Sex, drugs and rock and roll: Australia's other boom

CANBERRA, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Forget Australia's mining boom.

The nation's strong economy, high currency and wages have made

it a magnet for sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Foreign sex workers, drug smugglers and global rock acts are

all targeting Australia to cash in on an economy growing at 3.1

percent when other developed nations are struggling to expand at

all.

The alternative boom has emerged as Australian average

full-time wages hit $72,500 a year, and with the Australian

dollar trading stubbornly above parity with the U.S.

dollar for the past two years.

That has made Australia even more profitable for fly-in and

fly-out rock acts and prostitutes, and especially for drug

traffickers who are taking bigger risks with the hope of

windfall profits.

"Offshore organised crime syndicates perceive Australia to

have a robust economy and to have been less affected by the

global financial crisis than other jurisdictions," said Paul

Jevtovic, the Australian Crime Commission's executive director

of intervention and prevention.

DRUG PROFITS

Australian police made 69,500 illicit drug busts in the year

to June 30, 2012, the highest in a decade, and have made record

arrests in the first six months of this financial year.

In recent months, police have intercepted drugs hidden in a

20-tonne steamroller and heavy machinery, in a large wooden

altar, and they have broken up a drug ring involving smugglers

in Australia, Japan and Vietnam.

One of the biggest smuggling operations was a failed bid to

bring in more than 200 kg (440 lb) of cocaine across the Pacific

Ocean from Ecuador on a 13-metre (40-foot) yacht, found grounded

on a small atoll in Tonga with a dead crewman aboard.

Australian police, who work closely with the U.S. Drug

Enforcement Administration and authorities throughout Asia and

the South Pacific, said the high prices paid in Australia and

the strong dollar all helped make the country attractive for

smugglers.

Crime statistics show why some are willing to risk up to 20

years in prison.

The Australian Crime Commission, which examines trends and

works closely with police agencies, said heroin and MDMA, also

known as ecstasy, sell for about eight times more in Australia

than in Britain and the United States, though Australia is a

much smaller market.

Crime Commission data given to Reuters shows a kilogram of

cocaine is worth about $2,400 in Colombia, $12,500 in Mexico,

and $33,000 in the United States.

The same kilogram of cocaine is worth $220,000 in Australia.

ROCK REVIVAL

Once a remote destination for big rock acts, Australia has

been flooded with talent over the past year and faces a steady

stream of musicians, including heritage acts, in 2013.

The strong dollar has made Australia the ideal place to

perform for musicians wanting to make money at a time when

touring rather than album sales is the main driver of income,

with many acts charging a premium in a cashed-up economy.

In the first half of 2013, Australia will see tours by Bruce

Springsteen, Pink, Guns N'Roses, Ringo Starr, ZZ Top, Thin

Lizzy, the Steve Miller Band, Deep Purple, Santana, Status Quo,

Robert Plant, Neil Young, Carole King, Paul Simon and Kiss.

The high ticket prices have upset some fans, who question

why an artist like Springsteen charges $220 for a premium ticket

in Australia, when the same ticket to the same show in

Connecticut in October cost $90.

"You can't tell me it costs more than double per head to

stage a concert here in Australia," said music fan Robin Pash,

who has just returned from the United States, where he saw

Springsteen and a series of acts for what would be considered

bargain prices.

Entertainment journalist Jonathon Moran, however, said the

higher prices reflected the higher cost in Australia, although

Australia's strong dollar did make it more attractive to perform

downunder.

"More people want to come here, and Australian audiences are

comparatively well off and can afford the tickets," Moran, from

Sydney's Sunday Telegraph, told Reuters.

SEX AND THE BOOM

Sex workers are also cashing in on the boom, particularly in

remote mining towns, where the world's oldest profession is the

latest to adopt fly-in, fly-out work practices. And more

overseas sex workers are heading for Australia.

A 2012 report for the government in the most populous state,

New South Wales, found a marked rise in the number of female sex

workers from Thailand, Korea and China since 2006, with 53

percent of sex workers from Asia and a further 13.5 percent from

other non-English-speaking countries.

The report, by the University of New South Wales, found a

median hourly rate of A$150 for sex services in Australia's

largest city of Sydney, although sex workers can charge double

that in remote mining towns full of cashed up men.

In the gold mining town of Kalgoorlie in the Western

Australia state, the Red House brothel, which has operated since

1934, advertises services starting at A$300 an hour.

Proprietor Bruna Meyers said women in her establishment

earned up to A$4,000 a week at a busy time, or about three times

the average full-time Australian wage.

"The girls who come here are mainly from over east (eastern

Australian states). They come in, sometimes for two or three

weeks at a time. Some are just girls who are travelling around

the world," Meyers told Reuters.

($1 = 0.9652 Australian dollars)

(Editing by Ron Popeski)

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