A Brothel Of An Idea

If the American mafia, or Australia’s legendary ‘Mr Sin’ wanted to, they could now set up licensed brothels in Victoria, no questions asked. If they wanted a monopoly over all licensed brothels in Victoria, they could achieve that too, as long as they put up enough front people.

With dozens of brothels already licensed, the Victorian scene has been set for an organised crime takeover.

Legal brothels became a fact of life in Victoria in 1985. Though it had been tried previously in Australia, and is not new to some other countries, the Victorian experiment has been touted as a possible model for other Australian States. As well intentioned as new licensing laws might be, they have been so loosely structured that they amount to a franchise for vice interests to set up brothels in suburbs and towns right throughout Victoria.

All brothel-keepers must do is select the right site. Under government promulgated guidelines, provided a brothel is not sited in a residential area, or within 100 metres of a school, or scout or girl guide hall, or where assemblies of persons under 18 frequently gather in organised recreational or cultural pursuits, an application for a brothel permit is almost guaranteed success.

Victoria’s ‘minister in charge of brothels’, Mr Evan Walker, Minister for Planning and Environment, actually circularised each and every one of the State’s cities, towns and shires with specific directions that none could any longer ban brothels from their areas.

Officially, some restrictions apply under the new law. Whether they are applied may be another matter.

People convicted within the preceding five years for drug or other serious offences are ineligible to obtain a licence. This, of course, might deter some criminals or drug dealers.

The reality is that most ‘Mr Bigs’ of organised crime so insulate themselves from the commission of offences by their underlings that few have ever been convicted. Even a convicted killer fresh out of jail after serving a life sentence for mutilating and murdering prostitutes could not be declared ineligible since the conviction would not come within the five-year limit. Any front man from overseas whose convictions were not known in Australia would have free reign.

The new laws have specified that living off the earnings of prostitution is no longer an offence, provided the person conducting a brothel has a permit under the Town and Country Planning Act.

If any notorious Australia racketeer, or overseas mafia interest, wanted to remain hidden owners and controllers, it would simply be a matter of buying up brothel premises and putting in ‘dummies’ to apply for the necessary permits in their names.

A permit holder does not have to be the owner or occupier of the brothel premises.

Although the permit may be granted to an individual, who may or may not operate the brothel, the permit thereafter belongs to the landlord. For the permit goes with the land, and it is not transferable to other premises. Under the legislation, which calls a brothel a brothel, instead of the old euphemism of massage parlor, a brothel means ‘land to which people of both sexes, or of either sex, resort for the purpose of prostitution’. There is no distinction between heterosexual, lesbian or homosexual activities.

Notwithstanding the illegality of the past, Melbourne has long been the brothel (or massage parlor) capital of Australia. When brothels mushroomed in Melbourne in the 1970s under the guise of massage parlors, the then Liberal government ignored police calls for tougher laws to close them. Instead, it amended the Melbourne Metropolitan Planning Scheme to allow massage parlors as a legitimate land use, without acknowledging that they were in fact brothels. Local councils opposed applications for planning permits and so in all only 17 were ever granted. Indeed, some councils introduced planning schemes totally prohibiting massage parlors.

When the Cain Labor government came to power in 1982, it adopted the principle mat ‘brothels are here to stay’ and set up a working party to advise on how to regulate them. It came up with the new approach which decriminalised prostitution in brothels with valid town planning permits.

At the outset, in parliament, when the government was putting through its Planning (Brothels) Act, Walker was pressed on whether any council could still ban brothels. Walker replied: ‘The answer is quite simple, no.’

Responding afterwards to a backlash in country and suburban areas, Walker said, ‘I am not prepared to see brothels confined to municipalities such as Melbourne, St Kilda, Richmond and South Melbourne’. Denying though that the government was forcing brothels on councils, he explained, ‘What we are saying is that all permit applications for brothels must be treated on their planning merits’.

If a brothel application is opposed by a council, the applicant has recourse to a Planning Appeals Board. When church interests intervened in one hearing, the board made it plain that, ‘rightly or wrongly’, the government had laid down the law, and members of the board had no function to impose their own views or morality on the community and therefore could only examine each proposal on its merits on strictly town planning issues.

Originally, the government wanted as few restrictions as possible.

