The decriminalisation of sex work in NSW – combined with a free market approach – has resulted in one of the healthiest sex industries ever documented, a report to NSW Health has found.

International authorities regard the NSW regulatory framework as best practice – the result of decades of partnership by government, community organisations, health workers and researchers, according to the report, The Sex Industry in New South Wales.

The report was launched by Mr Peter Collins, Minister for Health in the Greiner Government 1988-91 and the Coalition representative on the ground-breaking NSW Parliament Select Committee on Prostitution that reported in 1986.

Lead author, Professor Basil Donovan from the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales, said the report showed that any moves to reintroduce bans or licensing of sex work would be a backward step.

“Jurisdictions that try to ban or license sex work always lose track as most of the industry slides into the shadows. Prostitution laws are the greatest allies of the exploiters. In NSW, by contrast, health and community workers have comprehensive access to and surveillance of the sex industry. That access has resulted in the healthiest sex industry ever documented.”

Decriminalisation of the industry in 1995 led to a dramatic reduction in police corruption and sex worker exploitation. “Is there still a ragged edge to the NSW sex industry? Of course, but the size of that ragged edge is much smaller than anywhere else,” Professor Donovan said.

There is still room for improvement. Many local councils routinely refused development applications for brothels, resulting in some brothels masquerading as massage parlours with poor occupational health and safety standards.

“State-wide planning guidelines for brothels need to be implemented and councils need the expertise and support of an organisation like WorkCover to ensure that standards are met,” Professor Donovan said.

Lance Schema, Executive Director of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, the lead sex worker agency in NSW for HIV, STI and Hepatitis C education and prevention, said: “This report provides clear evidence to inform policy development. We commend the Kirby Institute for pulling together this report that will and should assist governments in developing future policies relating to the sex industry.” 

Media contact: Steve Offner, UNSW Media Office | 02 9385 8107