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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1701

Senator ZAKHAROV(11.06) —I had not intended to speak this morning on this matter because I think that the statement of the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) stands on its own. It is excellent, factual and says all that probably needs to be said in a statement of that length. But I cannot let much of what has been said, particularly by Senator Harradine, go unchallenged. I would like to refer first to something that Senator Powell said because I too was disturbed by some media reports that I read at the weekend. I know that they could be based perhaps on speculation-but I do not think so, in the case of the journalist whose article I read-but more probably on secondhand information. They are certainly not based on direct information because I know the media has not, as parliamentarians of all parties have not, had access to that material, and for good reason.

The members of the parliamentary liaison group of which Senator Harradine is a member-maybe he has not been to all the meetings; I have not checked on that-accepted, I believe, the situation about this. There has been enough adverse reaction without information on the advertisements being released prior to the advertising. If somebody had had the opportunity to leak the details of the advertising the situation might have been a lot worse. People might like to look at a letter from a Father Harman in yesterday's Age, a letter which obviously was based on speculation and was not at all helpful to the campaign.

I would like to come now to some of the statements and points raised by Senator Harradine. I am sure Senator Harradine is well aware, if he has attended all meetings of the parliamentary group, of the reasons why this matter has been debated to any extent in Parliament or even why there have not been a large number of questions in Parliament. The all-party parliamentary group has had discussion at some length and accept the view that much of the public debate that has taken place, particularly the media debate prior to and since the formation of the group, has been harmful rather than helpful. It has been sensationalised. It has not all been factual. It has raised people's anxieties unnecessarily. That is borne out by the results of the survey. The views of the parliamentary group about publicity, about what we should be stressing and so on, have been continuously sought since it was set up and before the campaign was finalised. Senator Harradine says that groups in the community have not been told what the education campaign would do. I remind the honourable senator that this is just part of the education campaign. I am a member of a subcommittee of the National Advisory Council on AIDS which has had a number of meetings under the chairmanship of Dr Adams of whom Senator Harradine appears to approve.

Senator Harradine —I did not approve of him.

Senator ZAKHAROV —Oh, he is another devil, is he? That group is considering the deeper question of education. Starting on Sunday, we will be looking at a media education campaign; and, of course, that is only part of it. The group of which I am a member has been concerned with education for young people in school and out of school-in other words, those who have left school. Some suggestions have been put forward, but, as that committee has not yet reported, I cannot go into details. Some suggestions are for the lighter touch, as was mentioned. The message to young people in extremely important. Before people become at risk they need to know what the facts are. I stress `need to know what are the facts'. We do not need to moralise at them, because that does not get anywhere. As part of that consultation members of that group have certainly consulted widely with church groups. In fact somebody representing those interests is on that committee. Their views have been sought, as have the views of many other concerned groups in the community, about what is the best way of going about this more in-depth education campaign.

Incidentally, the $2m is not just for advertising; it includes such things as enabling remote counselling services to operate 24-hours a day for the period of the campaign so that people can ring and find out what is going on and can have their anxieties allayed. That is a great deal of what the campaign must be about. Many people believe through sheer ignorance that they might be at risk because they believe, as the survey showed, that they can get AIDS by going to the dentist or shaking hands with a homosexual, which of course is not so.

Senator Harradine said that the public are entitled to know the truth, thereby implying that they have not been given the truth or are not about to be given the truth. I believe that the Government has done a magnificent job in this respect. I had the opportunity last year to hear at a conference in Sydney an international specialist from the World Health Organisation who was highly congratulatory of the Australian Government for what it is doing in this area and who said that he would use it as a model for other countries. I understand that shortly an international conference will be held in Australia resulting from that visit and the views the specialist formed.

Senator Harradine quoted some answers from the survey. Incidentally, I understand that that survey is of a very high calibre-I speak as a former market researcher-in terms of the way it was conducted, its confidentiality, the way it was set up, and so on. The honourable senator quoted some figures about people's beliefs about condoms as if the matter had been hidden. There is no reason for it to be hidden because it is demonstrating exactly what the Minister and the Government have been saying. If 27 per cent of males, and I forget the proportion of females, say that they have had an experience of a condom breaking, and we do not know the proportion of experiences, that probably demonstrates ignorance. I have been involved in human relations education in schools and have found among school children and adults-we dealt with parents as well-a great ignorance about this and many other areas of contraception and sexuality. If a condom breaks it is usually because it has been put on the wrong way. People do not understand that. Yet conservative groups in the community have attacked Victorian teachers because they have told students how to use a condom-`If you are going to use a condom, you should use it in the right way'. Surely that is important for anything we use in relation to AIDS or anything else.

I turn to the message to young people in schools. I do not know Senator Harradine's views about sex education, but I know the views of many people in the community. Unfortunately, some governments in Australia are against any effective sex education in schools. Effective sex education in schools is about relationships and the sorts of concerns Senator Harradine raised are just the sorts of concerns that are raised as important in the classroom by teachers and students. As I have said, I am speaking from long and wide experience. It has been recognised in discussions that AIDS education cannot be a one-off situation, with somebody coming into a school and saying: `Do this and don't do that'. It must be in the context of relationships in general, for example, about how to say no and how to use contraceptives if one has decided not to say no, and so on.

I was interested in Senator Harradine's idea about a commercial in which a young man is asked what he has been doing in the last five years; I think those were the words used. I cannot imagine a young man in such a situation saying that he had been sleeping around. This is something that concerns me about the message of safe sex with a single sex partner. I do not know how people know whether their single sex partners are, as they think, sex partners of only themselves or have been in the past. Women's groups have been very concerned since AIDS came to public notice as to how married women, the sorts of women about whom Senator Harradine spoke, can know about their husband's previous sexual history for five years or longer-we do not know whether five years is the safe time because we have not had long enough to tell-or his present sexual partners, apart from herself, whether they be heterosexual or homosexual.

Senator Lewis —On the other hand, husbands may not know about their wives.

Senator ZAKHAROV —Exactly. The honourable senator has pre-empted me. I was just going to say that husbands also may not know what other partners their wives may now have or have had in the past. So I do not think this is a complete answer to the question. Promiscuity will not go away by exhorting people not to be promiscuous. If the young woman in Senator Harradine's advertisement suspects the young man has been sleeping around, will she say: `That is the end of it for me. I am not going to marry you, no matter how much I might love you'? Or will she tell him to use a condom?

I refer briefly-although it is irrelevant to this debate, Senator Harradine has raised this matter and it has been allowed by the Chair-to his statement that X-rated video material promotes promiscuity. I maintain that depiction is not promotion. I have watched many murder films in my life, but I do not think they promote murder. That is just one example. I do not want to follow that argument because I do not think it is relevant. If the Health Minister were inclined to ring Ita Buttrose, no matter what her answer, to my knowledge she is not an expert on the effects of viewing X-rated videos, so I think that is a non-sequitur also. Finally on what Senator Harradine said, I question whether it is compassionate to knowingly allow babies to be born if one knows they are infected with AIDS. That is, to my mind a strange view of compassion. I stress the importance of this educational campaign and of the educational campaigns that will follow, particularly in schools and with young people who are no longer in school. I urge all honourable senators to give the widest possible circulation to the Minister's excellent statement.