Pros and cons for new law on prostitutes

By Denise Montgomery


A bill that would give Auckland Council powers to remove street prostitution across Auckland could be on shaky ground.

It's in limbo while the Crown Law Office investigates whether it doubles up on existing council powers.

Manukau East MP Ross Robertson says a select committee of MPs is waiting for that decision, which could happen "any day now". It would determine whether the bill, put forward from the old Manukau City Council area in September 2010 and originally covering places like Manurewa, Otahuhu and Hunter's Corner in Papatoetoe, is necessary.

"What the Crown Law Office is looking at is whether Auckland Council can use existing legislation, for example the law about nuisance and street hawking, to control street prostitution in that way," Mr Robertson explains.

"If Crown Law says that's the case, then the bill will be gone and council would have to use its existing bylaws to deal with the issues."

The original bill has already worked through the logistics of changing the wording of the "Manukau City Council, Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places Bill" to reflect the new Auckland Council boundary, potentially widening its reach.

When submissions were called for, many said the bill was vital; equal numbers said it wasn't. One submission in particular provided a legal opinion that clearly outlined why it wasn't.

Dean Knight, a senior law lecturer at Victoria University, described the bill as "unnecessary law-making and lazy regulation". (Read Mr Knight's submission here)

He said "preventing nuisance", and serious offences to the public are already covered by the Local Government Act. Councils can also "regulate trading in public places" and the location of brothels (through the Prostitution Reform Act).

"What then does the Auckland Council ... want? Why isn't it prepared to rely on its pre-existing powers?" he asks. "In my view, it is eager to get a more specific gateway to pass a bylaw because it is easier for it to justify its use to the courts ... Local authorities would, through the back door, be able to recriminalise prostitution."

Nicky Wagner, the MP who chairs the Local Government and Environment select committee, says the committee recognises Auckland's issues but it's important to get a legal opinion on whether local government already has the teeth to deal with the matter.

"The problem is, it's not usual to pass a national law to cover a local area, so we have to be sure that there isn't already a mechanism in place to deal with the issues. Once a local bill is passed, it can't be expanded for the whole country - for example Christchurch, which is looking at the problems as well."

Mr Robertson still supports the bill, which is in his name as a local MP, but realises there are two options.

"If Auckland City can look after the problem, it should. If the Government takes over the bill, it really should become a national one, not just Auckland."

Mr Robertson says the situation in South Auckland is more than a nuisance. "People are being approached in private streets - it's just not on."

Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board chairman John McCracken has photographed prostitutes approaching elderly residents on suburban streets asking for money. This week there were reports of more than 40 parking signposts destroyed by prostitutes using them as dancing poles in Hunters Corner.

Mr McCracken is one of three Local Board chairs behind a booklet launched to promote the bill.

The Street Prostitution Industry in the Southern Communities of Auckland features stories of local residents who say they've had enough. Mr McCracken says council wants to protect the rights of those residents.

"It's just a really difficult situation for the community and the community has no ability to make any changes at all under the current legislation," he says. The booklet explains why they want the bill passed in Parliament.

The community has tried many methods within the existing bylaws to solve the problems they face with street prostitutes to no avail. He is hopeful that the bill may yet pass.

Mayor Len Brown says we need a law that reflects the Prostitution Reform Act's intent by applying the tests for licensing brothels to street prostitution.

"The street sex trade is enjoying its unrestricted use of public space and is possibly the only industry in New Zealand to enjoy such status. Other industries must comply with licences or special authority of some kind. The street sector of prostitution faces no such constraints," he says in the foreword to the booklet.

He said council is hamstrung to do anything about approximately 230 sex workers across sites including Manukau and central Auckland.

But critics say the bill goes directly against the aims of the Prostitution Reform Act.

Green Party MP Julie Anne Genter says it sets a dangerous precedent by empowering a council to create its own law, criminalising behaviour in one area that exists throughout New Zealand.

The Prostitutes Collective says banning street workers from "specified places" may force them into unsafe industrial areas.

But personal accounts in the pro-bill booklet say it's residents and businesses who feel unsafe.

One shop owner says there are up to 20-30 prostitutes outside his shop on Fridays. "More than two or three times a week ... they ask my customers for money. When I tell them to leave the shop I get abused again. They use the rear of the shop to defaecate and I have to hose this away at least three or four times a week. Sometimes they fight each other over space. Violence breaks out among them every week.

"There is not much I can do when they annoy me and my customers. They just say 'You can't force me to leave. We know our rights'."

Mr McCracken says the community has tried working with the street prostitutes through the Prostitutes Collective but nothing has worked.

"Just in the last couple of weeks, we tried to have an agreement between the community and the Prostitutes Collective that they will be off the streets at 6 in the morning. That has been totally abandoned by the prostitutes. They have been working in the streets until 9, 9.30am."

PROS & CONS

The bill would allow council to:

- Set apart the street sex trade from incompatible community activity (family homes, schools, sports facilities).

- Apply fines up to $2000 to street workers and customers.

- Enforce police powers of arrest (subject to 'good cause to suspect').

- Allow police to stop vehicles suspected of street sex trade activity.

It can't:

- Permit a blanket ban because street prostitution is legal.

- Be used unreasonably, such as exercising some moral bias.

READ THE BOOKLET HERE

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- THE AUCKLANDER

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