Is Prostitution in Australia Legal?

Prostitution and the sex work industry is one of the most hotly debated topics in history. Australia has one of the more liberal attitudes towards sex work internationally. However, the laws with regard to prostitution in Australia vary widely from state to state. People are unaware of what is legal in their state or territory due to the constantly shifting laws and jurisdictions, making it difficult to navigate the industry for prostitution for law enforcers, sex workers and the general public.

What Are The Prostitution Laws In Australia?

Although prostitution may be legal in states such as South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania, many activities associated with prostitution like brothels and street prostitution are not.

All forms of child prostitution, sex trafficking and sex slavery are illegal under Federal law regardless of state. To be eligible to register as a sex worker you must be 18 years of age or older and have no prior criminal record.

So, where in Australia is prostitution illegal?

New South Wales

In New South Wales, one of the more liberal states in Australia, prostitution has been legal since 1995 with brothels coming under local council planning regulations. Street-based sex work is allowed on commercial streets but prohibited in residential zones.

Australian Capital Territory

In the ACT, sex workers, escort agencies and brothels have been legal since 1992, however, are required to register with the Office of Regulatory Services (ORS). Sex workers have the option of operating privately but must work alone.


In Victoria, under the Prostitution Control Act 1994 (now referred to as Sex Work Act 1994), brothels have been made legal and are regulated through Consumer Affairs Victoria.


Queensland brothels, prostitution services and operators are legal under The Prostitution Act 1999. Brothels can be licensed by Queensland’s Prostitution Licensing Authority, however, unlicensed brothels, massage parlour prostitution and street prostitution remain illegal.

Northern Territory

In the Northern Territory, an escort agency business and any escorts working within escort agencies are required to register at the Territory Licensing Committee and police with the exception of independent sex work. Street prostitution and brothels are illegal.

South Australia

Street prostitution, receiving money and licensed brothels remain illegal in South Australia. However, in July 2015 there were attempts to decriminalise prostitution in the state when the Statutes Amendment (Decriminalisation of Sex Work) Bill 2015 was introduced into the Upper House.

Western Australia

Western Australia has the Prostitution Act 2000 which legalises prostitution but still prohibits many activities associated with it such as brothels, soliciting in a public place and pimping.

How Are Sex Workers Regulated In Australia?

In Australia, there are three regulatory approaches to sex work depending on the state and territory you may live in. They include criminalisation, legalisation and decriminalisation.


Criminalisation refers to registration, laws and frameworks that make sex work, or activities associated with sex work, a crime.

In Victoria, there is a two-tiered system. There is a “legal” sector, with licensed brothels and registered workers and a separate part of the industry which is unlicensed and criminalised.

In South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania sex work is partially or fully criminalised. In Tasmania, private sex work is legal but street-based work and brothels are not.


Legalisation is a framework of laws that aim to impose statewide regulation and control the sex work of sex workers.

In some Australian states, there is legalisation to assist sex workers under licensing laws. In Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland sex work is only legal if it takes place within licensed venues and registration frameworks under licensing schemes.


Decriminalisation is an act that removes all criminal laws that prohibit sex work, along with all associated activities. In New South Wales, sex work was decriminalised in 1995. The Northern Territory worked to decriminalise sex work in 2019 and were successful.

What Defines Sex Work And Prostitution?

Prostitution specifically involves the practice of engaging in sexual activity with another individual for payment. It often carries a strong negative connotation.

Sex work is broadly used to describe sexual services involving consenting adults who have not been corrected or trafficked.

Sex work includes:

  • Exotic dancing – pole dancing, stripping, go-go dancing, burlesque, lap dancing, peepshow performers
  • Modelling – Webcam, pornographic film acting
  • Phone operators
  • Erotic massage
  • Grinding
  • Prostitution – brothel work, massage parlour-related prostitution, bar or casino prostitution
  • Escort services
  • Sexual surrogates

The Case For Legalising Sex Work In Australia

There are many arguments for and against legalising sex work in Australia. Some fear that legalising sex work will create toxic environments while others find the ability to freely express their vanity empowering.

Regardless of opposing ideologies or stances, it is important to understand the laws and legislation regarding prostitution and sex work in your state or territory and to understand the workplace rights and protections that may apply to you. Rather than criminalising an individual’s chosen occupation, it may be a more optimal option to make such work safer for those involved.

If you’re involved in a criminal-related prostitution case, contact us today. LY Lawyers is the most trusted criminal lawyers in Sydney and can help prepare you for the best possible legal defence for your case.