Councils pay PIs to hire prostitutes

By Staff Writer

Victorian local councils have taken the unusual step of paying private detectives to hire prostitutes in order to gather evidence against illegal Melbourne brothels.
Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) president Dick Gross says the legislation requiring the use of private investigators to expose illegal brothels was unfortunate and local councils should not be left to enforce what is also a joint responsibility for the police and Consumer Affairs Victoria.

“The MAV has made representations to the Government for several years following the dismissal of cases where councils were able to prove the offence,” he says.
“It is absolute madness that police refer complaints to councils, who must then use prosecution or enforcement under the Planning & Environment Act as the means to close down illegal brothels that often operate under the guise of relaxation or massage therapists.”

According to Victoria Police chief superintendent Chris Duthie, police, in consultation with councils, are available to assist in the investigation of illegal brothels “if the circumstances warrant it”.
“If that is the case appropriate personnel and resources will be allocated,” he says.

The City of Yarra says it had hired private investigators six times in the past two years to gather evidence about illegal brothels. A council spokesperson told The Age newspaper that on four occasions, this had involved investigators receiving a sexual service, enabling council to prosecute and close the premises down.

"One necessary element of the offence is that a sexual service is provided in the conduct of a business,” Cr Gross says.

Cr Gross called for changes to the relevant so councils can undertake successful enforcement of illegal operators without the need to go to such extraordinary lengths.

“Alternatively they should transfer this responsibility to the police and other State agencies.”

"It is an unfortunate reality that such extreme measures are expected of councils to get court-admissible evidence as a result of the current legislation and lack of cooperation between agencies,” he says.

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