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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2875

Senator REYNOLDS —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Has the Minister seen a letter from the former Queensland Minister for Health in which Mr Austin persists in calling responsible acquired immune deficiency syndrome education programs `lurid publications of bizarre sexual practices'? What effect does this irresponsible attitude have on the national AIDS education program? Will the Minister ask his colleague, Dr Blewett, to initiate discussions with the new Health Minister, Mr Ahern, with a view to gaining a more enlightened approach to this national health program which cannot and must not be jeopardised by moralising Ministers such as Mr Austin?

Senator GRIMES —Yes, I am aware that Mr Austin and his colleagues refused to co-operate in the education program being conducted by the Commonwealth and all the other States in an effort to inhibit the spread of acquired immune deficiency syndrome in this country. Unfortunately, Mr Austin is one of those people who will not face reality and who believe that, if we do not talk or think about something, it will go away. Unfortunately, that is not the experience here or overseas. The documents produced in the AIDS education program, firstly, recognise the realistic situation that exists both in the gay community and amongst intravenous drug users. Secondly, they use the sort of language, in recognising the existence of practices, that Mr Austin may not like but it is the most effective way of communicating with people. I would expect someone so keen on free enterprise in the advertising industry to be aware of the importance of using language that people can understand. Thirdly, we believe and everyone involved with this problem believes that it is terribly important to get the facts, firstly, to the community immediately affected but then to the community generally. If people have the facts, they can take proper action to avoid this very serious illness. I hope that Dr Blewett will be able to have a better rapport with Mr Ahern, the new Health Minister, who is well known to be more enlightened in this and in other areas.

One of the difficulties in Queensland is that, unfortunately, the AIDS epidemic, like everything else up there, is being used in a partisan political way. That can only inhibit the effective education programs that we want to conduct. AIDS is a disease and a public health problem; it is not a visitation from on high. It cannot be defeated by exhortation any more than the behaviour of people can be modified, to the extent that Mr Austin believes it can be modified, by ignoring problems as they exist.