Legislation and regulation - sex work

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Laws governing sex work

Running a brothel requires you to comply with the Sex Work Act 1994 and Sex Work Regulations 2016. However, you must also comply with many other laws, which cover: 

  • public health
  • occupational health and safety
  • employment
  • discrimination and harassment.

You must also be aware of laws which apply to all businesses. These include the Australian Consumer Law and those about business registration, tax and workplace agreements.

Legislation and regulations

  • Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 
  • Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007 
  • Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 
  • Planning and Environment Act 1987 
  • Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) 
  • Crimes Act 1914 (Commonwealth) 
  • Migration Act 1958 (Commonwealth)

Sex work regulators

Victoria’s sex industry is regulated under the Sex Work Act 1994 and the Sex Work Regulations 2016.

The Business Licensing Authority is an independent regulator which:

  • administers licensing schemes, including sex work service providers under the Sex Work Act 1994 (the Act)
  • licenses individuals to run a sex work service provider business – either a brothel or escort agency, or both
  • approves brothel managers
  • can, of its own initiative or on application from a licensee, impose or vary a licence condition
  • keeps a public register of licensees and approved brothel managers
  • keeps a non-public register of persons claiming an exemption from requiring a licence (called “small owner-operated businesses” in the Act)
  • can refer occupational health and safety issues, taxation matters, and immigration matters to the relevant Commonwealth authorities
  • advises the Sex Work Ministerial Advisory Committee of issues and trends.

Consumer Affairs Victoria, Victoria Police and local councils enforce the licensing, criminal and planning requirements of the Act, respectively.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Victoria Police are responsible for enforcing the criminal law, including issues related to the sex industry such as sexual slavery and sexual assault.

Sexual slavery is:

  • threatening 
  • unlawfully detaining 
  • engaging in fraud or misrepresentation, including by omissions, or 
  • imposing debt upon someone with the purpose of them providing commercial sexual services.

You can face a jail term if convicted.

Consumer Affairs Victoria works closely with the AFP and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to investigate potential human trafficking in the sex industry.

Victoria Police investigates other offences, including aggravated deceptive recruiting for sex work, and illegal brothels.

Other agencies that regulate laws relating to sex work include:

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission - staff may inspect your brothel. You must protect sex workers from discrimination or harassment, such as bullying and violence, by clients.

Australian Taxation Office (ATO) - financial records of licensees, managers and sex workers may all be checked by the ATO. Licensees who employ staff must pay income tax and GST.

WorkSafe Victoria - administers Victoria’s occupational health and safety laws, and may visit your brothel.

Department of Immigration and Border Protection - inspects brothels to ensure those businesses and their employees comply with visa requirements. When hiring overseas workers:

  • ask for evidence of a valid visa 
  • check the department’s free Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) to ensure the visa presented to you is legitimate 
  • comply with the conditions imposed on the visa by the department, including rostering of hours.

It is a criminal offence, under the Migration Act 1958, for a person to:

  • allow an illegal worker to work 
  • refer an illegal worker for work with another business.

You may also need to comply with regulations from the Child Support Agency and Centrelink.

For more information on these agencies, view the:

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