John Roughan

John Roughan is a Weekend Herald columnist

John Roughan: Street trade needs controls

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South Auckland residents fear MPs are going to let them down

Local bodies have tried and failed to shift street prostitution from the Papatoetoe shopping centre. Photo / APN
Local bodies have tried and failed to shift street prostitution from the Papatoetoe shopping centre. Photo / APN

Papatoetoe must have been a pleasant little town on Great South Rd before Auckland spread like a tidal wave in the 1960s and covered the surrounding county in state houses and bungalows for the population boom.

The town still had its own council in the 1970s when I started work and sometimes covered its meetings. The mayor and council were quiet, practical types who knew every building in the borough, though even by then there was no discernable boundary between Papatoetoe, Mangere and the rest of what would soon become Manukau City.

Urban life has not been kind to the old town. Today people drive through Hunters Corner and hesitate to slow down because the place has become notorious for street prostitution. The shop owners have been complaining about it for years and they are not talking about women entirely, street prostitution is the rough trade.

It is not a subject I particularly want to discuss but this week I met John McCracken, chairman of the Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board, one of three in South Auckland asking Parliament for legislation that could give councils and police some power to restrict prostitution in public places.

It must be the only commercial activity being carried on in any public place with impunity. The Auckland Council is reluctant to let any other industry put so much as a sandwich board on the footpath.

The problem is nobody really wants to discuss this one. Not Parliament, where their bill is now long overdue for a second reading. Not news reports, using words and illustrations that leave an impression the conflict involves pretty young females and fuddy duddies. Not even McCracken, who doesn't strike me as a homophobe.

Like every former policeman he sounds no longer shocked at anything. When a transvestite tapped on his car window while he was taking his child to school the other day his response, as he describes it, was milder than mine would have been.

He doesn't say transvestite. When that term was used in a booklet the boards put out a few months ago with the help of the Auckland Council, one of the more sensitive council members cautioned them that they might be referring to transgendered people.

It is not just the propositioning that causes concern - McCracken reckons the customers sometimes approach children in daylight - it is the noise at night and the filth left around for residents and shopkeepers to clean up the next day.

He says Hunters Corner is not the only shopping centre in South Auckland suffering in this way. The Mangere-Otahuhu and Manurewa local boards have joined his in pressing for the legislation. But the others keep quieter about it.

In July, when they jointly put out the booklet of graphic testimony from retailers and residents, they thought the bill was about to come back from a select committee for its crucial conscience vote in the House.

The fact that it didn't appear is ominous. If enough MPs were going to support it they would have capitalised on the boards' booklet and brought the bill to a vote by now.

McCracken fears they are going to bury the bill on Crown Law advice that councils' power to make bylaws gives them sufficient control of prostitution in public places.

He has been down this track before. Bylaws, he says, are useless. Unless they are made under the authority of a particular piece of legislation, police don't believe they can enforce them.

What the police believe matters more than legal argument. If the police don't believe a bylaw will stand up in court they are not going to invest time and effort on the streets.

The problem, he explains, is that when Parliament legalised prostitution nine years ago the act made no reference to street vendors. It assumed that once the industry was legal all the practitioners would move into licensed premises and councils would have had control over their location.

It wouldn't seem very hard to amend the law now to extend that control to the streets, but for some reason the legislators seem reluctant. Those who voted for legalisation in 2003 may be unwilling to acknowledge any deficiency in it. Those who opposed it probably have no stomach to revive the subject.

They may regard it as an isolated local problem. But it is not local people cruising the kerbs of their shopping centre, McCracken says.

He knows the customers come from other parts of the city because for a period the locals recorded the car registration of kerb-crawlers and sent a letter to their address.

They stopped when a number was misrecorded and a notice sent to a mortified elderly couple. But if Parliament doesn't act, it might be time for the good people of old Papatoetoe to revive the idea.

- NZ Herald

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