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A survey conducted in the early 2000s showed that 15.6% of Australian men aged 16–59 have paid for sex at least once in their life and 1.9% had done so in the past year.
Men who had paid for sex were more likely than other men to smoke, to drink more alcohol, to have had a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or been tested for HIV, to have more sexual partners, to have first had vaginal intercourse before 16, and to have had heterosexual anal intercourse.
After federation, criminal law was left in the hands of the states.
But criminal law relating to prostitution only dates from around 1910.
For this reason discussion is divided into three distinct periods: convict, late colonial, and post-federation.
Pre-colonial "prostitution" among Aboriginal peoples is not considered here, since it bore little resemblance to contemporary understanding of the term.
Eastern Australian states and territories liberalised their laws in the late 20th century; but liberalisation has been restricted by upper houses of Parliament of several states, with legislation either defeated or extensively amended.
New South Wales was the first state or territory to adopt a different model, decriminalising prostitution in 1979.
Some of the differences have been due to political factors.
Although there had been claims that sex workers were responsible for STI levels in mining communities, subsequent research has shown this not to be true.