By Hugh Ryan
The Hon Barbara Scott MLC has retired from the WA Parliament after 16 years of service and a proud record of defending human life in the face of many challenges.
She was one of the founding members of the MPs Life Group, a cross-party group of MPs who share beliefs about life issues established in 1998 in response to the horrific abortion laws then being proposed for Western Australia, and sadly passed.
Since then there have been a number of issues for the group to handle, including the destruction of live human embryos for research, human cloning, surrogacy, living wills and most recently prostitution.
A liberal Member for South Metropolitan in the Legislative Council, Barbara Scott took a leading role last year in trying to defeat the Labor Party’s prostitution Bill which would have denied all communities in WA the freedom to reject brothels.
Predictably, the Greens supported Labor and the Independent Shelley Archer changed her mind to give Labor a one-vote majority.
Then a political miracle occurred. With the Bill on the governor’s desk waiting to be signed into law, former Premier Alan Carpenter called an early election last September, and spectacularly lost it.
The incoming Attorney General, Christian Porter, immediately withdrew the Bill from the Governor’s desk. It will be formally repealed when he presents his own bill to Parliament.
At that point Mrs Scott decided to take the initiative before the Attorney General could be assaulted by the various pro-prostitution lobbyists. Immediately following the election she went to Sweden and Belgium to meet with the designers, implementers, and enforcers of the Swedish prostitution legislation – popularly known as the Swedish model.
After each meeting overseas, piles of material were emailed back to her office in Perth and she spent much of her time in her last few months in Parliament preparing material that would open the way for effective legislation in WA.
Mrs Scott said that in discussions with Gunilla Ekberg, the expert adviser to the Swedish Government in the development and implementation of their legislation, it became clear that a lot of work would be needed to establish in the community the principles for legislation to stop the spread of prostitution, to stop the abuse and exploitation of women and children, and to stop the trafficking of human beings for sexual purposes.
It would also be necessary to reduce the organised crime, money laundering and drug trade that were so closely aligned and associated with prostitution.
Finally, the new Government would have to send a clear message to the community that new legislation would be radically different from the Labor government’s prostitution legislation, which, rather than stopping prostitution, was more concerned to provide good, healthy women to be abused by men.
“At first glance these sorts of principles may seem unrealistic,” Mrs Scott said, “but in 1998 the Swedish Parliament decided that they were not unrealistic goals and that they were worth fighting for.”
Prior to legislation being introduced into the Swedish Parliament, community education programs and the work of the women’s movement slowly changed that community’s culture to recognise that acts of prostitution are acts of abuse.
The Swedish government then decided to curb the proliferation of prostitution by criminalising the person who hires another for sexual purposes; in other words, the government turned the purchasing of a sexual act into a crime, and the criminal was the client not the prostitute. Ten years later, astonishing gains have been achieved in reducing all levels of prostitution, in protecting Sweden from the European scourge of trafficking in women, and in creating new life opportunities for women freed from prostitution.
Mrs Scott also met with Kajsa Wahlberg, head of the elite police group dealing with prostitution and Sweden’s representative at police meetings at European Union level, who told her that initially there was huge resistance from the Swedish police who were critical of the new law.
A year after the law was passed, the government established an education and training program for all police personnel, and there was a 300 per cent increase in the number of arrests. Swedish police had now embraced the law and found it helpful in controlling all forms of sexual crime. Mrs Scott said that during her visit, Norway passed laws similar to Sweden, and other countries, including Scotland and England, were looking seriously at the Swedish legislation. England was drafting legislation to charge anybody purchasing a sexual service from a trafficked woman or a woman coerced into prostitution.
“The provision of exit programs is very important in any such legislation,” Mrs Scott said. “In Sweden, the exit programs are provided for any woman or girl who wants to leave prostitution. They are provided under a welfare budget, not dissimilar to the way our women’s refuges are run. In fact, it is a refuge because women can go there out of prostitution or out of a violent relationship and the shelters have counsellors to help women who have been abused either in domestic violence or in prostitution. Many women who leave prostitution access adult education at these centres, which gives them a step up into another career path. Another interesting thing that came up in the discussions was the high level of abuse amongst women and young girls in prostitution before they entered prostitution. About 87 per cent of prostitutes were either abused as children, neglected or in vulnerable situations. It is not the image that is promoted of prostitution, but it is the reality and emphasises why prostitution must be seen as a form of abuse of women. I do believe that it is very much on the shoulders of women MPs and women in the community to send a clear message to Parliament that prostitution is not just something that men should be allowed to do to women.”
Mrs Scott said her meeting with Attorney General Christian Porter on her return from Sweden went well but there was still much to be done. A number of good MPs who care about life issues were elected last September and the ranks of the Life Group increased. Nevertheless the numbers were not sufficient without public support.
Many people had given long and devoted support to life issues and she thanked them for the encouragement they had given to her and other MPs who were struggling against the odds.
“The problem of prostitution is one where many others can join the struggle because there is so much everyone can do,” Mrs Scott said. “Firstly, ring your local Members of Parliament and ask them about their views on prostitution, and ask them about the Swedish approach. If you have the time to go the next step, write a letter asking if the MP has had a chance to look into the issues you discussed over the phone. If you still have time join your local branch of the Liberal or Labor Party (ring the Party’s headquarters to obtain this information) and make prostitution an issue for that branch.”
Pro-life voice still alive despite defeat
Pro-life politicians, including Liberal MLC Barbara Scott and President of the Legislative Council Nick Griffiths, who are retired from Parliament on May 21, were farewelled at the Coalition for the Defence of Human Life’s annual Rally for Life at Perth’s Parliament House that day.
“This rally commemorated the 90,000 unborn babies killed in Western Australia since the abortion law was signed by the Governor on May 26, 1998. We are grateful to MPs like Nick Griffiths and Barbara Scott who over the past decade have continued to speak out in the Parliament in defence of human life, successfully opposing attempts to legalise human cloning and euthanasia,” said Richard Egan, spokesman for the Coalition.
Newly elected MPs joined the rally this year including Peter Abetz, the Liberal member for Southern River and Bill Johnson, the Labor member for Cannington.
“The co-operation of MPs across party lines in defence of human life is vital and our annual rallies help foster that co-operation as well as assuring pro-life politicians that their courageous stand is deeply appreciated by the public,” Mr Egan said.