New South Wales is one of the very few jurisdictions in the world, along with New Zealand, to have decriminalised sex work and the provision of adult services in Sydney without correspondingly imposing a system of licensing. With the passage of the Disorderly House Amendment Act (1995) (NSW) this occurred in the year 1995, following multiple and extensive parliamentary inquiries and reports, including the New South Wales Parliament Select Committee on Prostitution that operated between the years 1988 and 1991, and a study conducted in the year 2012 attempted to track the effect and effectiveness of the decriminalisation regime seventeen years on from when it was first implemented. The report found that while the sex industry in New South Wales had much better outcomes than much of the rest of the world in terms of occupational health and safety, there remained certain problems with its application, especially where loopholes in the original legislation had led to local authorities enforcing it much more strictly than was ever envisaged by the drafters of the original act.
In New South Wales in 2012, the rate of reported condom use at brothels was higher than that among the general population, approaching one hundred per cent. The report concluded that the New South Wales model was working to protect sex workers, clients, and escorts better than the legislative frame works in the majority of the rest of the world, and that a system of compulsory licensing for brothels would lead to diminished quality of health and safety outcomes. One of the key issues that was identified by the report were overly strict and inconsistent planning requirements set out by local councils for brothels and commercial sex premises, which led to many venues operating either without planning approval from local government or under the pretence of being a massage parlour only. In New South Wales, an erotic massage parlour is officially defined as providing massage services and manual stimulation (i.e., masturbation or hand relief) of clients only, but not other sexual services. In reality, many of the so called ‘massage parlours’ surveyed by the authors of the report provided the same range of commercial sexual services as were available at establishments trading as brothels.
The report suggested that more scope should be granted for multiple escorts or sex workers living together and providing commercial sexual services on an independent basis to be considered as working as independent sex workers, rather than in a co-operative brothel, unless the number of people working on a single premises exceeds four. The report noted that very little reduction in amenity occurs for neighbours of independent sex workers working from residential premises. Mandatory licensing of sex workers, sometimes promoted under the name ‘legalisation’, which has occurred in Queensland and Victoria, was not recommended by the report, noting that ninety per cent of sex workers in Queensland and half of sex workers in Victoria were operating illegally, compared to fewer than one per cent in New South Wales.