Street worker problems spur support for bill

Streets, car parks, public and sporting facilities, and businesses and churches will continue to be used as brothels unless legislation is introduced to control them, South Auckland community leaders say.

Local board chairpersons spoke to the select committee on their submissions to the Manukau City Council (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill alongside the Auckland Council at a hearing in Mangere last Thursday.

They painted a grim picture of problems faced by their communities, including offensive behaviour and violence from street workers, the used condoms communities must pick up every morning and the clients who approach schoolgirls and female residents for services.

Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board chairman John McCracken told the committee the bill is extremely important to his residents to help prevent activities incompatible with the character of the community.

"Every other business that trades in a public place, such as a busker or street stall holder, is restricted in their location and hours of operation.

"It is not fair that street-based sex work should be exempt from the rules that other businesses must abide by."

Commercial freedoms given to sex workers by the Prostitution Reform Act allowed them and their clients to exhibit behaviour and create problems that would be unacceptable for any other industry, he says.

"As a result our businesses, residents and visitors are having their rights and freedoms impinged."

Manurewa Local Board chairwoman Angela Dalton told the committee that street workers know there is very little the Auckland Council can do to penalise their behaviour.

Prostitutes use local shop mirrors to get changed, harass shop owners and proposition customers inside stores, she says.

"Simply having the ability to make a bylaw with better enforcement powers would strengthen the position of the council when dealing with sex workers and trying to resolve issues," she says.

Mangere-Otahuhu Local Board chairman Peter Skelton says he is concerned that if the prostitution problems in his area escalated to the issues Manurewa and Papatoetoe face they would not have the sufficient tools to address them.

Councillor George Wood and public law manager Helen White represented the Auckland Council at the hearing.

Mr Wood says when the Prostitution Reform Act decriminalised prostitution in 2003, Manukau had an increase in the numbers of street-based sex workers.

With that came an increase in problems with residents, business owners and those sharing public places with the workers.

The South Aucklanders affected make up 5 per cent of New Zealand, he says.

"For this reason we believe our problems warrant the attention and intervention of central government."

Ms White told the select committee that bylaws the council can create under the Local Government Act are toothless - little use to council officers, unenforceable by police and can be challenged by judicial review.

Without the bill any bylaw addressing the demand for street-based sex work would be useless, she says.

Submissions on the bill close on February 29. The select committee will report its recommendations to Parliament on July 1.

Manukau Courier