During parliamentary debate, when the Liberal and National opposition MPs pushed for stricter controls, Walker said the government was not keen to see planning legislation used to police, or to ‘bring the police in, as it were’. Only under pressure was it agreed that applicants convicted of drug dealing or other serious offences in the preceding five years would be excluded.

It was with reluctance that the government agreed to demands in the initial stages to prohibit multiple ownership. A fine of $10,000 was then to apply against anybody having ‘an interest’ in more than one brothel permit, either in his or her own name or in the name of an associate. An associate was proscribed as a spouse or partner, and the same applied if there was ‘an agreement with another person (whether formal or not) regarding the occupation or management or otherwise’ of another brothel.

The ban on multiple ownership was to have been the key to legislative measures aimed at preventing any mafia-style syndicates taking over. As it turned out, no serious attempt was to be made to enforce it.

An examination of the government’s own list of the 23 brothels that had secured valid planning permits, after a 12-month moratorium, disclosed a number of examples of multiple ownership.

Malcolm Thomas Child was listed as the permit holder for a brothel called Jasmin Mist at Lot 1, Frankston-Dandenong Road, Dandenong. His wife, Irene Margaret Child, appeared on the same list as the permit holder for a brothel called Irenes, at 31 Wells Road, Seaford.

Not only was the telephone listing for his wife’s brothel under his name in the Telecom directory, but Malcolm Child himself had told government officials that he was negotiating to buy the freehold of the premises for which his wife held her permit.

A partnership involving Margaret Wooley and a Shirley Clariss, who used to operate Jasmin Mist before it was taken over by Malcolm Child, were found to hold two permits between them.

One permit was for a brothel known as Masquerades, at 142 Bridge Road, Dandenong, with the permit in the name of Wooley. The second was for an unnamed brothel at 92 Greens Road, Dandenong, with the permit held in the names of both Wooley and Clariss. Wooley and Clariss also appeared on council records as joint owners of one of the brothel sites.

The prohibition on multiple ownership did not deter one man from seeking three permits in his own name. Ernest Sydney Wood was already listed as the permit holder for a licensed brothel called Dudley Terrace, at 58 Dudley Street, West Melbourne. He also had applications in for a brothel known as Bambra Studio, at 977 Glenhuntly Road, Caulfield, and another called Reflections, at 13 Home Street, Elsternwick.

A woman named Anna Collins applied for a permit for The Main Course brothel at 5 Home Street, Elsternwick, while listed as ‘manager’ for Gregory C. Reeve. Reeve himself was then listed on a joint application with Peter James Day and Michelle Davis for a brothel at 12 Vale Street, St Kilda. Day in turn was listed as a separate applicant for a brothel in a block of flats at 4 Yarra Street, South Yarra.

The supposed illegality of multiple ownership was treated with contempt — and no move was made to enforce the law.

Ultimately, the government reneged and dropped the limitation altogether.

One prostitute, Sandra Dee, went public, telling of a girlfriend buying a house in South Yarra for $35,000 at auction and reselling it untouched for $124,000 to somebody with inside information who knew they could make it into a brothel.

In what has been rated a $100-million-a-year industry for Victoria, a valid permit made brothel premises extremely valuable. All the more so since brothel permits remained with the site.

A convicted Western Australia operator, Susan Dever-aux, talked in Perth about the values placed on brothels able to operate without police interference. She said that a brothel in Perth able to operate with unofficial permission from police had sold for $650,000. She said she herself had paid $15,000 for ‘just a phone number after getting the go-ahead from the police’.

Parliamentarians themselves had no doubt how valuable brothels would become with the granting of permits in Victoria. To quote the words of one MP (Mr B. A. Chamberlain): ‘Those places will then be given a licence to print money.’

One of Melbourne’s better-known brothels, Daily Planet, in Home Street, Elsternwick, had been lucrative enough for its owner, John Trimbole, to have offered $100,000 sponsorship to the Fitzroy Football Club. The Daily Planet was listed for sale in 1979 for $250,000 as the ‘Rolls-Royce of massage parlors’. With a permit, one could just imagine its value on today’s market.

As long as a brothel secures a town planning permit, which costs nothing (except perhaps legal fees to pursue appeals against initial council objections), no fees at all are payable, unlike the myriad of annual licence fees applicable for other businesses.

