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Illegal brothels? Not on council’s watch

Posted: October 13, 2011 | Author: Steve Spencer

If, as some residents claim, an illegal brothel has been operating in the Tweed Heads CBD, council officers have been unable to uncover it.

Despite several raids this year, they failed to find evidence that could lead to prosecution.

Council yesterday confirmed its staff had made snap inspections on the Bay Street building at least three times but left empty handed after failing to find proof the second-storey unit was being used as an illicit bordello.

The building overlooks the playground of the Tweed Heads Public School.

Council chief planner Vince Connell said the claims were made during a Land and Environment Court case late last year, but despite three or four surprise inspections council officers ‘failed to find sufficient evidence of illegal activity’.

‘There were claims the building was being used as a brothel and that prostitutes had been soliciting on the street outside,’ he said.

‘We had several complaints but there has to be more definite evidence.

‘Tweed Council receives about six complaints a year about illegal brothels. There haven’t been any newly detected unauthorised premises in the last 12 months.’

‘Unfair competition’

This week authorised brothel operator Susan Stewart accused the council of failing to close down illegal bordellos which were offering unfair competition to her legal operation in an industrial estate at South Tweed Heads.

Ms Stewart, who operates the Benchmark brothel, said she couldn’t blame others for setting up illegal bordellos if they knew they would not be prosecuted.

‘It cost me thousands of dollars to fight the council in court and get my licence and I waited years. Why would someone go through all that when illegal operations are not being prosecuted?’

Gold Coast solicitor Bill Potts said brothels were no longer treated as a moral problem by the authorities but a financial, licensing and health issue, with legal bordellos paying a licensing fee to governments.

‘What we are seeing is a lack of political will to do anything about illegal brothels,’ he said.

‘It’s like the sly grog shops in the first half of the last century; it’s more about government’s missing out on revenue than anything,’ he said.

‘Unfortunately, illegal brothels are more likely to condone unsafe sex and other unlawful activities along with not paying a licence fee. This causes a health problem with the transmission of sexual diseases.

Under the radar

‘These are semi-permanent operations that operate under the radar of councils and police.

‘Meanwhile the legal brothel is spending money on security, medical checks and heeding state government rules and regulations.’

Mr Potts said many lawful Tweed brothels acted illegally by sending working girls north across the border to service major sporting events on the Gold Coast.

And he said that unlike the days before the Fitzgerald inquiry when corrupt Queensland police turned a blind eye to Gold Coast prostitution, it was now easier to operate illegal brothels in NSW.

‘That’s one of the reasons why there are so many brothels in the Tweed Shire. People who fail to get a brothel licence on the Gold Coast have been successful in NSW.

‘And of course the council doesn’t want the Tweed shire to be seen as a launching pad for prostitutes into the Gold Coast. But limiting the number of legal brothels only encourages illegal operations to set up; it’s just the simple rule of supply and demand applied to an industry that has always proved impossible to stamp out.’