State parliament votes to make sex work legal and safe

Fraser Barton |

Janelle Fawkes from Scarlet Alliance said it has been a long road for sex worker reforms.
Janelle Fawkes from Scarlet Alliance said it has been a long road for sex worker reforms.

Queensland has become the fourth jurisdiction in Australia to decriminalise sex work.

A bill to protect sex workers from unfair discrimination and decriminalise the industry passed the state parliament on Thursday.

The reforms will repeal criminal offences applying specifically to sex workers, create new offences to protect children and specifically prohibit a person being coerced to perform sex work.

Queensland joins Victoria, the Northern Territory and NSW in having decriminalised sex work.

In the ACT, some forms of sex work are legal, but laws mandate condom use and criminalise street-based sex work and co-operative working arrangements.

Yvette D'Ath
Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath said the laws ensure sex workers can be safe at work. (Darren England/AAP PHOTOS)

The Queensland amendment bill passed with support from the Greens and independent member Sandy Bolton.

The Liberal National Party, Katter’s Australia Party and the sole member for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation opposed the bill.

Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath said the laws ensure sex workers have access to the same human rights and workplace health and safety protections as other Queenslanders.

“Sex workers should not have to choose between operating legally with safety risks and operating safely with legal risks – they will now be able to operate both safely and legally,” said Ms D’Ath.

A review by the Queensland Law Reform Commission in April 2023 made 47 recommendations to decriminalise sex work.

The QLRC review sought evidence-based research and feedback from consultation with the public and stakeholders. 

The state has 20 licensed brothels and most sex work occurs outside the regulated or licensed sector.

Queensland has two legal forms of regulated sex work: services provided in a licensed brothel and those provided by sole operators in-house or as out-calls.

Any other form of sex work has been illegal including services provided by escort agencies, unlicensed brothels, massage parlours, street work and two or more sex workers operating from a single premises.

Janelle Fawkes from Scarlet Alliance said it had been a long road for sex worker reforms and a shift to basic worker rights in Queensland.

She said it will change access to justice and by removing criminal penalties, sex workers will have fewer barriers to reporting crime.

“I (hope) for other workers… that they won’t experience the same levels of discrimination, vilification and police harassment that many of us have experienced,” she told reporters.

“But mainly criminalisation, because that has such a broad overarching impact on all of our lives.”

In South Australia, which has some of the nation’s strictest laws on sex work, the upper house voted 10-9 on Wednesday to reject proposed reforms which would have made it an offence to pay for sex.