In contrast to normal legitimate businesses that require licensing, applicants for brothels are relatively free of control. Applicants for hotel, restaurant or licensed groceries are subjected to life-time character checks under the scrutiny of the courts. A simple town planning permit gives none the automatic right to set up a hotel, restaurant, licensed grocery or TAB agency or the like.

No arrangement has been made either to even make newly licensed brothels pay State payroll tax, or comply with any industrial laws stringently applied to all other Victorian businesses.

The control of licensed brothels has been left more to officers of local councils than the police. During the first 12 months, there was one report of a council officer being offered a bribe of $10,000 to process a brothel permit application without objection.

The government’s Planning (Brothels) Act officially became law on 2 July 1984. But the government declared a 12-month moratorium to allow brothels to get their houses in order. Local councils were requested not to prosecute any brothels for any planning related offences in that period. The purpose, the government decreed, was to allow brothel owners an opportunity to study the new laws, find a suitable location (if not in one already) and obtain a valid planning permit to operate a brothel.

As minister, Evan Walker also wrote to all known brothel owners a number of times, reminding them to apply for permits so that they could be licensed. Enjoying immunity from police harassment under the moratorium, few bothered to apply.

So Walker wrote again to the address of each brothel on 3 April 1985. Addressing brothel owners as ‘Dear Occupier’, he stated: ‘The purpose of this letter is to remind you that already nine months of the moratorium have passed, and it would be in your interest if you intend to remain in the industry, to apply for town planning permits . . . The Government realises there have been some difficulties experienced by the industry in finding appropriate sites for which to make applications for brothels, but it is still somewhat surprised at the small number of applications made, compared with the total number of brothels existing . . . I emphasise that if you intend to remain in the industry, it is in your interest to apply for a planning permit, and I urge your consideration of this letter.’

When the moratorium expired on 1 July 1985, there were 54 brothels that had not applied for a permit. The head of Victoria’s licensing, gaming and vice squad, Chief Inspector John Sadler, promptly sent out a squad and shut them down.

At the same time as it announced licences for 22 brothels that had by then obtained permits, the government extended its moratorium for another 70 that had applied but were still waiting for permits. In each of these cases, local councils had rejected their applications and the brothel applicants were appealing to the Town Planning Appeals Board. Subsequent appeals ran at a rate of four to two in favor of brothel applicants.

The brothel legislation left completely untouched the most lucrative and booming side of prostitution in Victoria — so-called escort services.

Interestingly, only escort agencies advertise in tourist literature distributed to rooms of major hotels. In the Melbourne Truth newspaper, the traditional marketplace for prostitution advertisements, nine out of 10 advertisements are for escort services, with few of the licensed brothels rating a mention.

The licensing of brothels created a boon for the escort business.

Under the law, escort services have not been shown to be illegal. Whereas brothels use their own premises for prostitution, women working for escort services go by invitation or arrangement to a hotel, motel and other premises to meet the customer. Thereby classed as a visitor only, there is no offence.

A switch to escort services by many previously in the brothel business began immediately after the government announced its licensed brothel system.

Escort services mushroomed because of an influx of prostitutes from brothels. A group of thugs using standover tactics soon tried to monopolise the uncontrolled escort services. Some services mounted 24-hour guards after death threats and bashings.

Escort agencies were pressured into entering a partnership arrangement. When they refused, their prostitutes received calls to motel rooms where they were beaten up in attempts to put the agencies out of business.

Violence was not new to Victoria’s vice trade.

Victorian homicide detectives at that time were still probing the deaths of six prostitutes over a six-year period. They had worked in brothels before the new licensing system. As well, detectives have kept an open file on the execution of brothel-keeper John James Ebert, who was ambushed by two gunmen in April 1980.

Detectives were quoted as saying they believed he had been executed because he tried to expand his business and ‘trod on some toes . . .’.

In public speeches rationalising his approach in licensing brothels, Walker said: ‘It was not possible — as a responsible government — to continue to do nothing about brothels. There was evidence that brothels were becoming the base for organised crime and drug trafficking.’

A review of the effects of the new policies was made in a report brought down in late 1985 by an academic lawyer, Ms Marcia Neave, appointed by the government to examine the social, economic, legal and health aspects of all sides of the prostitution business.

She made 90 recommendations. The government accepted all but one — that recommended councils set aside ‘red light’ beat areas where soliciting and loitering for prostitution could occur legally.

