LETTER TO THE EDITOR
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.
Minister Fyles gets her facts wrong on sex industry
LETTER TO THE EDITOR