overseas with Peter Abetz and Christine Campbell (Victoria). These politicians took in sights of dubious usefulness in Sweden, and Korea, met with NOT A SINGLE sex worker group, and even threw in a trip to France for good measure, even though French law reform efforts are currently stymied in the Senate. Still, it’s a long way to fly to witness pieces of paper that one could download on the internet.
Many sex workers in the ACT gave evidence to her inquiry and were crystal clear about one simple thing: sex work is work. Sex work is not a social ill that needs fixing. Sex work is not a political hobby horse for bored politicians. And sex workers are not Dunne or Jones’ rescue project. Sex workers don’t need interference in our lives from those who view us as victims, but we would like the opportunity to maintain our privacy and not be forced to work alone. Dunne and Jones’ disingenuous meddling on the issue demeans parliamentary processes such as formal inquiries – why bother with actual evidence if it is going to be ignored? If this is setting a new bar for ACT politics, it is a dangerously low one.
Elena Jeffreys is a sex worker and is working on a PhD in the field of political science and international studies. You can follow the discussion on twitter with the hashtag #notyourrescueproject.