The adopted recommendations enshrined the principle that councils could not legally prohibit brothels in their localities. In contrast, of course, councils may prohibit noxious trades and declare nuclear free zones. The only exception was that councils with a population below 20,000 could apply a brothel ban.

They also confirmed the abandonment of any law making it illegal to live off the earnings of prostitution, except that they now stipulated that it would be an offence to share prostitution earnings by the use of violence or intimidation, or the promise to supply addictive drugs. To protect young people, it was also made an offence to pay anybody under the age of 18 for sexual services.

Having outlawed casinos and poker machines because of a fear of infiltration by organised crime, the readiness of the Cain government to legalise brothels, and especially allow unlimited multiple ownership, has been anomalous.

The unseemly nature of the prostitution scene is all so familiar: day or night around Sydney’s Kings Cross or Melbourne’s St Kilda, girls loitering in the streets conspicuous in come-on attire. And the inevitable, solicitous question: ‘Want a girl, luv?’ Or men sidling alongside street girls furtively inquiring: ‘How much, luv?’

That’s the public face of prostitution.

But it is no longer simply men propositioning or being propositioned by female prostitutes. Male prostitution is now out in the open, also on the streets.

However ambivalent one may be towards prostitution, it is a sordid side of life and a lucrative arena for organised crime. Not that all prostitutes are controlled by racketeers. In the more permissive climate of modern society, many females and males now manage to operate on their own, or in small groups, away from the coercive and exploitive hands of vice lords and their pimps.

Once a person becomes enmeshed in organised prostitution, escape is seldom an option. All the more so if she or he becomes hooked on drugs — and the chances of that are something like nine out of 10 for street prostitution. Indeed, the chances are that a heroin-addicted prostitute will die from an overdose or drug related causes before she or he is considered too old for continued prostitution.

Of course, there are various forms of street-level prostitution. Apart from the more visible street girls, there are the tawdry backstreet brothels, usually easily identifiable terraces or flats. Often under age, and drug addicted, they are usually excluded from massage parlors. In the real upmarket sphere, there are the callgirls, often models or university students relying on a discreet telephone system.

As the world’s much-vaunted oldest profession, prostitution has been ingrained in Australian metropolitan areas just as surely as illegal gambling and other illicit pursuits. And there is probably no other subject about which there has been so much community double talk. Not even the most fervent wowser, the most die-hard moralist can pretend that prostitution can be stamped out. But it certainly can be curbed, and serious attempts made to combat the inroads of organised crime.

In the absence of dedicated police or government action, prostitution is ripe for organised racketeering. And that, in fact, has been the history of prostitution in Australia. Especially when coupled with illegal drugs.

The early foundations for organised crime revolved around the nexus between prostitution and cocaine trafficking in the 1920s and 1930s. Two of Sydney’s legendary ‘queens of vice’, Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine, emerged during that period.

Kate Leigh was a country girl who ended up, at the age of 10, in a State home in Sydney for neglected children. Not long after being allowed to leave the home at age 14, she was arrested for vagrancy. The natural progression was to prostitution.

By the time she reached her mid-20s, Kate had risen to become a madame, eventually establishing in her own right a string of brothels in the traditional red light area of East Sydney. From her own terrace home in Riley Street, she commanded a network including not only brothels but sly grog outlets, depots for stolen goods and finally outlets for cocaine trafficking.

Tilly Devine began her rise to infamy almost simultaneously with Kate Leigh. They became arch rivals and engaged in flamboyant public slanging matches. Tilly Devine had migrated from England after marrying an Australian First World War soldier, Jim Devine. She made Palmer Street, East Sydney, legendary as a brothel zone.

Both Leigh and Devine wielded extraordinary power in the underworld because of their vice networks and the gangs of hoodlums they hired to protect their empires. In an age of tough men, they ruled supreme, building their wealth and power on the anomaly in the law that a man could be convicted for living off the earnings of prostitution, but a woman could not.


Kate Leigh died in 1964, but Tilly Devine continued running brothels until 1968, when the law was changed. Within months, she was forced out of the trade by bomb attacks which heralded a new brothel war.

Despite Tilly Devine’s continued presence in the 1960s, a ‘king of vice’ had emerged in her bailiwick — Joe Borg, a Maltese migrant who had systematically bought up or leased a series of little terrace houses in Palmer Street. They were known as ‘The Doors’ because of the practice of prostitutes displaying themselves in the doorways.


