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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1697

Senator HARRADINE(10.36) —This is a most important matter of public concern and therefore a great question of public policy. At last, this matter is about to be debated in the Parliament. However, what is said in this debate will be too late for government or anybody else to consider when it comes to the education campaign and the dissemination of information on the subject. It is shameful that the Government, and the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) in particular, has left until now the question of public debate in this chamber about this question. It is a major matter of public importance. The Parliament itself should have been brought into the confidence of the Government and of the Minister. One has to ask: Why has there not been appropriate and proper consultation with the Parliament, and indeed with the parliamentary liaison group on acquired immune deficiency syndrome, so that it could have had an effective input into the advertising campaign?

This is a very serious matter. There have been a total of 442 cases of full AIDS in Australia, of whom 238 have died. The Minister's statement is very helpful in that it points out the definite further risk to the community of the spread of the disease. The statement says:

. . . it is estimated that up to 50,000 Australians, most of them walking around in apparently good health, are in fact carriers of one of the more lethal viruses ever known. Because of the long incubation period this will mean a high level of deaths from AIDS into the 1990s.

The significant point is that previously it was thought that the prognosis of those diagnosed as antibody positive could well be that only 5 to 10 per cent would go on to develop full AIDS. But recent considerations by scientists and those in the profession of medicine who are in this field indicate that that has been revised upwards. The World Health Organisation revised it upwards in December last year and suggested a rate of about 25 per cent, a recent American study, as the Minister said, has put the rate at 36 per cent, and some reports from Europe indicate that the prognosis for those diagnosed as antibody positive is that as many as 70 per cent will develop full AIDS. When one could have, as the Minister says, up to 50,000 Australians walking around as carriers of the disease, one realises that this is a very serious question indeed and a very serious public policy issue.

Consultations have not taken place. Let us face it: The discussions were not consultations. This document says that there were discussions or whatever with church leaders and various other people, but those were not consultations. Those people were told what the Government was going to do about AIDS education. The parliamentary liaison group on AIDS was also told. At the last meeting of that group I asked about this. In fact, as far back as 19 February I asked whether the parliamentary group would be able to see the educational material and have an effective input. The Minister's response at the time was: `I will see about that'. I still have not seen the material and I do not know what is in it. Yet I am being asked to respond to this document which puts $2m into that area.

I believe that the public is entitled to know the truth about this deadly situation. The spread of AIDS poses grave problems, not only for individuals-that is bad enough and we should have compassion for those people-but also for Australian society as a whole. AIDS is not confined to high risk groups, such as homosexuals and intravenous drug users, but is spreading through those in the heterosexual community who engage in risk behaviour. Leaving aside the IV drug users and the problems of transmission of AIDS through contaminated blood-and I acknowledge the points that have been made by the Minister about contaminated blood in this country-the major cause of the spread of AIDS, acknowledged by all the experts, is promiscuous behaviour. The deadly fact of life in modern times is that we cannot have a promiscuous society without AIDS. Faced with the deadly threat of AIDS, Australians are entitled to be told the facts of life in any AIDS education program, rather than be misled by the promoters of condoms and the promiscuous lifestyle because that lifestyle is the major cause of the spread of AIDS in Australia and throughout the world.

Where in this document do we see this message put across? What is the message that comes across from this document? Yes, it pays lip service to the need to have one monogamous, faithful sexual partner. The Minister acknowledged this in a letter to me. On page 18 the document says:

My first duty, as Commonwealth Health Minister, is to alert the people of Australia to the disease that is among us. There is no cure and no vaccine. The best, though not a perfect preventive measure after abstinence or a single safe sex partner, is the use of a condom. We have an inescapable duty to provide this advice.

That is the message that is going to the people-that which is called safe sex. Let me give honourable senators some of the statistics that the Minister has not included in this statement but which were available from the very same survey from which the Minister quoted in this document. The survey was done by the advertising agents who are going to be involved in that campaign. In this survey on condom usage, those who had used condoms before were asked if their use made sex `about the same, better, a little worse or a lot worse'. In the little worse/lot worse category, 69 per cent of males and 53 per cent of females said that it was a little worse or a lot worse.

