Calls for licensing as number of FIFO prostitutes rises

A SURGE in "fly-in fly-out" prostitutes illegally operating from motels in Ballina and Alstonville has prompted a call for the mandatory licensing of sex workers.

Ballina Shire Council has told a state parliamentary inquiry into brothel regulation of an increase in complaints about prostitutes working outside the region's two licensed brothels.

While a complaint against a prostitute working from residential accommodation has not been received since 2013, sex workers have started using accommodation-sharing website Airbnb to run short-term "in-call" services from rented properties.

"An itinerant sex worker needs only to book a motel room and place an advertisement within the local media outlining date/s and that business is ready to operate," council's development and environmental health manager Rod Willis said.

"There is very little outlay for this unauthorised business to commence trading.

"(Conversely) council is required to undertake detailed investigations to undertake any site inspection... at significant cost to the community with little likelihood that the cost of the investigation would be able to be recouped."

Mr Willis called for the State Government to roll out a new prostitute-licensing system and require any sex work advertisements to include the licence number for single operators or the development consent number for brothels.

"Should this submission be favourably considered, the formal licensing of a single sex worker or brothel proprietor wishing to advertise a service would effectively remove the illegal sex workers and brothel's capacity to advertise their services in local media," he said.

The council further called for mandatory criminal history checks of brothel proprietors to be undertaken as part of any licensing process by a State Government agency.

"Ballina Shire Council has received a number of complaints and allegations alleging the involvement of organised crime and motorcycle gangs in the owning and operation of brothels in the Northern Rivers..." Mr Willis said.

Mr Willis said the vast majority of complaints about illegal prostitution came from the legal brothels themselves, exposing rogue operators who run businesses without the costs of registration or health and safety measures legitimate businesses must outlay.

"These two (legal) brothels did attract complaints initially when operating as unauthorised businesses and numerous submissions were received as part of the development assessment process," Mr Willis said.

"These complaints have, however, been resolved, and a check of council records has not identified any complaint lodged against either business for a number of years."

The council rejected suggestions local government should take on more powers to conduct health checks of sex workers and investigate links to organised crime.

"These matters rightly are within the control of NSW Health and the NSW Police or another NSW crime agency and this is where this type of role must remain," Mr Willis said.

A final report with recommendations is due on November 12.

"The aims of the inquiry include closing loopholes which are seeing illegal businesses such as massage parlours flout the current laws which should prevent them from engaging in prostitution near schools and other inappropriate areas," committee chairman, Liberal MP Alister Henskens said.

"Councils have struggled in the courts to have illegal operations shut down and this needs to be addressed also in this inquiry."


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