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Prostitution in Australia is governed by state and territory laws, which vary considerably. Federal legislation also affects some aspects of sex work throughout Australia, and of Australian citizens abroad. Though Australia is largely homogenous in its attitude to sex work,  the legal responses of the nine jurisdictions have differed. Some of the differences have been due to political factors. 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 This became a model for New Zealand and a failed attempt in Western Australia in Victoria and Queensland adopted different models, based on legalisation—Victoria in and Queensland in In the remaining states of Tasmania , South Australia and Western Australia, despite intense debate and many proposed legislative reforms there has been no change in the laws.
The Australian Capital Territory adopted partial decriminalisation in , and the Northern Territory allowed partial decriminalisation in In all jurisdictions the issue remains divisive, and in the three eastern states with regulated sex work there has been intermittent review. Much of the information in this article concerns heterosexual, not homosexual, sex work.
Sex work in Australia has operated differently depending on the period of time evaluated. For this reason discussion is divided into three distinct periods: Pre-colonial "prostitution" among Aboriginal peoples is not considered here, since it bore little resemblance to contemporary understanding of the term. The late colonial period viewed prostitution as a public health issue, through the Contagious Diseases Acts.
Since Federation in , the emphasis has been on criminalising activities associated with prostitution. Although not explicitly prohibiting paid sex, the criminal law effectively produced a de facto prohibition. Prostitution probably first appeared in Australia at the time of the First Fleet in Some of the women transported to Australia had previously worked in prostitution, while others chose the profession due to economic circumstances, and a severe imbalance of the sexes.