Let me go to the other question, which is very significant. When asked whether the condom had ever broken-this is in the same survey that was quoted by the Minister but he did not include this-27 per cent of males and 23 per cent of females answered yes. If the message gets across and the condom is used, on the advice of the Minister for Health, and the user still gets AIDS, I wonder whether he will have a ground for suing the Minister for false information. That is the sort of thing about which I think the truth ought to be told, so that people can decide the issue in accordance with consideration of the major cause of the spread of AIDS in society today. The people are not being told the truth by the Minister on this particular question.

Senator Gareth Evans —Do you think homosexuals should use the rhythm method?

Senator HARRADINE —That is an interesting comment by Senator Evans. The nature of homosexual sexual activity would raise further degrees of question as to the efficacy of condoms. I also point out in passing that there is sexual activity which could spread AIDS and for which the condom is totally irrelevant, unless it is worn around the head. The real concern about all of this, as a result of what this Minister for Health is saying, is what is the message that is going to be given, particularly to our young people in schools? What is the message that is going to be given to them? Are they going to be given the message that it is important to ensure that they have a monogamous relationship, or that they should wear a condom? It is very interesting that I hear groans to my left. It would be much better to have a humorous advertising program than to have the sort of turgid stuff that we have seen heretofore.

Senator Zakharov —Just wait. It is just the beginning.

Senator HARRADINE —Senator Zakharov says: `Just wait'. Has she seen the material that will be contained in it?

Senator Zakharov —No, I will answer you later, but I know something about education.

Senator HARRADINE —I think I know a fair bit about education, too. I have been involved with it for quite a long time, one way or another. Bearing in mind that there is a problem of the transmission of the disease through promiscuity and that that is the major cause of the transmission of the disease at this time--

Senator Tate —You know the answer to your own question.

Senator HARRADINE —How do you mean that I know the answer to my own question?

Senator Tate —I heard you in my room. You posed a question to which you know the answer.

Senator HARRADINE —What question was that, Senator Tate?

Senator Tate —Whether the Minister for Health is sending a message to young people.

The PRESIDENT —Order! There are too many interjections and, Senator Harradine, I would suggest that you address your remarks through the Chair and ignore the interjections.

Senator Tate —The message is not--


Senator HARRADINE —The message in the Minister's speech is on page 17.

Senator Grimes —It says--

Senator HARRADINE —Yes, and I have read it out.

Senator Grimes —It says: After abstinence and after a monogamous relationship. What do you want?

Senator HARRADINE —I will read it out. It states:

My first duty, as Commonwealth Health Minister, is to alert the people of Australia to the disease that is among us. There is no cure and no vaccine. The best, though not a perfect preventative measure after abstinence or a single safe sex partner, is the use of a condom.

That is what it says there, but the message that is getting across in the various subsidiary documentation which is not contained here-I do not know what is contained in the advertising campaign-but which is being developed by those with Government funds is the condom message.

Senator Grimes —Not so.

Senator HARRADINE —It is very interesting to see that the Government is suggesting that that is not the message. Why did it not quote figures from the survey as to the situation relating to condoms? People are entitled to know the truth on these matters. Rather than going along that track, it ought to be acknowledged by all concerned, and particularly by the Government, that the message that is sent to the youth across the airwaves should be that this problem, AIDS, is being spread through promiscuity. I will come to another point directly, so I ask Senator Tate to wait please until I have finished it.

