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Harawira: Control of Prostitution Bill Speech

Manukau City Council (Control of Prostitution) Bill 2005 7 December 2005; Parliament

Hone Harawira, Member of Parliament for Tai Tokerau Maori Party

I would first like to pick up on a point made by Pita Paraone, who asked what our line on this Bill was to be because of Tariana Turia having voted for the Prostitution Reform Bill. Tariana Turia voted for that bill because she believed there was a need to try to provide some kind of safety and security for those on the street.

However we do not support this Bill for a whole lot of other reasons.

I am amazed at both the tenor and the intent of this Bill which seems to be an extreme response in a very small area of the country to groups and individuals who are both small in number and are very marginalised by society.

It targets the vulnerable and is the metaphorical pile driver sent to crack a walnut.

The bill makes it an offence to solicit for prostitution in a public place. It creates new infringement offences; and most important, provides the police with powers that no police force anywhere in a civilised society should have.

Prior to the Prostitution Reform Act, street based sex workers were subject to soliciting laws under the Summary Offences Act 1981, the maximum penalty for which was a fine of $200.

The reality was that they were shunted through the courts and they quickly returned to the streets to make money to pay their fines.

The convictions for soliciting made no impact whatsoever on the numbers of people working on the street. People just shifted to different doorways and waited for the police to calm down before moving back to their previous sites.

Enforcement had dropped significantly throughout the last ten year, but when the police did one final raid while the Prostitution Reform Bill was before this House most of those arrested were Maori and transgender street workers.

Street based sex workers throughout New Zealand are mainly Maori and working class, mothers and transgender, and we want to ensure that they are not subjected to the punitive measures outlined in this Bill.

We know that during the course of their work, Prostitutes Collective workers encountered, on average, 25 of these sex workers throughout South Auckland on mainly Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

They tell us that the actual numbers of street based sex workers overall are very small- not only in Manukau, but throughout the country. To bring in a Bill to try to crush just those in Manukau simply ain't going to do the Business.

Most of them are over the age of 25, although a study in Christchurch suggests that most of them started at a relatively young age. Many of these people have worked the streets for a number of years and are very stable and unlikely to create problems in respect to public nuisance, etc.

Reintroducing penalties in relation to street based sex workers will not make any difference whatsoever, and the statistics prove this in respect of the numbers of people engaged in sex work.

It will, though, result in these sex workers being fined large amounts of money - money that they will be unable to pay.

This of course, will result in them being further punished and criminalised for unpaid fines, which will only result in them getting community service, or ending up in jail.

Punitive actions are not the solution - they never have been.

Furthermore, the Maori Party is concerned that the definition of soliciting is very wide - that it will enable the police to act on a "perception from afar" basis that a person is actually soliciting and those decisions will be subjective.

Historically, sex workers have been inclined to plead guilty when confronted with charges, even when they are just passing through main street sites, and the Maori Party is worried that anyone who even looks "the part" or who fits the profile, is likely to be implicated under the terms of this Bill.

Furthermore, if the Bill is passed, because condoms and other safer sex gear can be listed evidence of soliciting, sex workers will stop carrying them, which is really dumb because the police actually tell sex workers that they are happy they are carrying them, because it means safe sex is going on between them and their clients.

Street based sex workers will be less likely to report crimes against themselves for fear of prosecution under this legislation so this Bill will drive street workers in to situations where they lose contact with those who can help them like the Outreach workers.

We do not deny that at there are issues with noise, litter, arguments, abuse and assaults but laws already exist to control that kind of behaviour.

As for the Police issue, we are also very concerned that under Clause 8 Police are exempt from prosecution where the Officer is acting under written instructions from a senior officer. I will say that again. Under Clause 8 Police are exempt from prosecution where the Officer is acting under written instructions from a senior officer. That means in simple terms, that if a cop has a note from a sergeant, he can break the law to make an arrest.

This is a dangerous precedent. While everybody may have all of these ideas about prostitution, sex work, etc. these clauses giving police wider powers will lead to sanctioning the commissioning of crimes to solve a crime. That is a very, very dangerous precedent, and that is another reason why this Bill should not go through.

The Powers of the police under this Bill, are like those that the United States is using to apprehend, and jail suspects in Afghanistan and Iraq on the basis that they have reasonable grounds to do so. Is Manukau City to be the new Guantanamo Bay.

When the Police cells in Manukau City fill, and we all heard about this 'renditioning' going on - United States flying suspects all around the world into their own private jails - will New Zealand's version of renditioning mean that those picked up in Manukau City will get shunted off to other towns and cities in Aotearoa, such as the United States is doing with suspects all over Europe?

The advice we have from the streets is that there are many positives that have come from the Prostitution Reform Act but we fail to see anything positive at all coming out of this Bill.

In ending I just note how tolerant this House has been of the high level of soliciting and related nuisance-type behaviour carried out by those seeking support for this Bill. The Maori Party opposes this Bill.

Na reira, tena koe, tena koutou katoa.

ENDS

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