Queensland's regulation of the prostitution industry has missed the point, Associate Professor of the University of Queensland (UQ) Dr Andreas Schloenhardt told Lawyers Weekly on Monday.
Schloenhardt, joint author of a research paper into the current regulatory regime, the Prostitution Act which has been in force for 10 years, said the bulk of the industry remained unregulated due to the prevalence of illegal escort services and sole operators.
"Most sources suggest that 75 per cent of prostitution involves escorts. Regardless of the type of regulation we have, this is what the clients want, and so they need to regulate that," he said.
Criticism has been leveled at the "extraordinary licencing fees" required to run a legal brothel in Queensland -Schloenhardt said it costs operators $30 000 to run a brothel each year, along with the additional expenses of maintenance, sanitary requirements and wages.
Restrictions on the operation of brothels also contribute to costs, which include limiting the number of "service rooms" available to five, and making it an offence to offer "outcall" escort services, Schloenhardt added.
"The [licenced] brothel at the moment really struggles financially to comply with the legislation - it makes it economically quite unfeasible to run a brothel - which is why they go bankrupt all the time," he said.
Adopting the Victorian model where brothels are allowed to run legal escort services could be a simple solution, suggested Schloenhardt.
"To keep that industry alive and also under control, you need to increase the cash revenue and that's one way of doing that," he said.
"Also because brothels are so tightly controlled, by allowing them to offer this extra service, it means you can still maintain the same levels of control over the licence holders and over sex workers, and give them the additional safety that is required."
There is also no national consensus on how to regulate prostitution in Australia and comparing the legislation between two different states is like comparing "apples and oranges", Schloenhardt said.
"What we do know is sex workers move around the country for a variety of reasons. We know some brothel owners have interests in more than one state ...If you control the industry very tightly in one state, that handballs the problem elsewhere, people move around and it would just make perfect sense to have some sort of national approach.
"We won't have uniform legislation ever but what's missing is the most basic form of dialogue in Australia on this issue," he said.
Schloenhardt, who will be presenting his "Happy Birthday Brothels" paper at a public lecture at UQ on September 21, said the existing legislation had been successful in stamping out corruption and the involvement of organised crime in the industry.
"I wouldn't say the legislation as such has failed. It really is that it has missed the point, and it's just leaving the bulk of the industry unregulated...it's really ignoring what clients want from this industry and how prostitution is taking place," he said.
"I'm not necessarily criticising any of the agencies carrying out the bureaucracy, but I guess the policy behind it is ill suited to the 21st century prostitution industry in Australia," he said.
- Sarah Sharples