Liberal parliamentarians Giulia Jones and Vicki Dunne will host a public forum at the ACT Assembly on Thursday, to talk about prostitution law in Canberra and explain their coming tour to countries where buying sex is illegal.
The visit has raised the possibility of an attempt to outlaw prostitution in the territory, where the industry is legal and regulated.
Ms Jones, the ACT Liberals’ spokeswoman on women, has the backing of Liberal leader Jeremy Hanson for her visit Europe, Sweden and South Korea for a three-week tour in March to look at laws that make it illegal to pay for sex, rather than making it illegal to work in the sex industry. Ms Jones wants “exit programs” to help women who want to leave the sex industry.
She described it as a feminist issue. Surveys suggested as many as 89 per cent of women in the sex industry wanted out, she said.
“People still probably don’t think very often about the fact that it’s a fairly damaging business for women on the whole,” she said. “There are exceptions … but the statistics show that a vast number of women would like to get out, and they tend not to be able to work five nights a week for 20 years. It’s too much and the women that have come out of the industry have said that to me.”
In Sweden, prostitution had been decriminalised, but it was illegal to buy sex, a model that had been adopted by the European Union as its preferred model, and was being considered by France and Britain. South Korea had the most advanced “exit program” for women who wanted to leave the industry.
“It’s putting the burden back on to those who purchase sex because of the toll it takes,” Ms Jones said. “It really comes from a feminist perspective about the violence that gets perpetrated on women in this industry.”
Ms Jones and Speaker Vicki Dunne will be joined on their tour by West Australian Liberal MP Peter Abetz and Victorian Labor MP Christine Campbell, and by academics and others.
Prostitution is legal in Canberra from both sides of the equation – buying and selling sex. Ms Jones said a change in Canberra’s laws would probably need support from both sides of politics. “Without having broad agreement it would take some time, I imagine,” she said.
Ms Jones and Mrs Dunne's forum is Thursday night, from 7.30pm to 9pm.
Sex Party president Fiona Patten said on Thursday the tour amounted to "a junket" and could lead to prostitution being made illegal in Canberra.
“The ACT has a world class model of regulation of sex work. We’ve had members of parliament from around the world come and see the Australian model.
“For these politicians to go overseas on what I would see as a junket to look at prohibitionist models in 2014 is ridiculous," Ms Patten said.
“Vicki Dunne was part of an extensive review of the prostitution act 12 months ago and it was found that the act provided safe working conditions for sex workers, the act helped to remove stigma which made it easier for people to exit the industry and that overall it was extremely successful.
“They talk about protecting workers when actually what has happened in France and Sweden has been exactly the opposite. When you criminalise the clients of sex workers you effectively criminalise the sex worker.
Ms Patten said the trip was a waste of taxpayers money.