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Saturday 11 April 2015

The Curtain Falls: Final Defeat of the Manukau Anti-Sexworker Bill

Posted in: Comment, Features
By Craig Young - 26th February 2015

On February 24 2015, Parliament finally voted down the controversial transphobic and anti-sexworker Manukau City (Regulating Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill on its second reading (109-11) after four years of stalemate and arduous conflict over the destructive private members bill in question.

The bill was the second attempt by opponents of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003 to attack one of the core provisions of its comprehensive decriminalisation of sex work, namely the decriminalisation of street sex work. As Gillian Abel from the Otago University School of Public Health noted in submissions against this bill, given the reality of institutional discrimination against Maori and Pacific fa'afafine and whakawahine, who are not directly included under the Human Rights Act 1993, many are barred from other vocational options, from brothel work within the sex industry and from escort work within Auckland Council flats due to an idiotic city by-law that still forbids such activity on pain of eviction from their rental property.

This bill was the product of vigilante anti-sexworker activists who monopolised access to the former Manukau City Council and conservative Labour MPs who voted against the original Prostitution Reform Act in 2003. Once before, they had failed to ban street sex work, mostly undertaken at Papatoetoe's Hunters Corner, under the aegis of the Manukau City Council (Control of Street Prostitution) Bill 2005, which was defeated 73-46 after adverse recommendations from the Local Government and Environment select committee, so it got no further than its first reading. The Manukau City (Regulating Prostitution in Specified Places) also sought to ban street sex work but did pass its first reading back in 2010 (82-36), consistently opposed by the Green Party later in the submission process. As it happened, submissions to the Local Government and Environment select committee showed an intriguing but predictable divergence. Fundamentalist churches, anti-sexworker vigilante groups and local councillors supported banning street sex work, while reproductive and sexual health organisations and sex workers rights advocates, as well as public health academics opposed its passage, warning of dire public health consequences from other anti-soliciting bills that had prioritised moral panic over evidence-based public policy, such as the New South Wales Summary Offences Act 1988. Wisely, however, the Local Government and Environment select committee listened to evidence-based research from the quarter of academic supporters of prostitution reform and made the commendable prudent choice to recommend that this bill also proceed no further. It argued that if street sex workers did undertake particular forms of violent or antisocial behaviour, then the Summary Offences Act 1981, Litter Act and other statutory provisions could legitimately be used against them. While Family First tried to orchestrate a pro-bill campaign, its lobbying was restricted to the introduction of the bill and the select committee process, and neglected its later stages. By February 24, apart from conservative Auckland local body councillors and officials, other erstwhile supporters of the bill had fallen by the wayside- United Future's former party list MPs, now mostly defectors to the Conservative Party; shrill and transphobic South Auckland-based New Zealand First List MP Asenati Lole-Taylor, demoted down her party list and out of Parliament; and the short-lived South Auckland vigilante group PROS (Papatoetoe Reclaim Our Streets), which harassed and intimidated local street sex workers through standover tactics and were lavishly funded by local South Auckland civic officials and councillors. Along with former Manurewa Labour MP George Hawkins, proponents of this ill-advised legislation have faded away. Predictably, New Zealand First was the only party that voted against abandonment of the bill on February 24.

Is it all over? Lole-Taylor tried to formulate a third anti-sexworker bill while still in Parliament, but the parliamentary website now shows no sign of that bill. However, it remains to be seen whether or not New Zealand First or religious social conservative MPs from Labour and National have a third go at this foolhardy agenda. One hopes not. One can congratulate the Prostitutes Collective and the Greens for their ardent campaign against the passage of the current bill, however.

Manukau City Council (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill: .html
Gillian Abel, Liz Fitzgerald and Catherine Healy: Taking the Crime out of Sex Work: New Zealand Sex Workers Fight for Decriminalisation: Bristol: Polity Press: 2010.
"Parliament scraps old prostitution bill" 3 News: 26.02.2015: 2015022522

Not Recommended:
"Politicians put prostitution in too hard basket" Family First: 26.02.2015: hard-basket-2/

Craig Young - 26th February 2015

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