What are the prostitution laws in Australia?
Prostitution legislation is a State and Territory responsibility and differs widely. This page has a State by State summary with links to the relevant legislation and regulatory body (if it exists) as well as some background information. Legislation is reviewed from time to time and updates on the current push for decriminalisation can be found here.
In February 2022, Victoria became the third jurisdiction in Australia (NSW and NT being the other two) to decriminalise all aspects of the sex industry. The Sex Work Decriminalisation Act (2022) will see the implementaion of full decriminalisation occur in two stages. The first stage, to take place as soon as the Bill become law wil involve repealing or amending certain parts of the Sex Work Act and amending other legislation. In particular, street work will no longer be illegal and various health measures such as condom use will no longer apply. The second stage, to be completed by December 2023 involves the actual repeal of the Sex Work Act as well as various amendments to other acts. The repeal of the Sex Work Act removes the registration of sex work businesses as well as allowing for the sale of alcohol in brothels. A summary of the major isssues can be found here.
What was the situation prior to 2022?
Although it was tacitly tolerated earlier, the first legislation to legalise brothel prostitution in Victoriawas passed in 1984, via the Planning (Brothels) Act 1984. Significant attention over the ensuing decade led to the Prostitution Control Act 1994. In 2011, the act was amended through the Sex Work and other Acts Amendment Bill and it is now referred to as the Sex Work Act 1994. Brothels are regulated through Consumer Affairs Victoria (as are, for example, estate agents and motor vehicle traders). Street prostitution remains illegal. The aim of legalisation was to remove the involvement of organised crime in the industry and to protect women through regulation and licensing. There is widespread agreement that legalisation has failed.
Prostitution in NSW is decriminalised, with brothels coming under local council planning regulations like any other business. This process began in 1979 with the Prostitution Act 1979, which decriminalised both soliciting and ‘the offence of being a reputed prostitute on premises habitually use for prostitution’. Several variations were made to the regulation of prostitution over the following decades, until the Disorderly Houses Amendment Act 1995, which decriminalised brothel prostitution and moved brothels into the sphere of local planning. Some activities remain illegal, such as the exploitation of children in prostitution. The details of prostitution-related offences are found in the Summary Offences Act 1988 (Part 3). The Brothels Legislation Amendment Act 2007 is the legislation that guides local councils in overseeing brothel operations. The NSW Department of Planning issued a useful guide to the act.
Brothel prostitution and single operators were legalised in Queensland in 1999 with the Prostitution Act 1999. The Act was amended in 2010.Brothels are licensed by the Prostitution Licensing Authority (PLA). Street prostitution, unlicensed brothels, massage parlour prostitution and outcalls from licensed brothels remain illegal.
Brothels are illegal in South Australia as is soliciting in public places, receiving money from the prostitution of another person and procuring. There have been several attempts recently to decriminalise prostitution, the latest in July 2015 when the Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill 2015 was introduced into the Upper House. Two speeches, one by the member introducing the bill, and the other, by a member opposing it, can be found here. There is a useful summary of the various legislative attempts to decriminalise over the years in the first speech.
In Sept 2015, a committee was established to inquire into and report on the bill. The report was tabled in May 2017. In July 2017, the Legislative Council voted 13-8 in favour of the bill, which has now gone to the Legislative Assembly for debate and vote. It was narrowly defeated. In 2019, another attempt was made to decriminalise sex work, and this was defeated.
Prostitution in this state comes under the Prostitution Act 2000. While prostitution itself is legal, many activities associated with it, such as brothels, soliciting in a public place and pimping, are illegal. The Prostitution Bill 2011 was introduced to regulate the industry and allow brothels in non-residential area. Following a period of consultation, it was presented, with changes, in parliament in Nov 2011. It failed to gain majority support.
The Sex Industry Offences Act 2005 regulates prostitution in Tasmania. Prostitution is legal, but brothels and street prostitution are illegal. Self employed operators are legal and may operate with one other person. There have been reviews of the legislation in 2008 and 2012, but to date, no legislative changes have occurred.
Prostitution was decriminalised in 1992 with the passage of the Prostitution Act 1992. Brothels and escort agencies are legal but must be registered, as must the prostituted persons, through the Office of Regulatory Services. A major review of the legislation took place in 2011 and the report was presented in 2012. No changes have yet been made.
All forms of prostitution are legal in the NT with the passage of the Sex Industry Act 2019. Sexual service businesses with 3 or more workers are required to obtain a ‘certificate of suitability’ through the Commissioner for Consumer Affairs. It is an offence to induce, (by intimidation, threat etc) a person to provide sexual services. It is an offence to allow a child to perform sex work or work in a sex services business.