Let me give an example of what I would do it I were in charge of this program and the message that I would give, particularly to the young people, on the question of abstinence. Bear in mind that it is sometimes up to five years, as I understand it, before the question of whether a person has AIDS is in the melting pot. The possibility is that we could have advertisements showing, for example, a scene where the male is proposing marriage to his girlfriend, with a background of romantic music and moonlight on the lake, and she could respond by saying: `Where have you been all my life or at least for the last five years?' That sort of message would get across to young people more so than the type of message that seems to be coming across here. The difficulty is that I have not seen the advertising program and I do not know how many others in this chamber have seen it. I am glad to see that Senator Tate is back. If the desire is to ensure abstinence and a single safe sex partner, is the Government to spend $2m telling people that?

Senator Tate —We are telling them everything.

Senator HARRADINE —Is that the message that the Government wants to get across?

Senator Tate —No, I am not saying that. I am saying that will be two-thirds of the elements. We are saying abstinence, safe sex partner or condom.

Senator HARRADINE —Really? So the Government is party to legislation which legitimises and legalises a multi-million dollar business which is selling the other message.

Senator Tate —Selling the other message? Don't twist what I have said.

Senator HARRADINE —No. I am not twisting what the Minister has said. He is party to legislation, namely the Australian Capital Territory Classification of Publications Ordinance, which allows material that promotes promiscuity to come from the Australian Capital Territory and be spread throughout the country. What a hypocritical attitude there is on the part of the Government when it says, on the one hand, that it will spend $2m of taxpayers' money giving a message to desist from promiscuity but, on the other, it enables this multi-million dollar business to promote X-rated video materials that are--

Senator Gareth Evans —On a point of order, I know this is a debate which encourages the parade of obsessions. With respect, I think Senator Harradine is touching upon the relevance rule here in a way that is simply going beyond the bounds of this debate.

The PRESIDENT —I ask Senator Harradine to stick to the debate. However, I have been listening carefully to him, and I feel that--

Senator Harradine —On the point of order: This is absolutely relevant to the matter in issue.

The PRESIDENT —I am allowing you to continue, Senator Harradine.

Senator HARRADINE —Thank you, Mr President. This is absolutely necessary in this situation. I challenge the Government-I challenge the Minister for Health here and now-to telephone Ita Buttrose, the chairwoman of the group that will launch the program on Sunday, and ask her what is her view about the stupidity of the Government allowing X-rated materials which promote the sexual activities which are the major cause of the spread of AIDS in Australia. I challenge the Government, and if it has any guts let it ring Ita Buttrose to see whether she agrees that X-rated materials should be allowed to be promoted throughout this country. That is a challenge that the Government has to take up. If it does not take it up it is not fair dinkum about the problem.

I come to the matter of the campaign in the school. It is absolutely vital that the message that abstinence before marriage and fidelity in marriage be got over to the schools, bearing in mind the major cause of the spread of AIDS. I do not think it is good enough, for example, for the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) or anybody else when faced with legitimate criticisms of the possible content of campaigns, to say: `Well, that is too bad. You can wear it'. It is also important to note that there is need for compassion and support-compassion for those who are victims of the disease. Concerning that issue, it is important to note what has been said by a representative of the New South Wales Health Department, Tony Adams. This is of great concern. Tony Adams is reported in the Daily Telegraph of 26 March 1987 to have said:

All pregnant women may be asked to undergo voluntary AIDS tests if the epidemic continues to spread.

I consider that to be a very serious matter. The article continued:

Dr Adams said Australian Health Authorities and AIDS experts felt it was now more important for women in high-risk AIDS groups, such as intravenous drug users or those who had come into contact with bisexual males, to have voluntary tests if they became pregnant.

The purpose of those tests would be to decide whether to have abortions, as I understand the situation. That would be a very grave problem. What sort of compassionate society are we if we are to destroy unborn babies with AIDS? They would be twice the victim and it would be a very cruel society were we to adopt suggestions that pregnant women with AIDS have their unborn babies aborted. The public is entitled to the facts of life. This is a serious question. It is a matter of major public importance. I am sorry that this matter has not been up for debate before in this chamber. It should have been. We are on the eve of a massive education campaign. I feel that that campaign would have been far better had it received the effective input of members of parliament and major groups within society.