Central government politicians have called a roundtable meeting in Wellington tomorrow to look for ways to control street prostitution in South Auckland.
The meeting, called by Parliament's local government and environment committee, may lead to amending or abandoning a bill drafted by the former Manukau City Council in 2010 to give what is now the Auckland Council power to ban street sex workers from areas such as Hunters Corner and Manurewa.
Committee chairwoman Nicky Wagner said MPs did not want to change the law unless that would solve the problem.
"Simple legislation is a pretty blunt instrument," she said.
"This has been in the Parliament for a long time. It has come and gone back and forth with the creation of the Super City. We are very aware that it has taken a long time and we know people are concerned about it.
"But there is no point in us hurrying up with an answer that doesn't work in the long term."
The committee has invited Auckland Councillor George Wood, Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board chairman John McCracken, the Prostitutes Collective and the police to meet with it tomorrow in a closed meeting at Parliament.
Mr Wood and Mr McCracken said they would still push to pass the Manukau bill, amended to cover the whole Auckland Council area. Mr McCracken said the change would give police powers to arrest both prostitutes and clients who engage in commercial sex in a banned area, with fines of up to $2000.
"I wouldn't be supporting any radical changes to it, particularly around taking away the police's power of arrest," he said.
"Without the police having the power to deal with the problem we are throwing it back on to council staff who are not trained and putting them into a position of effectively serving infringement notices at 2am on prostitutes who may well be pumped up on drugs, and putting them in a very dangerous and difficult situation."
He said the council had tried every other option to reduce the problem, including closing off carparks, closed-circuit TV, improved cleaning services and town centre upgrades in Hunters Corner and Manurewa. But residents were still being kept awake by noisy arguments between prostitutes and clients or between rival sex workers.
Mr Wood, like Mr McCracken a former police officer, said police would issue warnings, but giving them the power to arrest clients as well as prostitutes would keep clients away from banned areas.
But Prostitutes Collective national co-ordinator Catherine Healy said it would be better to agree on areas where street workers could operate without recriminalising prostitution, which was decriminalised 10 years ago next month.
"To attach penalties to it or fines is a waste of everyone's resources and really harmful as well," she said.
"Street-based sex workers can't afford to do a lot of things.
"They might be living in situations where it's not convenient for them to take their clients home.
"They are in situations that make it really tricky for them to find time to work. They might have children."
The select committee is due to report back to Parliament on July 1.
As many as 70 brothels in region but only 25 licensed
Only 25 brothels in Auckland are licensed, despite an estimated 1700 sex workers in the region.
Auckland Council says there are 18 licensed brothels in the former Auckland City Council area, four in Manukau and three on the North Shore.
Hong Kong-born brothers John and Michael Chow are opening one more today above the Mermaid Bar in Gore St and said yesterday that "work will be starting soon" on a planned 15-storey building, including a brothel, opposite Sky City.
There are no licensed brothels in the former Rodney district, which also required all brothels to be licensed. The other two former cities, Waitakere and Papakura, did not have a licensing regime.
The numbers are surprisingly low in view of a 2007 Otago University survey which estimated that there were 1451 sex workers in the Auckland region, 402 in Christchurch and 389 in Wellington.
Prostitutes Collective national co-ordinator Catherine Healy said there were now believed to be about 1700 sex workers in Auckland and about 70 brothel operators.
"Some places claim to have 100 sex workers," she said.
The 2007 survey found that 745 of the region's 1451 sex workers worked for managers, 476 worked privately for themselves and 230 worked on the streets.
Auckland, Manukau, North Shore and Rodney required all brothels to be licensed, regardless of size.
But Auckland Council compliance manager Max Wilde said: "Where small or home-based brothels are operating discreetly in accordance with home occupation or other planning rules, and in the absence of complaints, there is no way for the council to discover where they are.
"Where a complaint is made, council enforcement officers will investigate," he said.
"Where there is sufficient evidence, enforcement action can be taken. Further, in order for the brothel to continue operating, a licence is required."
Ms Healy said no other council in the country required licensing beyond the legal requirement for an operator's certificate for anyone operating a brothel with more than four sex workers, or where any workers did not have full control of their own earnings.
Tauranga City Council requires a "premises consent" for any place with more than a single sex worker. The council says there are five brothels with consents.
There are two in Rotorua but Hamilton City Council says it does not keep a list of brothels.
Auckland's licensed brothels
Mustangs, Tawa Drive
Vamps, Ride Way
One33 Vincent, Vincent St
Beauty 28, Fort St
Divas, Wakefield St
Emily's, Waverley St
Femme Fatale, Wellesley St West
HQ Club, Gore St
Lipstix, Fort St
Penthouse Girls, Customs St East
Splash Club, Gore St
Thai Massage, Victoria St West
White House, Queen St
Aphrodite's, Cross St
Pelican Club, Newton Rd
Shooters, New North Rd
Salon 28, Ponsonby Rd
Club 574, Manukau Rd
Minx, Queens Rd
Salon 33, Queens Rd
Kahlas, Torrens Rd East
Candee Massage, St George St
Club 5B, Jack Conway Ave
Lucy's, Cavendish Drive.