On Tuesday night, The Project team proved that stigmatisation of sex workers is alive and well in Australia during their interview with the Sydney Uber driver who mistakenly picked up sex worker instead of his next passenger.

ICYMI, Uber driver Daniel Moore‘s dash cam video – which doesn’t show the passenger’s face – went viral earlier this week. He thought he was picking up ‘Chelsea‘ from a Darlinghurst address, but accidentally picked up a sex worker who wasn’t his passenger. It eventually transpired that the sex worker believed Moore to be a customer, and when she realised he wasn’t, asked to be dropped off; it was only when she got out of the car that Chelsea called Moore, asking where he was, and the mix-up revealed itself.

To Moore’s credit, he handled an awkward situation with grace and humour. But his appearance on The Project proved that while socially aware Australia might have the lingo down pat, harmful stereotypes about sex workers still dominate our national conversation.

Panellists Waleed Aly, Carrie Bickmore, Peter Helliar and guest host Rachel Corbett could not contain themselves in the ‘humour’ of the situation.

“How often do you mix up a customer for a sex worker?” asked an amused Aly.

“I can see how you would get them confused,” commiserated Bickmore. “I would never have thought that was a sex worker.”

Given the fact that the original video never showed what the sex worker in question actually looked like, Bickmore’s comment is at best superfluous and at worst an propagation of the stereotype that sex workers look like Julia Roberts in the first half hour of ‘Pretty Woman‘. 

Corbett applauded Moore’s handling of the situation, while cracking wise at the somehow outrageous concept of treating a sex worker like any other Uber passenger.

“Dan, this is surely the mark of a true profession,” she said. “As an Uber driver you haven’t asked her to leave, you’ve just continued the really polite and delightful conversation, asking her how long she’s been a sex worker for, whether the day was good. Wasn’t there a bit of you that was thinking, ‘Uhhhh, gotta get out of here!’?” 

[Editor’s note: it looks like The Project has deleted the tweet, but you can catch the segment HERE.]

It’s not that a mixed-up passenger situation isn’t funny. It is, and it’s probably a lot more common situation than any of us realise given that Ubers in Australia are indistinguishable from regular cars.

The issue here is the fact that the wrong passenger’s occupation as a sex worker – an already stigmatised occupation that’s still fighting for decriminalisation in every state and territory bar NSW – was the butt of every piss-poor joke.

For example, the very concept of someone finding themselves in a professional encounter with a sex worker and being paid for it almost broke Helliar. 

“How weird was it to be charging a sex worker for YOUR time?” he asked, possibly forgetting that sex workers pay for goods and services like the rest of us literally all the goddamn time, including Ubers and taxis.

Aly wasn’t any better, chiming in when Corbett explained that he’d started Uber trip (thinking he’d picked up his actual passenger, Chelsea), with, “Hang on, so CHELSEA paid for your encounter with a sex worker?” Yes. Shockingly enough, that’s how Uber works.

The segment is being called out on social media, including by members of the sex worker community.

Honestly, this entire segment is reminiscent of Karl Stefanovic’s transphobic comments last year about a mugging incident in Rio, Brazil, whereby the transgender status of the people allegedly involved became the butt of the joke. (Props to Karl, he offered a solid apology for his comments the next day.)

And look – it was barely two years ago that The Project was in hot water for calling sex workers by the slur ‘pr*stitutes’.

This latest interview proves that while mainstream Australia may be adopting the language of the socially progressive, it still has a long way to go in terms of its attitude.

PEDESTRIAN.TV has reached out to The Project for comment.

Correction: an earlier version of this article incorrectly identified guest host Rachel Corbett as Ella Hooper, and said that the segment aired on Wednesday night, not Tuesday night. This has since been amended.

Photo: Channel 10.