Victoria is Looking to Decriminalise Sex Work but What are the Laws in Other States?

Sex work victoria

Victoria looks set to become the next state in Australia, and part of only a handful in the world, to decriminalise sex work.

State MPs are currently considering recommendations that are aimed at protecting workers and reducing stigma.

Reason MP Fiona Patten has been leading the charge on these changes for years now and the legislative reforms currently being examined are largely the result of her campaigning work.

Victoria’s Consumer Affairs Minister Melissa Horne has said that the new laws would normalise sex work.

“Sex work is a legitimate form of work and should be regulated through standard business laws, like all other industries in the state”, Horne said.

“Decriminalisation is the best option to maximise sex workers’ safety, health and human rights, while also reducing stigma and fear of criminal repercussions in the industry.”

The Andrews government is thought to be working toward the decriminalisation of the industry as a priority.

Where does the rest of Australia stand on the issue? Here’s a state by state rundown of sex worker rights and legalities in Australia.

Much of this information is sourced from the Sex Workers Outreach Project and The Scarlet Alliance who do great work advocating for the rights of sex workers.

New South Wales

NSW actually became the first jurisdiction in the world to decriminalise sex work, beginning that process in 1979. In 1995, legislation was passed that saw most aspects of the NSW sex industry decriminalised.

It has the most liberal legislation surrounding sex work and has become a model for other jurisdictions, including New Zealand who later became the first country to decriminalise sex work.

Sex work, running a sex industry business, and being a sex worker are all legal in NSW as long as they comply with NSW regulations.

Anyone over 18 may provide sexual services to a person over the age of consent in exchange for money, goods, or favours.

‘Brothels’ or sex service premises are regulated by local councils, just like other businesses. Street sex work is lawful as long as it is not near or within view of a dwelling, school, church or hospital.

Australian Capital Territory

The ACT decriminalised prostitution in 1992 with the passage of the Prostitution Act. This was quickly followed with The Sex Work Act 1992 which refers to private sex workers as ‘sole operator brothels’ or ‘sole operator escorts’ instead of the more stigmatising ‘prostitutes’

Since 1992, private workers are not required to register with the Department of Fair Trading. Only ‘commercial brothels and commercial escort agencies’ must register with the Department of Fair Trading.

Brothels and escort agencies are legal but must be registered, as must the prostituted persons, through the Office of Regulatory Services.

Street sex work however is criminalised, and workers may be arrested for soliciting


Historically Tasmania has heavily criminalised the sex industry. However, The Sex Industry Offences Act of 2005 made being a sex worker in and of itself not a criminal act.

Brothels and street-based sex work remain illegal. It is illegal to knowingly be a client of a sex worker working in a commercial sexual services business.

Private sex work is legal and workers are allowed to work from a hotel or residence.


Queensland has some tricky laws when it comes to sex work. Working privately in Queensland is legal but it is an offence to work in pairs or with the support of another person. A lot of other states and territories have similar laws which are designed to stop pimping but they are generally regarded by the industry as restrictive rather than helpful.

Sex work in a licensed brothel is legal in Queensland – though heavily regulated – however all other forms are illegal. This means unlicensed brothels, more than one sex worker sharing premises, and ‘out-calls’ from a licensed brothel.

A single sex worker cannot be on a premises with another person unless that person is a bodyguard. Brothels also cannot have receptionists, and paying for private transport is illegal.

Queensland also has strict advertising guidelines when it comes to sex work.

Northern Territory

The NT says that private sex workers are allowed to work as long as they do not arrange services from the same place where the services are provided.

This means that brothels are illegal in the NT however certain places can apply for an escort license which comes with its own set of fairly restricted laws.

Street work and soliciting sex work is illegal. It is an offence in the NT to stand in a public place in order to get work.

Western Australia

Sex work in WA is governed under the Prostitution Act of 2000. Sex work and being a sex worker is not in and of itself an offence in WA, but the laws restrict many sex-work related activities.

Brothels are prohibited in WA but escort services are not. Street-based sex work is also illegal in WA.

Police have the power to stop and search anyone they suspect of being a prostitute and can charge them based on anything they find on the person that might indicate they are a sex worker.

WA also prohibits the “transmission of bodily fluids” during sex work.

South Australia

Up until 2017, with the passing of the Decriminalisation Bill, most sex work was criminalised in SA. The laws for the prosecution of sex work and sex workers were largely introduced in the 1970s and remained mostly intact until just a few years ago.

The act of commercial sex itself is not illegal in South Australia but how it is conducted is heavily criminalised.

Sex work in brothels is largely illegal which has led to a surge in escort based sex work under euphemism to avoid detection and scrutiny.

Street-based sex work is also a crime and workers can be charged if police suspect they are soliciting.


Finally, we return to the subject of recent news. Sex work is technically legal in Victoria but it operates under strict licensing laws that effectively render a large majority of sex workers in Victoria potential criminals.

Street-based sex work is illegal in Victoria. Brothels need a Sex Work Service Provider’s license and must comply with the Sex Work Act. They can only operate if they are 100m away from private residences and 200m away from churches, schools, hospitals and places where children spend time regularly.

Sex work can be advertised in Victoria however ads cannot show workers breasts, genitals, or depict sex acts. They can only be shown in print or online and cannot describe services offered.

The recommendations being considered by the Andrews government will seek to change the “discriminatory” planning laws for brothels, repeal advertising laws, and remove historical sex-work offences that workers have been charged with as well as registration and licensing records for those no longer in the industry.

Fiona Patten told The Age that sex work is work and workers should be treated like everyone else.

“This is a valid form of work, it provides a valid service, it’s a service that people want, and we should not be judging people because of the occupation they choose,” she said.

“If someone chooses to provide sexual services for money, we should be providing as much safety and protection around that – the same as we do if someone plays football for living, if somebody wants to cut hair for a living”.

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