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Decriminalisation of Sex Work in Queensland: A Progressive Step Towards Equality

In a historic move, the Queensland Government has recently decriminalised sex work, aligning with recommendations from the State Law Reform Commission to enhance the health, safety, and rights of sex workers, and recognising sex work as a legitimate form of employment rather than a criminal activity.


Decriminalisation of Sex Work in Queensland: A Progressive Step Towards Equality
Decriminalisation of Sex Work in Queensland: A Progressive Step Towards Equality

Last week, the passage of the Criminal Code (Decriminalising Sex Work) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2024 marked a significant shift in policy. This legislation abolishes specific criminal offences targeting sex workers and dismantles the previous licensing system, opting instead for regulation under general occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. This change is designed to foster safer work environments and reduce the stigma and discrimination that sex workers face.


The reform was heavily influenced by a comprehensive report released by the Queensland Law Reform Commission in March last year. The commission's findings revealed that the old licensing regime, though intended to safeguard health and safety, was more effectively addressed under broader OHS laws. Moreover, the existing regulatory framework was criticised for contributing to the marginalisation and increased vulnerability of sex workers to exploitation and violence.


The process of reform was informed by extensive consultations and looked at examples from regions where sex work has already been decriminalised, such as New South Wales, Victoria, the Northern Territory, and New Zealand. This international perspective supported the case for decriminalisation, illustrating successful integration of sex work within general employment laws.


In her address to Parliament, Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath emphasized that "Decriminalisation does not mean the absence of regulation." She outlined that sex work would now be governed by the same general laws that apply to other fields, covering areas such as work health and safety, anti-discrimination, and public health.


The push for these changes has been supported by a broad coalition, including advocacy groups like Respect Inc, #DecrimQLD, Scarlet Alliance, and the Queensland Council of Unions. Their persistent efforts have been crucial in driving the legislative changes. During the public consultation phase, the bill received substantial backing through more than 175 submissions, underscoring community and organizational support for this new approach.


Janelle Fawkes, campaign leader for DecrimQLD, stated, "This bill not only repeals criminalisation but also ensures that protections are extended to every workplace, affirming that sex work is legitimate work."


Lulu Holiday, state coordinator for Respect Inc, also expressed approval of the bill’s passage, highlighting the anticipated improvements to the health and safety of sex workers in Queensland.


This legislative reform is a commendable step towards normalising and safeguarding sex work. While the transition may take time, especially to mitigate the deep-seated impacts of previous criminalisation, this is undoubtedly a vital move towards genuine social and employment equality.

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