The Greens have a strong record of making decisions based on hard evidence, not hysteria, and this week I felt proud to continue that tradition when I reversed my position on a particularly contentious development application for a brothel.
Sex services premises (as they are formally known) are nothing new in the City of Sydney and Council has a strong record of working productively with this legal but highly stigmatised industry. Council staff and most of the Councillors work hard to make sure they come to an objective position whenever applications of this sort are dealt with in order to make sure we make the right decision for the community and aren’t held hostage to noisy, but often quite small, minorities.
Therefore, when Council staff recommended last week that an application for a premises in Burton St, Darlinghurst, be rejected on the basis of non-compliance with relevant planning rules I initially supported the recommendation. However throughout the week a number of events changed my mind.
The first event occurred as I was leaving the Council chambers after hearing from speakers both for and against the proposal. Outside I saw one of the people opposed to the plan harassing the applicants in a way that looked like it could escalate. I stood nearby to make sure things didn’t get out of hand and in doing so it became clear that the opponent of the proposal was trying to use it as a way to get money out of the applicant, trying to force them to buy a property off him on the basis that the proposal was making it hard to sell, even though it’d been on the market since before the idea was on the table. While everyone is welcome to their opinion this didn’t seem like a very honest motivation.
Later I examined the area around the proposed premises in more detail and felt that the report claiming it was tightly restricted residential area was misleading – the street is in fact mostly commercial premises. I also feel like the various claims that the premises would bring anti-social behaviour and ‘undesirables’ to the area were unfair and would simply serve to further stigmatise the sex industry. In the past I have lived quite close to brothels and know that discretion is a top priority for both workers and clients – the last thing they want to do is behave in a way that will attract attention.
It’s also worth noting that the proposed premises would have provided specialised services unavailable at other establishments and this may have caused those who objected to the ‘morality’ of the application to do so more vehemently. However I don’t feel it is the business of Council or anyone else to interfere in what consenting adults do behind closed doors, whether money is exchanged or not. Furthermore, premises like this provide a service for which there is obviously a demand and it’s possible that the clients may cause problems within society if those demands can’t be met through legal means such as this.
Ultimately, I feel that the unfavourable recommendation wasn’t based on sound planning. Rather it used planning rules to draw a very long bow, likely in response to those who campaigned against the application from a moral standpoint.
I therefore changed my position and voted in favour of the application, however the majority of other Councillors voted against, so the proposal will not go ahead at this time. While I may not have been on the winning side in this instance, I’ll continue to make sure all my future decisions are made based on a balanced view and that Council isn’t disproportionately swayed by ideas that unfairly stigmatise one group or occupation.
Image by Arne Huckelheim, use authorised under wikimedia commons.