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Red-Green politics retrograde on prostitution

By Matthew Holloway - posted Wednesday, 21 November 2012


So far three Australian states and one territory have liberalised sex laws through brothel legalisation, in each case these laws have been passed by Labor governments.

The ALP is affiliated to the Socialist International (SI) comprising socialist, social democrat and labour political parties from across the world.

The rationale of the left in Australia has looked at the issue of prostitution from a free market, economic approach to the sex industry backed by libertarian arguments, which rebadge prostitution as another form of employment and promoting user access.

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By contrast many of the ALP’s sister parties in the SI have taken a broad based community approach to the issue of prostitution and have sought legislation to end exploitation, commodification, and sex trafficking.

The Swedish Social Democratic Party, the Labour Party of Norway, and Iceland's Social Democratic Alliance have all introduced legislation criminalising the purchase of sexual services while decriminalising prostitution and offering genuine choices for exiting the industry including support, education, and retraining.

On the Nordic model, Icelandic Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir has stated “The Nordic countries are leading the way on women's equality, recognising women as equal citizens rather than commodities for sale”. In 2010 Sigurðardóttir’s government brought the sex industry to the brink of closure after the introduction of a bill that banned employers profiting from employees' nudity. This led to a complete overnight closure of everything from strip clubs to topless bars.

A number of SI affiliated parties are pushing similar legislation to bring their countries laws in line with the Nordic model. These include the Socialist Party of France, the Labour Party of Ireland, the Scottish Labour Party, and Denmark’s Social Democrats.

The ALP has taken a superficial approach to the issue of prostitution and failed to respond to the wider social problems that are symptomatic of legalisation of the sex industry. Such problems have included the expansion of the illegal sector alongside the legalised sex industry, as well as the problem of human trafficking and sexual slavery.

According to a German study by the University of Göttingen of 2012, Australia is rated as a high trafficking nation. The report examining trafficking in over 150 countries had found that nations that had legalised prostitution did have an expansion of the prostitution market and larger inflows of human trafficking.

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This shows the failures of the Australian Left to step back from the pro-legalisation mantra and examine the broader human rights issues at play in the prostitution debate.

The ALP has ignored the voices of prostituted and trafficked people and consistently opposed examining the Nordic model by stating their belief that it pushes the sex industry underground.

The ALP is not alone in their blind adherence to pro-industry legislation. The Greens are also out of touch with many of their sister parties through their international affiliation to the Global Greens.

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About the Author

Matthew Holloway is a freelance writer and social justice advocate from Tasmania, where he stood for state and federal parliament and co-founded Tasmanians for Transparency. He has previously written for Tasmanian Times and Eureka Street, Matthew currently lives in Melbourne where he works as a Counsellor in Aboriginal Health and a Social Worker in Catholic social services.

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