Borg, though, was eliminated in an underworld shake-out during the late 1960s that set the scene for the modern syndication of vice, illegal gambling and drug trafficking.

Borg died after a bomb exploded in his car at Brighton Boulevard, Bondi, on 8 May 1968. He left a small fortune to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The aftermath of the shake-out ushered in an age of ‘health’ clinics and, eventually, openly advertised massage parlors. An aspiring young crime figure, John Stuart Regan, moved in on some as underworld protector and at one time collected weekly payments from more than 50 prostitutes. But when Regan tried to extend his collection racket to illegal gambling outlets, he was shot in an underworld execution outside an illegal casino at Marrickville in 1974.

From the point of view of women’s rights, it has been patently discriminatory that only the prostitute and not the male client has suffered arrest and conviction. In the United States, New York and other cities have applied tough ‘anti-John’ laws against clients. In Chicago, the law has been directed against pimps instead of prostitutes or clients.

Legalisation in Victoria has followed considerable community debate.

Results of perhaps the most influential survey on community attitudes were highlighted in a controversial book, The Sexual Dilemma, by Paul Wilson, senior lecturer in government at the University of Queensland and now with the Australian Institute of Criminology.

The survey, done specially for the book by the Roy Morgan Research Centre, showed that nearly half of the people questioned considered that prostitution should be made legal under some circumstances.

Those in favor usually said they thought making it legal would check the spread of venereal disease, or provide a safe sexual outlet for men who might otherwise commit rape or other sexual assaults. Many said that, since prostitution would always exist, it would be better for it to be controlled in some way.

Those against legalisation gave moral or ethical grounds as their reason, or simply said it was ‘just plain wrong’.

A significant feature was that people in NSW took a much more liberal view than Victorians, yet Melbourne has become Australia’s brothel capital.

More significant still, people in Queensland, where licensed brothels did operate until 1956, were even more strongly in favor of legalisation, with 55 per cent saying yes. A separate survey carried out among Queensland police disclosed that eight out of 10 favored legalisation.

According to Wilson, legalisation was necessary, for he claimed the growth of organised crime in Australia and other factors could eventually force all governments to adopt some form of officially recognised prostitution.

The Victorian experiment may suppress conspicuous involvement by criminals but, through sanction of multiple ownership, may ultimately allow for behind-the-scenes control by local or overseas interests prepared to outlay enough money to buy-up the premises for which licences have been secured.

Licensing might serve to keep under-age persons out of such brothels, but government endorsement of prostitution as a legal industry may unwittingly make it easier for young people to reconcile going onto the streets. According to Mr Des Sturgess, Director of Prosecutions in Queensland, who prepared a report highlighting the involvement of young people in all forms of prostitution, an environment had been created in Australia where young girls saw nothing wrong with prostitution.

More and more younger persons have been appearing around Kings Cross and St Kilda. Day or night, on the streets, or in shady haunts, they ply their trade. They include girls and boys who should still be at school.

In many cases, girls have been caught up in prostitution after being introduced to drugs at school.

Once hooked on drugs, they see, or are told, that prostitution is a logical way they can earn the money required to pay for their addiction.

Whereas prostitution and cocaine trafficking went hand in hand in the early days of organised crime in Sydney and Melbourne, heroin today is the mainstay of the vice trade. A high proportion of prostitutes are heroin addicts.

Overall, one in 10 of Australia’s 20,000 known heroin addicts would be involved in prostitution. Since Royal Commission figures show that street prices for heroin amount to a staggering $1.1 billion a year, just supplying the heroin needs of prostitutes represents a captive outlet worth well over $100 million a year.

No ordinary job can support a heroin habit. Addicts simply have to turn to prostitution, burglary, shoplifting or armed robbery to get the sort of money needed.

Some street prostitutes and massage parlor girls are known to use up to $1000 worth of heroin per day.

On average, based on usage figures analysed by the Woodward Royal Commission on drugs, an addict can be expected to use $150 worth of drugs per day — in other words, more than $1000 a week, or $54,600 a year. Not even the Prime Minister earns that much, after tax.

Prostitution and drug-taking mushroomed when American servicemen flocked to Australia on rest and recreational leave in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In those days, the US servicemen were always warned on arrival that girls they might meet in Sydney nightspots might be under 16 years of age.

