Reflecting on New Zealand’s Prostitution Reform Act

Many in the sexworker community hold up New Zealand’s legislation as the best and therefore the one everyone should adopt. The Prostitution Reform Act of 2003 has many strengths, not least that the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective played an important part in its formulation.

The Act does have weaknesses, however, so it seems good for everyone to think about them and how they might be modified to fit other contexts. The other day I wrote about the glaringly anti-migration clause in the legislation, which is the opposite of what many activists would like to see. It’s disguised as anti-trafficking law. Links to more information on the law and the NZ Prostitutes Collective are supplied.

The interesting comments on that post centred on the law’s effects on or benefits to street workers, so I wrote about that next. 

It’s notoriously difficult to assess the effects of any law.  I’ve given a link to a report made to NZ’s Justice Department in 2008 on some early findings.  My interest is in promoting thoughtfulness about laws that regulate the sex industry: the NZ law not only decriminalises but also defines and regulates brothels. The rest of the sex industry, outside what’s considered prostitution per se, isn’t covered by the Act, as far as I can see.

Laura Agustín
Border Thinking on Migration, Trafficking and Commercial Sex

11 Responses

  1. I also have a problem with how migrant sex workers aren’t able to work legally in New Zealand, though this is unfortunately true in much of the world. It’s like we’re dealing with the same xenophobia today that existed 100 years ago. The rational given for this is fighting human trafficking, so we really need to emphasize how workers become more vulnerable to traffickers when they can’t cross borders legally and this also makes it harder to report exploitative conditions because people would be incriminating themselves by doing this if they’re working illegally.
    That being said, I still really like much of the New Zealand legislation overall and after weighing the strengths and weaknesses, I think it’s the best prostitution legislation in the world, other than New South Wales, Australia. Sex workers can obtain work visas to work legally in Australia, though the legal status of prostitution is determined by the territories within the county.

  2. I think anti discrimination laws need to be enacted specifically for all sex industry workers, asap.

  3. How would you characterise the main differences between New South Wales’s set-up and the NZ, besides the migration clause?

  4. well just on the short of it, from what I understand through conversations with workers in those areas, NSW has at least seen contracts between the migrant worker/the third party transporter and the place of employment which NZ doesn’t allow officially. Though the NSW bound workers are made to lie about the sector of employment because the state doesn’t recognize sex workers or the industry as valid work therefore be covered by other employment labor laws. If migrant workers were covered by those laws, then. If the sex industry were unionized in those areas, everybody on those jobs would know what good negotiated work conditions looked like because they would have all been through signing onto that contract and have a copy of it. Same for NZ, migrant workers aren’t likely to come forward and report violence to other workers, or anyone else because they can’t afford to raise their viability. If they weren’t afraid of being deported…
    Lots of coalition building needs to take place between the sex industry/organized labor groups and immigrant rights groups.

  5. I don’t know of any differences between the New Zealand and New South Wales systems of prostitution other than the anti-migration clause that New Zealand has, but New South Wales doesn’t. I spoke with somebody from Scarlet Alliance about this, and she said that migrant workers can get work visas in Australia without having to specify which industry they work in, so in territories where prostitution is legal, this covers prostitution. I know of somebody who obtained a visa and worked in prostitution in Australia.

  6. I’ll ask friends at Scarlet to comment, if they have time. It’s all very unclear. Meanwhile, the comments on three New Zealand posts on my site are super interesting.

  7. In theory migrant workers can get work visas to come to Australia and then work in the sex industry- but this has nothing to do with the laws regulating prostitution in NSW or other states, but is to do with the Federal laws on migration- and Australia is one of th emost restrictive and racist countries in the world in terms of it’s immigration laws and it’s access to visas and work permits. It took my Thai partner of 6 years 3 tries at the Australian embassy in Bangkok, with all the correct documentation, to even get a non-working single entry tourist visa.
    He has a 10 year multi-entry visa to the US, has been and returned 3 times, but Australia saw him as “at risk of illegal migration.”

    As for the NZ law defining and regulating brothels, all the Australin state laws do this to lesser or greater degrees. Once sex work is not a crime, there is no way it is then going to be left as the only legal industry that is not bound by business laws and town planning/zoning regulations. But to my understanding the NZ law has far fewer restrictions on where a brothel (which is defined as 3 or more people working from one premises) can be, and thus leaves one or two people to work outside the system- unlike doctors or lawyers or anyone else……

  8. My understanding of the main differences between NSW and NZ legislation are that:

    There are considerable restrictions on where street-based sex work can take place in NSW, whereas in NZ there are not. The street-based sector in NZ is really only active in Wellington, Christchurch, Auckland and Manukau City areas, and there are no restrictions about where people can work on the street or what times they can do it. Street-based sex workers don’t need to hide in NZ, they are permitted to work by law.

    In NZ those running brothels require an operator’s certificate, however up to 4 sex workers can work in a house together without one. In NSW a premises is considered a brothel even if only one sex worker works there, so this even includes private workers who work by themselves from their own home. In NSW all of these individuals/premises must obtain local government planning permission to operate within the law. In NZ there is therefore much more freedom for small groups of sex workers to work together independently, and freedom for private workers.

    Local councils in NZ can, however, attempt to pass bylaws restricting sex work to specific areas. Notably in Hamilton a bylaw was passed in 2004 which restricts sex workers to working only in designated areas of the city. This has effectively made it impossible for private workers in residential areas of Hamilton to work within the law. It is unique, controversial and pretty frustrating really. It’s not the norm; other bylaws like this have been successfully challenged.

    Anyway, here is a link summarising NSW and NZ legislative frameworks:
    http://www.justice.govt.nz/prostitution-law-review-committee/publications/international-approaches/chapter-3.html#table1

    As for the migration issue, I am not completely sure what the situation is NSW. I have heard that the Scarlet Alliance have been calling for the inclusion of sex work in the skilled migrant visa programme though, so that expat sex workers can work in parts of Australia as skilled migrants. I think it would be interesting to hear more about this, and the overall situation there.

    I strongly agree with Maxine Doogan’s earlier comment about the need for anti-discrimination legislation. I think this would go a long way to addressing many problems, including in NZ the harassment of street-based sex workers by the vigilante group in South Auckland.

  9. thanks, andrew. so i understand you to say that the various australian laws do not have *clauses* restricting work permits for incomers, per se. migration policy is the fundamental obstacle just about everywhere, but the nz clause is an extra. holland’s law has the same extra – no sex work permits for non-europeans.

    in the nz legislation it’s 4 or more working from one place that have to get a brothel licence and all that. 3-2-1 are allowed to work without licences, separately or from the same place. all these places are defined as brothels.

    this is the nzpc’s summary of the law:
    http://www.nzpc.org.nz/page.php?page_name=Law

  10. On anti-discrimination,
    I think we ought to consider putting together an international campaign towards this end. Activist can lobby to implement legislation on a local, state or national level, but we ought to really demand it on an international level regardless of our respective legal/criminal status.

    I’m thinking along the lines of specific legislation that would bring equal protection and bar discrimination in housing, employment, education, voting, child custody to our class as a priority as I believe it’s an attainable solution in the immediate future.

    It could be a place where all concerned would have common ground. This kind of legislation would have to been the next right step had prop k passed. There’s no reason to wait for decrim to bring our class some equal protection rights.
    Let the haters oppose that.

  11. elena jeffreys of scarlet made comments and posted links over at border thinking. i’ve now posted 4 times about nz. the new south wales law offers some advantages but it is impossible to compare the different laws point by point.

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