Council wants to keep sex workers out of sight during this year's Rugby World Cup.
We all went tut tut, how uncivilised, when the Indians rounded up the homeless and destitute street people of Delhi before last year's Commonwealth Games and bussed them off, out of sight, to remote shanty towns. But last week, Auckland Council backed the same sort of policy.
As Rugby World Cup fever intensifies, it's seeking the power to ban prostitutes from touting for business on the streets of the Super City. The proposed law is unfinished business from Mayor Len Brown's old Manukau City bailiwick, and councillors say they don't intend at this stage to extend its scope beyond the originally identified trouble spots of Hunters Corner, Papatoetoe and Manurewa.
But if that's the case, why are they asking Parliament for the power to pass bylaws giving them the power to name any street in the new city, a no-go zone?
There's something pathetically sad about the young - and not-so-young - girls and boys, often drugged to the eyeballs, peddling their bodies for money in places like Hunters Corner and Karangahape Rd. But as the Prostitutes Collective argues, the proposed law won't abolish street prostitution, it will just drive it into the less well-lit street behind. And by criminalising the activity, it will render the vulnerable sex workers even less safe than they are now.
It's hardly a new debate. There was a national discussion on the issue before the passage of the Prostitution Reform Act in 2003, and, putting moral values to one side, parliamentarians took the practical view that as the world's oldest profession was not going to be curbed by punishing the traders, it was best for the safety of all involved to make the activity legal.
A decade on, the new Auckland Super City, representing nearly a third of the country's population, wants Parliament to lurch back to the bad old failed policies.
It's a reminder of the farcical attempt by the Christian Right-led campaign on the old Auckland City Council to nullify the act in November 2003. The council passed a bylaw banning not just brothels, but any other manifestation of the sex industry from anywhere within 250 metres of any place of education, any suburban church and any major traffic interchange. The original bylaw was even more draconian, adding to the above list, airports, railway stations, ferry terminals and intriguingly, the Otahuhu bus interchange. Just which councillor had suffered a bad experience in that nefarious bus shelter was never revealed.
Also originally proposed was a ban on brothels at street level. This was dropped after the old People's Network Forum complained it would discriminate against the one in five Aucklanders who were disabled.
An Epsom bawdy house challenged the legality of the bylaw and Justice Paul Heath agreed with the submission that it was contrary to Parliament's intentions. He ruled the bylaw invalid.
There's no doubt Hunters Corner neighbours have had a problem going back years. But there's no guarantee that criminalising the activity in that neighbourhood will solve the problem.
Hookers were plying for business along the central city's K Road for decades before prostitution was decriminalised. Chances are all this bill, if passed, will do is get a few girls arrested "on suspicion" and a few cars searched, and the over-crowded district courts, a few more customers.
And even if the council and the police manage, by daily round-ups, to temporarily cleanse Hunters Corner - or whichever specified area they write into a new bylaw - of the prostitutes, all that will happen is the traders will migrate to another venue outside the area banned in the measure.
Auckland Council will then have to go through the lengthy process of hearings and submissions, to justify adding the new trading spot to the list of "specified places" subject the ban. And so it will go on.
Local authorities, as Justice Heath pointed out in 2004, already have powers to introduce bylaws addressing policy considerations "such as public nuisances, offensive behaviour in public places, public health, public nuisances, offensive behaviour in public places, public health, public safety and compatibility with existing character and use of surrounding land".
They also have the power to regulate trading in a public place.
In other words, there are plenty of control avenues to pursue under current law, without trying to turn the clock back and start emasculating the 2003 Prostitution Reform Act.