SBS World News Radio: There are calls for Australia to adopt a European approach to prostitution which aims to legalise the selling of sex, while criminalising the act of paying for sex.
There are calls for Australia to adopt a European approach to prostitution which aims to legalise the selling of sex, while criminalising the act of paying for sex.
France has become the latest country to adopt the approach, which has been called the 'Nordic Model.'
Some Australian sex workers say it shouldn't be introduced here.
A group of activists with links to the sex industry is calling for a national approach to laws governing sex work.
The group wants legalisation similar to the so-called "Nordic Model", which targets sex workers' clients, but leaves the workers themselves immune from prosecution.
It was first introduced by the Swedish government in the late 1990s, followed by Norway and Iceland.
Canada and Northern Ireland adopted similar legislation in 2014.
Dr Meagan Tyler is the co-convenor of the Nordic Model Information Network, a global alliance of researchers focussing on prostitution and sex trafficking.
"It basically hinges on, essentially a legal framework where all prostituted persons are decriminalised, so there's no criminal sanction against anyone in prostitution, but sex buying, pimping and brothel keeping are all criminalised. So anyone that profits from the industry and anyone seeking to buy a prostituted person is criminalised."
Dr Tyler says the model has been effective in protecting women against trafficking and violence.
"Sweden in particular have found, and a number of other Nordic countries that have introduced the legislation subsequently, have found that it's very effective in reducing sex trafficking because this is really a model that targets demand. It says we don't want to encourage the buying of anybody in prostitution and as a result of that it makes sex trafficking to those destinations not as profitable a business"
Queensland University of Technology Law Professor, John Scott, says most states have criminalised aspects of the sex industry.
But he says the laws vary across Australia.
"There's a lot of inconsistency in terms of how the law is applied here in relation to sex work. So you have some states, well most states, where it's illegal. One state where it's decriminalised and two states where it's legalised, meaning it's subject to some regulation in forms of licensing."
But there are some that argue the Nordic Model actually makes the sex industry less safe for workers.
The Vixen Collective is a Victorian 'sex worker only' advocacy group.
The Collective's Jane Green argues that criminalising any part of the industry effectively criminalises sex work itself.
"It's very unrealistic to say that it legalises the sale of sex and criminalises the buying of it. It's simply not true. People don't have an understanding of what it actually means for sex workers and the actual impact of the Swedish model in Sweden is that it criminalises clients, but the effect of that is it pushes sex work underground and makes it more unsafe for workers to work."
The Australian Sex Party also opposes the "Nordic Model".
Senate candidate Dr Meredith Doig, says the policy fails to recognise the difference between women who are being exploited against their will, and women who are in the industry by choice.
"Any woman who is exploited in sexual servitude type of conditions is deserving of our support and should be protected but we would make a distinction between women like that who we would not actually classify as sex workers, we would say that they are trafficked women. So we would differentiate between trafficked women and sex workers or people who choose to indulge in consensual adult sex."
The Vixen Collective's Jane Green says sex workers themselves want complete decriminalisation.
"When you're looking at wanting laws that help sex workers, the best people to ask are always sex workers. Last year in September, sex worker organisations in Australia joined together to make a statement calling for the full decriminalisation of sex work as the only acceptable model of regulation for sex workers' human rights, labour rights, health and safety. And that statement was endorsed by every state, territory and national peer sex worker organisation in the country, as well as other community organisations like 'Harm Reduction Victoria' and the 'Australian Federation of AIDS' organisation."
Dr Doig says the Australian Sex Party supports replicating New Zealand's national policy of total decriminalisation.
"There's been a lot of evidence over the years about various models of decriminalisation or licensing or so on and it is incontrovertible that decriminalisation, together with regulation, is the best model. It reduces the risk of violence, it increases the possibility of outreach workers to educate about health and safety and it also contributes to a lessening of the stigma associated with sex work."