Scarlet Alliance formed but attempts to change the state's prostitution laws keep on failing


Sex industry law reform in late 20th Century South Australia grew out of the 1970s feminist movement. The Women's Electoral Lobby sponsored a seminar, “The exploitation of women and children in prostitution”, in 1978 at Adelaide University.

South Australian government women’s adviser Deborah McCulloch’s call for a prostitutes union was supported but the vote went against legalising prostitution. Sex workers formed the Scarlet Alliance to advocate for their rights.

After the tied-vote failure in 1980 for the state parliament to adopt a select committee recommendation to decriminalise prostitution, Labor MP Carolyn Pickles introduced a similar bill in 1986 but it was dropped, due to Liberal opposition and community pressure, with a 13–2 vote.

In 1991, Ian Gilfillan (Australian Democrat) brought in a private member’s bill to decriminalise but it lapsed amid opposition from groups such as the Uniting Church.
Liberal MP Mark Brindal (1994-95) twice introduced decriminalising bills without support from his party. Terry Cameron (Labor) also failed in 1998.

Liberal police minister Robert Brokenshire introduced bills in 1999 to decriminalise prostitution. They were passed by the House of Assembly but failed 12-7 in the Legislative Council. Then minister for the status of women, Diana Laidlaw, called her colleagues “gutless”. Sandra Kanck(Australian Democrat) said sex workers had been “thrown to the wolves by parliament”.

In 2011, a governing Labor backbencher and former minister, Stephanie Key, introduce a private member’s decriminalisation bill. Religious groups organised opposition, although the Liberals promised to consider it and the industry was consulted extensively.

Family First Party (now including Robert Brokenshire) opposed the move, even though police commissioner Mal Hyde said the laws needed to change. The Sex Work Reform Bill was defeated 20-19 in a conscience vote in 2012.

In 2014. Stephanie Key again introduced a private member’s bill to decriminalise sex work.

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