The head of New Zealand's sex worker advocacy group says Rotorua's Prostitution Bylaw is "problematic" as it singles out a specific occupation - one that has been decriminalised for nearly 20 years.

It comes as Rotorua Lakes Council enters its final weekend for public input on a review of its 2009 Prostitution Bylaw.

The council's statement of proposal gives five options, including its recommended option to adopt an updated bylaw.

The updated bylaw would include, among other things, allowing "small owner-operated brothels" - "SOOBs" - to be located outside of the permitted area for brothels.


The SOOB designation relates to premises that host a maximum of four self-employed sex workers.

The council's statement of proposal said this clarified "the intention that SOOBs should be treated like any other home-based business".

Under the 2009 bylaw, brothels have not been permitted outside the CBD.

Under the council's proposed updated bylaw, non-SOOBs would still be restricted to the CBD and all brothels - including SOOBs - would be prohibited from being within 100 metres of a "sensitive site" or another brothel.

Sensitive sites were defined in the council's consultation documents as education facilities, marae, churches or other buildings "habitually used for religious purposes".

New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective national co-ordinator Dame Catherine Healy said in her opinion the existence of any bylaw on a specific occupation was "problematic".

And discrimination based on occupation was not covered by the Human Rights Act, she said.

New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective national co-ordinator Dame Catherine Healy. Photo / File
New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective national co-ordinator Dame Catherine Healy. Photo / File

"You can discriminate on the basis of occupation. That's the problem.


"[Sex workers] cop enough discrimination as it is. That can feed into dehumanising behaviour and that translates into violence.

"It doesn't help when cities develop hostile environments."

She said other cities had "liberalised" sex work bylaws and it would be good to "get rid" of any sex work bylaw, but "that might make councillors nervous".

"It's always a balancing act."

Local accommodation business consultant Justin Adams said he was surprised the bylaw didn't breach human rights.

"It's highly restrictive on what [sex workers] can and can't do, which seems really odd for something that's been [decriminalised] for 17 years."


In his opinion it was "discriminatory", giving the example of a restriction on neon signs.

"Just drive down Fenton St."

However, he did agree with some provisions, such as the distances from sensitive sites.

"I understand protecting people but it's [decriminalised] and has been for a long time now."

Rotorua Chamber of Commerce chief executive Bryce Heard. Photo / File
Rotorua Chamber of Commerce chief executive Bryce Heard. Photo / File

Adams had made a submission on the council's proposal in favour of Option C, which would see the new bylaw being adopted with changes.

A Human Rights Commission spokesperson said the Human Rights Act covered employment status but that only pertained to being unemployed or the recipient of government assistance.


"So Dame Catherine Healy is correct on that point that the definition does not include occupations."

Rotorua Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Bryce Heard said no business owners had approached his organisations with concerns about sex workers or brothels.

A council officers' report to the council meeting on July 9 stated there was one formal complaint to the council about the "negative impacts of prostitution" since 2017.

Prostitution law reform proponent and former Labour MP Georgina Beyer told the Rotorua Daily Post the decriminalisation of sex work was the "most responsible way" of dealing with the issue and bylaws were "pointless things half the time".

Former Labour MP Georgina Beyer. Photo / File
Former Labour MP Georgina Beyer. Photo / File

"They usually turn out to be pretty impotent. But if it makes people feel better it's a good thing."

Beyer, also a former Carterton District mayor, said she didn't think the "sky will fall in" if the Rotorua Lakes Council implemented the new bylaw.


"I don't see it as a big issue, as long as proper democratic process is followed. [Sex work] will go on regardless, it's better to have it under view."

The act's sponsor, Tim Barnett, has been sought for comment.

A spokeswoman for Rotorua Lakes Council said the council did not want to comment.

* Public submissions on Rotorua Lakes Council's Prostitution Bylaw Review 2020 close at 5 pm on August 18. More information can be found at letstalk.rotorualakescouncil.nz

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