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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 13:17 GMT
Sex gifts for Australian businessmen
The gifts are for legal brothels, not the streets
By Phil Mercer in Sydney

Sex romps are being given out as Christmas bonuses by some of Australia's biggest retailers.

Sales staff are increasingly being offered sex parties at brothels instead of cash.

Welcome to the 21st century

Robbie Swan, Eros Foundation
One brothel madam told BBC News Online she was struggling to keep up with demand from corporate customers.

"December is our busiest month," said Mary-Anne Kenworth, who runs a business in Perth, Western Australia.

"We increase our turnover by at least 25% during the festive season."

She said it was no different to buying someone a box of chocolates.

Sex perks

But the practice of providing sex for salesmen has caused dismay among family groups and politicians.

"This is a case of Aussie bloke-ism gone too far," said Western Australia Premier Geoff Gallop. "We all might joke about it but the fact is, it has the potential to destroy families and relationships."

Robbie Swan from the Eros Foundation, an umbrella organisation representing the Australian sex industry, said firms should not be criticised for offering these sorts of inducements to workers.

"It's an extremely popular way of paying bonuses," he said. "Even politicians have been known to take friends to a brothel."

There are 900 legal brothels in Australia. Industry watchers estimate there are 12 million visits per year - or two for every Aussie male.

"Welcome to the 21st century," said Mr Swab. "Commercial sex is a reality.

"It's no different from buying a car or a meal."

On the side

It is lucrative too. Brothels, which are legal in most Australian states and territories, generate more than $500m (Aus $987m) every year.

Why can't we stick to the old ways of a bottle of whiskey or a free pass to a restaurant?

John Barridge, Australian Family Association
A company sending four clients to a brothel would expect to pay around $500 (Aus $987) for a spa, massage, sex and a complimentary drink or, according to Robbie Swan, "a nice cup of coffee."

It is not just valued staff who are rewarded with sex parties. One senior electrical executive was recently sacked for taking clients on a boat trip with prostitutes. He was dismissed for "unacceptable behaviour" when pictures appeared in a local newspaper.

Offering the services of call girls or strippers are clearly not the sort of behaviour most companies will openly admit to.

One salesman, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, told the BBC these sleazy incentives were made available to staff and customers "on a regular basis, especially at Christmas."

Brothel madam Mary-Anne Kenworth said it was just a way for businesses to remember the people who have made them money.

"It is a time to reward people either with a card or one of our girls," she said.

Tax reward

John Barridge from the Australian Family Association said he was "stunned".

"We don't think it's appropriate for the Christmas season," he said. "Why can't we stick to the old ways of a bottle of whiskey or a free pass to a restaurant?

"Why do we have to go to these extremes?"

What will fuel the anger of the anti-sex trade lobby even more is that bosses who provide staff with a Christmas thank-you at a brothel may even be entitled to a tax break.

Ray Regan, the President of the National Tax and Accountants' Association, said providing staff with something more than a card at Christmas could be very cost effective.

"Most employers who provide free visits to brothels will be surprised to learn that they will be entitled to a tax deduction for these gifts," he said.

"We expect that family and church groups will be outraged that firms who provide these incentives will be given various tax benefits."

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