Did anyone tell Fairfax about restrictions on prostitution ads in Victoria?

Log onto classifieds website www.cracker.com.au and you might think that you had stumbled upon some backyard operator’s attempt at creating an internet business. Under the catchphrase “Australia’s largest free classifieds,” the colour scheme is a kitsch lime – green, mauve and pink – while the Q&A section contains such gems as “As we’ve said before, we’re not the thought police. We don’t censor the content on this site – our users do” and “Ripping people off for your own gain ain’t a cool gig to play at.”

It was a surprise to me when I realised that Cracker is in fact a distant outpost of the Fairfax Digital empire. The site makes only minimal reference to this fact – although it is a giveaway that ads in the Jobs and Cars section of Cracker are all reposts from MyCareer and Drive.

What really caught my eye, however, was the ads in the “Escorts and Adult Services in Melbourne” and “Dating in Melbourne” categories. Many of the ads in these sections are quite blatantly ads for prostitution services.

While ads of this nature would be legal in many parts of Australia, in Victoria, prostitutes can only advertise if they also include their PCA licence number or exemption number in the ad. And almost none of the relevant ads on Cracker carry this detail.

A penalty of 40 penalty units applies under the Prostitution Control Act, 1994 to a person who publishes or causes to be published an advertisement for prostitution services that does not have the PCA details included, or an ad that describes the services offered (arguably, many of the cracker ads breach this second requirement also).

Assuming that internet publication is captured for the purposes of the Prostitution Control Act – and there are strong signs in the regulations to the Act that it is – Cracker appears to be operating in flagrant disregard for the law. Not what you’d expect from Australia’s leading domestically-controlled newspaper publisher.