Some of the younger girls end up at Kings Gross or St Kilda after running away from home. Some go to Sydney’s Wayside Chapel seeking help to extricate themselves from prostitution. An illustration of the problem was a case involving a girl who had run away from home interstate and ended up in a Kings Cross vice racket. When she went to the Wayside Chapel, her parents were contacted and they flew to Sydney to collect her. All the girl had was cheap, seductive clothing she wore as a street prostitute, except for a small case containing the clothes she had run away in. When her father arrived, she had changed back into her runaway clothes and left with him for the airport — wearing her school uniform.

Younger girls involved in the prostitution scene are not always visible on the streets. They also operate from nightspots, or single rooms — and are thus more difficult to detect. Naive younger girls are also more vulnerable to venereal disease than older professional prostitutes. Young boys too are now regular victims of the night lights. Any night of the week, boy prostitutes can be seen hanging around the El Alamein fountain in Fitzroy Gardens at Kings Cross. Some are aged just 12 and 14. And, like the girls, they sell themselves mainly to maintain drug habits.

A Sydney vice squad detective was quoted as saying that male prostitutes were making up to $750 daily working 15 hours. More than half, or $400 a day, was being spent on heroin.

When police have tried to crack down in Sydney they have had courts ridicule their efforts by imposing fines of just 10 cents.

Emboldened, prostitutes spread out from Kings Cross and the traditional back streets of East Sydney into residential streets in Darlinghurst. Residents became so incensed late in 1982 that they threatened a blockade. A council alderman proposed closing roads to control the number of prostitutes soliciting customers in passing cars. There was even a suggestion of installing yellow fog lights on street corners, which prompted the local State MP, Fred Miller, to proclaim: ‘Most of these young girls are on drugs and they wouldn’t care if they were under spotlights.’

Police initiated moves to have brothels opened up in residential streets declared disorderly houses under an old law. But they found it difficult to get neighbors to actually sign affidavits required by the court. As NSW vice squad chief Detective-Inspector Ernie Shepherd said: ‘You can’t blame them because they don’t want to get their houses burnt down or get a brick through their windows.’

When publicity was given to resident complaints of having to put up with female and male prostitutes having sex in front yards, on doorsteps and on footpaths, sightseeing buses included the red light streets in their night tours.

Rowdy scenes erupted at Sydney City Council meetings when aldermen complained that neither the council itself nor police were doing enough to control prostitution. Residents crowded the gallery, brandishing placards: ‘Darlinghurst — Paradise for Pimps’. Councils in NSW have tried clamping down through the use of planning laws, making it an offence to operate a brothel in a residential area.

Under legislation then enacted in response to the Darlinghurst outcry, prostitutes were barred from soliciting near homes, schools, churches and hospitals, thus forcing prostitutes away from residential to commercial areas.

The NSW Government set up a special parliamentary select committee to examine the issue.

All sorts of evidence was given.

A Ms Roberta Perkins, described as a volunteer counsellor and member of the Transsexual Association, maintained in evidence that prostitutes were not organised by pimps or syndicates, and that organised crime involvement came through the related drug trade.

The scene shifted from Sydney to the bush when a National Party backbencher, Jack Boyd, disclosed results of an investigation at Tweed Heads, on the Queensland border alongside the Gold Coast, which found that 35 housewives in the area worked as part-time prostitutes. They had organised a prostitution ring and serviced clients while their husbands were at work. An investigator had told Boyd that girls were being recruited to join prostitution rings with offers of $1000 a week and a free flat. However, the girls were frequently given coffee laced with drugs as a prelude to making them dependent not only on the drugs but on prostitution as a means of supporting the habit.

A social worker from a voluntary organisation called Street Network, Miss Annie Crowe, told the inquiry that children as young as eight were being sexually exploited in Kings Cross.

She said that hundreds of children were involved in the prostitution scene, a high proportion girl runaways. She said that 18-year-old prostitutes were considered too old to work in the area.

A former Sydney prostitute, Roz Kelly, who worked for 14 months in a Kings Cross brothel known as Anita’s Top-to-Toe Health Studio, told of being asked twice by the parlor manageress to give free sex to visiting police officers. ‘Freebies’ had been given to police officers on at least six separate occasions by a number of the girls working at the parlor. ‘The manageress came up to one of us saying that someone important from the force was coming in . . . She would indicate that it was to be a special job and that special care should be taken.’

