By Mayfair Confidential

The COVID-19 pandemic was always going to be a problem for the sex industry given the physical intimacy involved. But as the Australian economy slowly starts to re-open, there is still confusion around when sex workers can officially start working again.

Back on the 24th of March 2020, the Morrison Government announced that brothels, strip clubs and sex on premises venues must cease all operation as a result of the coronavirus lockdown. States and territories have enacted this direction. For example, the New South Wales Government passed the Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order 2020. However the NSW order only appears to relate to public gatherings, football stadiums and churches as opposed to sex work or anything of that nature. That’s of course different to other states such as Queensland which has outright banned sex work.

Fast forward to 8 May 2020 – Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces Australia’s three-step plan, which is to be adopted by individual states and territories and rolled out by July 2020. The three step plan has been put together in order to facilitate which businesses may reopen as Australia eases itself out of the current pandemic restrictions.

However it appears that ‘strip clubs and brothels’ are specifically listed as “to remain closed” from stage one to stage three. Check out the Federal Governments’, three-step framework here. But why is there no commentary about the sex industry yet other businesses with potential skin-to-skin contact – like tattooing, massage, saunas and bathhouses – are allowed to open in stage three.

So given there is no stage four, does that mean the Federal Government does not plan to reopen brothels then? Thankfully, it’s not the Commonwealth’s responsibility to re-open or close brothels. So let’s hope that states and territories re-open in stage two or stage three.

The real concern is the fact that there is no clear road map for Australian sex workers (which is discriminatory in itself). We are fearful that the Government will use this COVID-19 to disorder the adult industry which has some big wins in recent years such as the decriminalisation of sex work in the Northern Territory. Let’s hope that’s not the case.

Current status of sex work – 27 May 2020

On our review of Australia’s respective state and territory responses to COVID-19, it appears that each are different, with some states and territories enacting state health directions / orders to deal with sex work. While we recommend that you make inquiries and/or check with your local sex worker group, a summary of the status of sex work in each state and territory is as follows:

  • New South Wales: Permitted for home based sex workers but sex on premise remains closed.
  • Victoria: Restricted but subject to review around 31 May 2020
  • Queensland: Restricted but subject to health direction review around 17 August 2020. That said, sole operator sex workers are still able to provide online or phone services
  • Australian Capital Territory:  Restricted but subject to review around 6 July 2020.
  • Western Australia: Restricted but subject to review around 4 June 2020.
  • Northern Territory: Restricted until the NT public health emergency is in force. However advertising service which can be be provided electronically or online is permitted.
  • South Australia: Restricted until current 22 May 2020 SA Emergency Management Direction is replaced.
  • Tasmania: Restricted but should be reviewed around 15 June 2020.

 The power of decriminalisation – New South Wales and Northern Territory

Sex work isn’t completely banned in NSW and NT (i.e. independent in-call services) but there is still a closure of sex service premises. Of course, this is different in some other states like Queensland who have said that there cannot be any sex work at all.

But why?

Well back in 1995, NSW became the first jurisdiction in the world to decriminalise sex work. Then in 2003, New Zealand also adopted the decriminalisation model.

The decriminalisation models in NSW and recently NT has meant that during this coronavirus pandemic, sex workers have been treated like other Australian workers. So those NT and NSW sex workers who wish to operate outside of brothels (i.e. provide in-call services) should be able to do so, without breaking any laws. That said, we recommend that you continue to take safety precautions. In this regard, SWOP in conjunction with Scarlet Alliance have produced a useful harm reduction guide around conducting sex work during these testing times which covers issues such as sanitation, screen clients and prepping spaces:

PS. Studies have shown that the decriminalisation model is the healthiest in the world as it promotes the safety and health of sex workers, and in turn their clients, while at the same empowers adult providers to report crimes without fear of corrupt police involvement.

Just as Australian sex workers have rebounded from things like the United States FOSTA-SESTA legislation, Australian sex workers will also rebound from this COVID-19 pandemic. We just need to stick together.


Photo Source – Adobe Stock