A plan to build Australia’s largest brothel is poised to overcome local government opposition in a victory for Sydney’s sex industry over creeping regulation.
The A$12 million ($11.7 million), three-story extension to the Stiletto brothel near the city center can be approved once client numbers are capped, Commissioner Susan O’Neill of the Land & Environment Court of New South Wales said in Sydney May 25. She asked for submissions from lawyers on how to limit customers before giving final approval.
Such a ruling would be a victory for Artazan Property Group, the Sydney firm overseeing the project, and the state’s sex industry. Even after being decriminalized in 1995, New South Wales brothel owners are increasingly turning to courts to reverse rejections by councils opposed to the industry, said the Scarlet Alliance, which represents Australian sex workers.
“We’re at risk because of the way local government is treating the industry: refusing applications in the name of politics,” said Julie Bates, who prepares development applications for sex-services premises as head of Sydney-based firm Urban Realists Planning & Health Consultants. “Brothels are never going to be a vote winner.”
The Stiletto proposal, rejected in September by City of Sydney council, included 40 working rooms, 21 waiting rooms and a 24-space basement parking lot.
“I am satisfied that the proposal can be approved,” Commissioner O’Neill said last week.
In the U.S., prostitution is illegal, except in Nevada, outside of Las Vegas. In Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, the top court ruled on March 26 that prohibitions of bawdy houses were unconstitutional, increasing the dangers prostitutes face by being forced to work outside. The Conservative federal government has appealed.
Operating a brothel in Australia’s most populous state stopped being a crime in 1995 after a Royal Commission in New South Wales found “a clear nexus between police corruption and the operation of brothels.” Decriminalization handed oversight from police officers to planning authorities at local councils.
“Research usually shows brothels are not a problem in a community,” said Wayne Morgan, a lecturer specializing in sexuality-related law at the Australian National University in Canberra. “Staff are usually very discreet, and clients, by their very nature, are very discreet. This was partly the point of legalizing brothels in the first place -- to take out the criminal aspect.”
The state is home to as many as 10,000 female sex workers, and there are as many as 200 brothels within 20 kilometers of Sydney’s central business district, according to a March report on the industry funded by the state’s Ministry of Health.
Stiletto, open 24 hours a day, lines Parramatta Road, the main road west from the city center. The brothel offers “the most erotic experience in Sydney,” its website says. Rooms include ‘The Library’ and ‘The Office,’ while ‘The Presidential Suite’ demands a minimum four-hour fee of A$1,480.
Delecta Ltd., an Australian publicly traded adult services company, in October scrapped a A$16 million takeover of Stiletto after Westpac Banking Corp., the nation’s second biggest lender, pulled funding for the deal.
Brothel operators in Sydney find it increasingly difficult to win approvals from councilors focused on re-election, which drives more to masquerade illegally as massage parlours, said Bates, of Urban Realists.
“We’re losing ground on what the intentions were in the first place,” Bates said. “It’s better to regulate and know they’re there.”
An inquiry in August 2007 by the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption found a council worker in Parramatta, west of Sydney, had received free sexual services for four years from at least five prostitutes in return for allowing them unauthorized use of buildings.
In Australia’s parliament, former Labor lawmaker Craig Thomson, a union official before becoming a politician in 2007, this month denied claims he used his union credit card to pay for prostitutes. Thomson was kicked out of the Labor Party by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and sits as an Independent.
The New South Wales state government, a Liberal-National coalition which won power in March 2011, plans to introduce a Brothel Licensing Authority.
“Illegal operations need to be shut down,” the office of the government’s Special Minister of State, Chris Hartcher, said in an e-mail. “The government is currently working on delivering this election commitment.”
According to the Scarlet Alliance, a licensing model in neighboring Queensland state has led most sex workers to operate illegally as they ignored the new systems’ requirements.
The emergence of an illegal sector makes it harder for health workers or police officers to reach sex workers and their clients, according to the website of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, a Sydney-based group that provides health information and support to people who engage in sex work.
“Licensing is a joke,” said Basil Donovan, co-author of the March report for the New South Wales Ministry of Health and a medical doctor, who said the Stiletto brothel would be Australia’s biggest. “It has never worked and never will. People don’t want to go onto lists and police registers.”