The NSW inquiry, chaired by an ALP backbencher, Pat Rogan, was the first of its kind in Australia, with Royal Commission-style powers. The Neave study in Victoria was given no such powers.

Whereas the Neave report tended to play down the organised crime links with prostitution rackets, the NSW inquiry, which brought down its report six months later in April 1986, noted the involvement of organised crime figures using immigration rackets to supply overseas prostitutes to brothels in Sydney. Similar rackets had previously been detected by Federal police in Melbourne.

The NSW inquiry reported that it had been told of ‘a well-established relationship between an Australian, Todor Maksimovich, reputed to be associated with Abraham Saffron and with organised crime, a number of criminals from the Philippines who have criminal records, in that country and in Australia, and persons involved in prostitution in Sydney’.

While no one organised crime figure or group was said to dominate the prostitution trade, the inquiry found that some people owned several buildings containing brothels in one or neighboring suburbs and they could be said to be dominant figures. One man, who operated under six or more aliases, ran about 32 brothels.

The NSW report recommended decriminalisation, not legal licenses, and financial aid for councils wanting to oppose applications and appeals under town planning regulations.

Unlike Victoria, the NSW inquiry stipulated that there should be a law to prevent a monopoly of decriminalised brothels, making it illegal for any individual or group to own or operate any more than three brothels. Ownership also was to be restricted to ‘an individual resident in NSW and could not be in the name of any registered business or company name.

More realistically, the NSW report outlined a ban against anyone becoming involved with ownership if they had a conviction within 10 years, not just five years as in Victoria.

Not surprisingly, the NSW inquiry found evidence of widespread police corruption, with brothel owners having had to pay police for ‘protection’ either with money or sexual favors. In one instance, a brothel owner was said to have paid $1000 a month to police. The annual turnover of the NSW industry was put at $250 million.

In NSW there were 2200 prostitutes, with 80 per cent of street prostitutes being heroin addicts. In contrast, the Neave study identified between 3000 and 4000 females, males and trans-sexuals regularly working as prostitutes in Victoria. ‘We make no comments,’ the Neave report stated, ‘on links between drug dealings and prostitution occurring through brothels and escort agencies since we have little evidence on this issue.’

Many of the more sordid aspects of prostitution were reported on in May 1983 in a paper presented to the 1983 ANZAAS Congress by Douglas Meagher, QC, counsel assisting the Costigan Royal Commission into the criminal activities of members of the Painters’ and Dockers’ Union. As Meagher described it, ‘There are few more depressing businesses conducted by organised crime than those in the area of vice.’ He said investigatory work over 10 years had revealed a major organisation ranging across the whole of Australia.

Meagher pinpointed the use of prostitutes for bribery and corruption. ‘There is evidence of deliberate attempts to corrupt those customers who occupy significant positions in our community,’ he says. ‘Sexual entertainment is provided in which the victim participates but unknown to him the occasion is recorded by camera. The technique is as ancient as photography itself. The photographs or video are later produced to the victim with the threat of publication, embarrassment and possibly disgrace. The victim is then asked to show favor to the organisation in return for the suppression of these revelations of behavior.’

He cited one example where several young police officers were invited to a party where they were photographed with prostitutes. The photographs were to have been used for blackmail later on as the officers rose through the ranks. The scheme was uncovered, however, and the officers resigned from the force.

Meagher spoke out particularly against white slavery, the supply of Australian girls for the prostitution trade in Asia and Pacific areas.

As Meagher explained it, ‘Promises are made of legitimate employment and the girl, more often than not in her teens, is transported to an environment totally foreign to anything she had previously known. She is then called upon to provide the services of a prostitute. Her passport is taken from her and she is deprived of any financial resources that would allow her, independently, to escape . . .’

‘Since frequently she will not speak the language of the country concerned, will have no knowledge of the geography or the layout of the town, and even less knowledge of people to whom she may safely complain, the girl is effectively trapped. The trap is often reinforced by inducing heroin addiction, thus creating a desperate need for the income.’

Pointing up the community dilemma over prostitution, Meagher said: ‘It is one thing to find a prostitute willingly engaged in the trade on her own account, and to debate the moral considerations arising out of it.’ But, as he emphasises, exploitation and degradation of women by organised crime cannot permit ‘any rational justification on moral, humanitarian or sociological grounds’.


from Connections 2 by Bob Bottom

picture by Michael Fitzjames