Prostitution remains a crime in South Australia but sexual services go on in other guises
South Australian prostitution stays criminal but remains tolerated in the background.
During parliamentary debate in 1885, Dr John Cockburn (SA premier 1889-90 and women’s suffrage supporter) warned that it was “absolutely impossible to abolish brothels.”
This seemed to be confirmed in 1907 when police reported 103 brothels and 164 people involved in operating them in Adelaide.
Yet in the same year, the state government presented the Suppression of Brothels Bill, largely in response to concerns voiced by the Adelaide City Council that properties next to brothels “deteriorated in value”.
In 1920, penalties were introduced for allowing a person with venereal disease to be in a house or place for the purpose of prostitution.
The Police Act 1936 consolidated prostitution as a criminal offence and the 1953 Police Offences Bill contained the basis of the prostitution laws that still apply in the state.
While today’s South Australian prostitution legislation is based on acts from the 1930s and 1950s, at least six attempts have been made to reform the laws, starting in 1980.
When a parliamentary select committee of inquiry recommended decriminalisation. Robin Millhouse, a former Liberal attorney-general, but at that time a Liberal Movement member, moved that the committee’s recommendation be adopted. After considerable community opposition, the move failed on a tied vote in the House of Assembly.
Meanwhile, sexual services continued to be offered opened under the guise of massage parlour or escourts.