The oldest profession is again in the spotlight as South Auckland businesses seek to rid the streets of prostitutes.

It's nearly midnight on Kolmar Rd, just off Great South Rd in Papatoetoe, a business centre in South Auckland known as Hunters Corner. Or Hookers' Corner.

Riia, 25, is at work. It's been her workplace off and on for the past five years: "When I'm down and out and really need it," she explains.

Prostitution is not her long-term career plan. She is studying tourism and travel and hopes to get a job at the airport after graduation - to support her 5-year-old daughter. But for the moment, this patch of Kolmar Rd is Riia's office.

It won't stay that way if a group of local business owners get their way. They say street walkers have sullied the reputation of their vibrant community and want the hookers off the corner.

They are pinning their hopes on the Auckland Council (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill to make it happen.

Manurewa MP George Hawkins introduced the bill to Parliament last September as a local bill that would enable Manukau City Council to ban street prostitution from certain areas of South Auckland. Anyone found soliciting or receiving commercial sexual services in no-go zones would face a fine of $2000.

The Local Government and Environment select committee was due to report back on the bill last month. However, with the advent of the Auckland Supercity, that deadline has been extended until September.

The bill could survive only with the support of the new Auckland Council. Under the leadership of mayor Len Brown, a Papatoetoe boy, councillors voted to support the bill, a move that broadened its scope to include the whole of Auckland city. From there, it could have a nationwide impact.

Opponents of the bill say it will force sex workers underground and undo gains made through the groundbreaking Prostitution Reform Act 2003. That legislation took a health and human rights approach to prostitution, rather than considering it from the moralistic standpoint of the past.

Riia says banning street prostitution would have a huge effect on her and the prostitutes she works alongside. "If they don't receive benefits or don't have jobs, how else are they going to feed their families?"

But Len Brown says it is a safety issue - for the sex workers as well as people living and working nearby.

"I hope that the result of the legislation will be that sex workers move into brothels where they are better protected by health and safety regulations and are better protected from violence," he says.

Riia has never worked in a brothel. She prefers dictating her own business, and keeping the money she makes. "I'd rather do it in the streets," she says. "It's safer, easier, you get more clients."

OTHER STREETWALKERS agree. A block over on Sutton Cres is Kelz, who has been working on the streets of Papatoetoe for nine years. Tonight she is a minder, looking after Eva. "Out here they get the full coin," says Kelz. "We keep to the rules - curfew, liquor ban, boundaries."

Alongside the slow machinations of government, the community has been coming up with its own ways to address the issues. In an unwritten deal brokered between the police, the Prostitutes' Collective and sex workers, street walkers are not supposed to appear until after dark and are gone by 6am.

There is also an informal ban on working the residential areas of Sutton Cres and Hoteo Ave.

Regional manager of New Zealand Prostitutes Collective Auckland branch, Annah Pickering, is at Hunters Corner and Manurewa three or four times a week to support workers and make sure they are sticking to the rules. If a complaint comes to the Auckland Council about prostitute behaviour in the area, she is called to investigate.

Pickering says the new law would undo the work of the Prostitution Reform Act. "It would put street-based workers in a vulnerable position."

Although most street prostitution occurs in pockets of South Auckland - Hunters Corner, Northcrest Way, Manurewa and Otahuhu town centre, Pickering is alarmed the bill could see it banned throughout the city.

As Pickering wanders the streets of Hunters Corner, handing out packs of condoms, it is clear her work goes beyond monitoring business.

One worker smiles with relief to see her. She is being evicted from her Housing New Zealand home the following day and needs help finding somewhere else to go. Another complains that a client refused to pay.

Pickering will take the licence plate and follow it up.

WHEN THE sun comes up, the day shift arrives for work at Hunters Corner.

Ange Joyce, owner of Lectro Hair and Beauty Salon, has been in business for 18 years. Every morning she dons rubber gloves and picks up used condoms and discarded packets at the back entrance of her shop.

It used to be even worse. Last year she put up a gate blocking the rear alcove near her back door because prostitutes would be congregated at her picnic table when she opened up. They used her planter box as a toilet.

"It was absolutely disgusting," says Joyce. "It got to the stage that I was fed up with it."

Also at the end of his patience is Jeet Singh, owner of a copy centre across the road from Joyce.

He made a submission to the select committee on the bill, complaining that when he drops his three daughters at the swimming pool on Sutton Cres he has had to field questions from his 8-year-old about why a prostitute is pole-dancing on walkway railings.

Singh says the situation has improved since the curfew came into effect but he would still like to see street prostitution completely banned from the area.

Motel owner Pat Taylor, chairman of Hunters Corner Town Centre Society, is fed up with Hunters Corner grabbing the headlines for the wrong reasons.

"The big issue for us is the unsavoury reputation that we have," he says. "Whenever anyone talks about Hunters Corner in the media or from outside of town they preface it with 'the red light district'. We're not that at all."

Taylor was part of a group of residents who tried to take down the street trade themselves. Members of Papatoetoe Residents Reclaiming Our Streets tailed clients, traced car registrations and sent letters to their homes.

The vigilante action revealed that although the business was being conducted in South Auckland, the clients were from all over Auckland and further afield. Some of the workers are also from out of town.

Shardela Andrews, 17, lives in Whangarei and comes to Auckland for the weekends to "make quick money". She can collect a couple of hundred bucks in a night - but it depends a lot on the clients. It's more than she can get working at home.

"There's no such thing as prostitution in Whangarei," says Andrews. "It's all free rides there."

Most of the street prostitution in New Zealand is concentrated in the main centres. Auckland tops the table with an estimated 230 street workers in central Auckland and Manukau. There is none on the North Shore. Christchurch has about 100 and approximately 45 work in Wellington.

A street worker is a rare thing in the regions. An analysis of sex workers by police district carried out in 2005 by the Prostitution Law Review Committee, recorded no street workers in Waikato, East Coast, Hawke's Bay, Nelson or Dunedin, and only two in the Bay of Plenty region.

Despite concerns, there is no evidence that decriminalisation has led to an explosion in the number of prostitutes on the streets. Estimated figures of street workers in Christchurch decreased from 106 in 1999 to 100 in 2006.

Councils have previously attempted to regulate prostitution. Hamilton implemented a bylaw in 2004 that established a permitted area for brothels, in commercial and industrial parts of the city away from residential areas. Within the permitted area brothels may not be located within 100m of "sensitive sites". Sensitive sites are childcare facilities, schools, churches and marae.

The bylaw also forbids soliciting within the Hamilton City Council area or in any street, road, footpath, road reserve, public place or area.

Now Taylor hopes the political process will allow similar controls in his neighbourhood.

"We're at our wits' end," he says. "It's an issue we'd like to get rid of. If this was happening in Remuera or Newmarket, one of the plush suburbs where all the wealthy people live, you could bet your bottom dollar it would have been sorted out. Because we're South Auckland we're right down the pecking order as far as central Government is concerned."

Even with the support of local politicians, Taylor will have to wait until next year before the bill could possibly become law. With the Auckland Council taking up the bill and the scope broadened to the whole of Auckland it has been pitched back into the bureaucratic process.

The council is drafting a supplementary order paper that local boards will consider in June. After consultation it will go to the governing body in July for endorsement and then be publicly notified in the beginning of August so people in the North Shore, or elsewhere in Auckland, who have not previously heard of the bill can have a say.

That could reopen the whole select committee submissions and hearing process.

In the meantime, trade will continue at Hunters Corner - day and night.

"The prostitutes are saying we're impacting on their business but they're impacting on ours," says Taylor. "The issue isn't dead. There is a real depth of feeling."