"The philosophy seems to have been that the male population was entitled, without sanction, to seek the services of prostitutes, but insofar as the morality or health of the community might be compromised by such an activity, the target of the law was properly the purveyors and not the customers of the business "
The laws relating to prostitution in the Australian Capital Territory prior to 1992 were by no means satisfactory. These laws did not reflect the aims of a progressive community in terms of law enforcement, human rights and protection for those coerced into prostitution. The existing laws were harsh and not generally enforced reflecting outdated views and policies. One group particularly disadvantaged by the legislation were the sex workers. The laws punished sex workers, prohibiting brothel work but not dealing with street prostitution or escort agencies, while ignoring the involvement of their clients. Laws aimed at eradicating prostitution were obviously not concerned with prostitutes' rights or working conditions. There were no minimum wages for workers, no occupational health and safety standards, and no sick leave or holiday pay, making the industry unstable and fostering the dependency of workers on their employers.
In considering the reform of prostitution law in the Australian Capital Territory, several crucial factors were taken into consideration. Firstly, there was a considerable demand for prostitution. The Prostitution in the ACT: Interim Report estimated that approximately 4,000 clients engaged the services of sex workers each week in Canberra. Secondly, most efforts to eradicate prostitution, both in Australia and overseas, had been unsuccessful. There was also heightening concern over the spread of infectious diseases and the coercion of minors and immigrants into the trade.
The main stakeholders in the creation and implementation of the occupation health and safety policy included community groups, the local government, police and sex workers. All of these parties had an active interest; however, it was the government who were the primary driving force behind the policy. In 1991 the Australian Capital Territory Legislative assembly established a select committee on Human Immunodeficiency Virus, Illegal Drugs and Prostitution. The options the Select Committee considered for law reform were decriminalisation and legalisation. Decriminalisation alone would mean that prostitution would be treated like any other business: criminal sanctions would be removed and police would not regulate their activities. It would not, however, allow for our local government to regulate the location of brothels, or street prostitution. Legalisation was another choice: it involved formal recognition of prostitution in legislation and its regulation by government. This had been tried in Victoria since 1986 and was described as a failed experiment' . The provisions which only allowed sex workers to work in licensed brothels in Victoria led to worse working conditions for prostitutes, who frequently earned less money and worked longer hours than in the illegal industry. Illegal brothels were being set-up again, and the incidence of street prostitution was increasing as sex workers left licensed brothels. There is, however, a middle ground between these two options: decriminalisation with controls. This means that, although the criminal penalties are removed from prostitution, there are still some controls over the location of brothels...