Minister Fyles gets her facts wrong on sex industry


Sir – Putting an end to the exploitation of prostitution of women is the primary standard for measuring the compatibility of the NT Sex Industry Act with human rights. The NT law fails even to aim at this standard.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) states “parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women”.
The NT Statement of Compatibility is at complete odds with CEDAW in its assertion (with no evidence) that “sex work is a societal inevitability and, as an industry, is near impossible to prevent”.
This glib and lazy assertion is also at odds with the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW), proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993, which affirms that sexual inequality and violence are not natural phenomena but aspects of historically unequal power relations between men and women.
In the course of the second reading debate on the Sex Industry Bill, Attorney-General Natasha Fyles responded to concerns about CEDAW raised by MLA Gerry Wood: “I would like to note that the CEDAW Committee has in fact consistently recommended that sex workers be decriminalised including in its recently adopted General Recommendation 35 on gender-based violence against women.
“That committee has also noted that the continued criminalisation of the sex sector — the entire sector, not selective aspects, such as criminalising the purchase rather than sale — has had a disproportionate, negative impact on women.”
This claim about the position of the CEDAW Committee is inaccurate, and misleading to the Parliament and public.
The Attorney-General, speaking with the authority of law from the highest levels of its promulgation and execution, has a duty of accuracy, no less in regard to such weighty matters as human rights compliance.
The CDAW is (rightly) not in favour of criminalising women engaged in prostitution.
But the Committee has not “consistently recommended” decriminalisation of the “sex sector” as a whole, nor has it noted that criminalisation of that sector as a whole has “a disproportionate, negative impact on women”.
Indeed, sex industry lobby groups consistently criticise the CEDAW Committee for not recommending or endorsing complete decriminalisation of the industry.
Ms Fyles’s inaccurate and misleading statement of international human rights provisions and recommendations is particularly disturbing coming in the middle of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.
It also sets a poor precedent for the consideration of human rights compliance by the recently established inquiry into reform of the law of prostitution in Victoria.
We call upon Attorney-General Fyles to provide an explanation of her misleading statement on CEDAW, human rights and prostitution.
We further ask that she provide to the Parliament and the public an accurate statement of Australia’s obligations under CEDAW and other international human rights strictures.
And we urge Ms Fyles and the NT Parliament to reconsider passage of the Sex Industry Act, given its non-compliance with Australia’s human rights obligations.
Simone Watson (pictured)
National Director, Nordic Model Australia Coalition “NorMAC”. She  is a sex trade survivor, and former advisor to Amnesty International on these issues.


  1. It would be fine if “the oldest profession” no longer existed. It seems unlikely to happen.
    If it is the choice of the sex worker to be part of this profession then it isn’t a human rights issue. I have known a few who do the work because it suits them. They enjoy it and get paid!
    We do know that some of the “new boat people” who come to Australia on jets, and outstay their visas, may be trafficked into sexual slavery.
    What is Peter Dutton doing about the “new boat people” who ignore his need to protect our borders? This may be the most important war of this millennium – against people trafficking!
    Our primary focus for now needs to be on decriminalisation, and making sure that the sex workers are protected. Under current laws NT Sex workers are the most unsafe sex workers in Australia.
    For many it is dangerous solo work but if “brothels” are legal, security staff can be employed to ensure sex workers safety.
    It’s interesting that in Kalgoorlie the brothels were on the main street. In NT we want to put them in industrial areas?
    As long as the men and women of the sex trade choose to do the work they do, they need to be protected by law – not be forced into situations that are potentially extremely dangerous, as it is the case under current NT law.
    Society has a need for sex workers. Many men and women provide sex services for the many who want sex but it is not available because of physical disabilities, etc.
    Sex therapists can provide sexual services that some people choose to receive. There are a lot of marginalised people!


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