Asia-Pacific

Calls to ban brothels in Australia's 'Bible belt'‎

Prostitute waits for clients in Sydney (file photo)
Image caption Prostitution is generally legal across much of Australia

Powers to ban brothels on moral grounds are being sought by a Christian-dominated council in one of Australia's fastest-growing regions.

Although regulations vary, prostitution is generally legal across much of Australia and brothels are controlled by planning laws.

However, the mayor of the Hills Shire Council in Sydney says there is no place for the sex industry in the "Bible Belt" district, home to one of the largest churches in the country.

Peter Dimbrowsky told the BBC that the community should have the right to outlaw brothels.

"While we've deliberately made it difficult for them to be successful in this area, we've also said that we deserve the right to say no to them if we feel that a sufficient number of people are sufficiently against this type of application."

He said: "You should be able to argue that in this part of Sydney or in any part of a city where it is family-orientated, it may be better for them not to be there at all."

Hills Shire councillors recently rejected a bid to set up a brothel and are now pushing for changes to state law that compel local authorities to accommodate such businesses if various planning requirements are met, such as parking and proximity to homes.

Safety concerns

There is no room in the official decision-making process for moral objections.

There are fears within the sex industry that any move to alter the rules could drive sections of their legitimate trade back underground and fuel a rise in the number of illegal brothels.

Insiders say legislation that decriminalised prostitution in Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, in the early 1990s brought their chosen careers "out of the shadows", making it more open and safe.

"The sex industry is no different to any other business in its regulatory needs," explained Janelle Fawkes of the Scarlet Alliance, which represents sex workers.

"It is regulated by the local council in as far as its zoning and development application process. It is also regulated by the occupational health system," Ms Fawkes said.

"It is also recognised that sex workers are legitimate employees and therefore are taxed and receive the same benefits as all employees."

Autonomy

There are strict regulations in New South Wales that cover the activities of private workers, massage parlours, "full-service establishments" or brothels and B&D (bondage and discipline) venues.

"I really enjoy what I do," 36-year-old Rachel, a Sydney sex worker, told the BBC News website.

"We are very intelligent people. We come from a range of different occupations and backgrounds.

"Decriminalisation treats the sex industry equally like any other industry.

"It protects and empowers sex workers. It gives us autonomy to choose where we work, how and when we work. It takes away the fear of being arrested for something that is mutually consenting."

The debate over the future of the laws in parts of Australia comes as British Prime Minister David Cameron signalled that the decriminalisation of prostitution should be "looked at again" after the alleged murder of three women in northern England.

In Sydney, conservative elements have urged the UK not to follow Australia's example.

In the New South Wales state parliament, the Family First MP, Gordon Moyes, believes that society has been damaged by the legal sex industry, which he says exploits the vulnerable.

"We have to have a reformation of morality and ethics and unfortunately by legalising prostitution, it is only another nail in the coffin of decency," he said.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites