Friday, February 21, 2003

Tracy Watkins

Goff fears uncontrolled sex trade

A heavyweight supporter of a bill to decriminalise prostitution is warning that it goes too far and will lift virtually all controls on the sex trade.

Justice Minister Phil Goff, whose support in a close-run conscience vote kept the Prostitution Reform Bill alive, said brothel keepers should be licensed and he would seek to introduce the change when it returned to Parliament in about a fortnight.

"The bill is laissez faire at the moment; it provides for no controls. We have the reality of brothels now that are operated by gang members.

"I don't want to leave the police in the situation of coming back to me and saying, 'Well, this is highly undesirable but there is no power to deal with it'," Mr Goff said.

Under his amendment, anyone with a serious criminal record would be banned from operating a brothel.

"The police will tell you that gangs are involved in a big way and providing prostitution alongside other criminal activities they are involved in. I think it would be unconscionable not to give police the power in the prostitution business to exclude those people who are patently unsuitable to be involved in it."

Critics of licensing say it is a form of State-run prostitution, with the State effectively playing the role of pimp.

But Prostitutes Collective national coordinator Catherine Healy said Mr Goff's proposal was for a light-handed approach, avoiding the problems associated with State-run prostitution, which risked sending some sex workers underground.

It would not require individual sex workers to be licensed.

"This is a different approach. We're very keen that there not be discriminatory kinds of approaches where people are locked out … because we don't want to split up the sector."

Mr Goff said criminal elements were rife in the industry and it was "unsupportable" to have laws that required real estate agents and motor vehicle dealers to hold a licence, while brothel keepers did not.

"If you are going to decriminalise prostitution, which there are strong arguments for, then you still have to (address) the criminal elements, to make it safer for those who work in the industry and for that matter those who use the industry".

He is also urging stricter rules over the location and signage of brothels, saying the Resource Management Act will only offer home owners minimum protection.

"I think most people in my electorate would want to have some safeguard about suddenly finding there's a place of prostitution with neon lights blazing, set up in the residential section of their neighbourhood."

But he would still support the bill if his changes did not get through.

Intense lobbying is expected before the next vote on the bill, which repeals laws making it an offence to solicit money for sex, keep a brothel or live off the earnings of prostitution.

United Future's Christian MPs vowed yesterday to battle it to the end, and NZ First, whose 13 MPs also voted against the bill, said it had "legalised pimps" and was an affront to most people.

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Created: April 13, 2003
Last modified: April 13, 2003
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