Touring Australia - What to Expect Part 5.
collage of Australian images

Australia is still regarded as one of the safest countries to visit with great weather, a multitude of unique sights and a vast range of experiences on offer. More people than ever before are taking to the highways - land surfing from one tourist hot spot to the next and camping or finding casual accommodation one night at a time. We've put together a bit of a primer to help get you off on the right foot.

Medical Care and Quality

According to numerous independent reports Australia has a first class health service. Many locals would disagree, citing long waiting times for appointments and a shortage of hospital beds.

Facts are most tourists only require medical attention on an emergency basis or to replenish medications and the medical system here should meet your needs adequately.

If you need emergency medical attention someone will ring an ambulance and the priority will be to save your life - not establish who will pick up the bill. That will come later.

The ambulance service is excellent and casualty departments in the major hospitals are efficient and well organised. Your priority and need will be determined by the medical staff however and some casualty patients can feel that their need haven't been responded to quickly enough. I guess heart attacks take priority over broken arms etc.

Remote outback towns and cattle stations are serviced by the remarkable Royal Flying Doctor Service, a dedicated airwing made up of of specialised doctors, nurses and pilots who perform a host of duties but exist primarily as emergency ambulances for the bush.

The health system works on both public and private models. Australian citizens receive a 'Medicare' card which entitles them to various free treatments.

An appointment can be made to see a doctor at any medical clinic simply by making phone call and requesting one. Payment arrangements can be organised then.

Australia has reciprocal healthcare agreements with Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Disease

In general we're a reasonably healthy bunch. Like most westernised countries we eat too much fat and don't exercise enough but infectious diseases aren't running rampant. Afflictions like influenza are always present just as in any other country.

Being a single country/continent of reasonably small population means human and animal disease can be more easily isolated. Diseases like typhoid, cholera, malaria and yellow fever are virtually non-existent.

Two mosquito borne viruses exist in Australia that can be problematic. Ross River Fever (RRF or Ross River Virus) and Barmah Forest virus (BFV) occur periodically in parts of Australia There is no vaccination against these viruses and useful treatment is virtually non existent.

If you want to know what you're going to feel like when you're 90 years old then contracting one of the viruses may give you a fair indication - avoid getting bitten by mosquitos.

Sex and Sexual Health

Australians have a fairly relaxed attitude towards sex and sexuality. While we probably aren't as extroverted as some of our European brothers and sisters the laid-back lifestyle and a declining religious zealousness sees us becoming more accepting every decade.

Homosexuality is legal while same sex couples can adopt and raise children.

A recent Sydney Health Survey reports that ""…most people agreed that premarital sex was acceptable, that oral sex was considered 'sex', that sex was important for a sense of well-being and that extramarital sex was unacceptable." - which is probably a fair summary of the Australian attitude towards sex.

It means that if you've come for a good time then procuring a date for the prom is probably not going to be all that difficult.

The age of consent is the legal age an individual can engage in sexual activity and it varies from state to state. The age of consent is 16 years of age in the New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory, Victoria and Western Australia. In Tasmania and South Australia the age of consent is 17 years of age.

A woman's right to say 'No' to sex is strongly protected while rape within marriage is illegal.

Sex with children under the age of consent is considered paedophilia and is culturally abhorrent while the legal penalties can be justifiably severe.

There are around 1000 new cases of HIV reported each year in Australia. 65% of these arise from male homosexual contact. 29% are exposed from heterosexual contact. To date there have been around 6700 deaths from AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic.

Chlamydia is by far the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection in Australia with an infection rate of around 360 per 100,000 people. (all figures are those that have been diagnosed and notified only)

Gonorrhoea and genital herpes infections are present in the community while syphilis occurs but is considered rare these days.

While Australia doesn't have the massive HIV/AIDS issues some countries have other sexually transmitted diseases are still prevalent and problematic.

Condoms are available from pharmacies, supermarkets, hotel vending machines and many small shops and are your best defence against STI's.

The Police and The Law

By and large the police are a pretty reasonable and friendly lot. Most people will have no real cause to have any contact with the constabulary at all.

They are approachable and usually willing to help with directions or advice and are a safe refuge in a time of crisis.

Drivers may be requested, and are legally obliged to undertake a Random Breath Test to detect the presence of alcohol (permissible limits while driving are low). Likewise, drivers license checks are common.

Pay and conditions for Australian police are pretty good and if you happen to be arrested or fined for an offence then trying to bribe your way out is probably going to get you in a whole lot more trouble.

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