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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1703

Senator JESSOP(11.20) —I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this ministerial statement which deals with a matter of great concern to the Australian community and certainly to members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. I think it is a pity that this debate had been brought on at a time when we have other matters to deal with this week. As a result, the opportunity for honourable senators to express a view may be restricted. This debate provides an opportunity for us to hear a number of diverse comments from people who have different attitudes on this subject and what ought to be done to deal with it. I, for one, respect Senator Harradine's right to put a view that he believes is important. No doubt, he represents a view in the community. That view may not be a majority view but, nevertheless, it is a view which ought to be expressed.

I am pleased to note in a sense that the incidence of the acquired immune deficiency syndrome in Australia did not reach the total of 600 that was anticipated by the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) last year. But it is very significant that there have been 442 cases of AIDS, from which 238 people have died. I regard that as being a very serious matter indeed. People have suggested that this disease will assume the proportions of the black death that occurred centuries ago. I think that is a distinct possibility. The statement made by the Special Minister of State (Senator Tate) points out that it is estimated that up to 50,000 Australians, most of whom are walking around apparently in good health, are in fact carriers of one of the most lethal viruses ever known. Because of the long incubation period, there will be a high level of deaths into the 1990s. I understand the incubation period can extend to eight years before it becomes manifest.

Senator Puplick —Fifteen.

Senator JESSOP —Senator Puplick tells me it is 15 years. Professor Penington indicated to me that it could extend to eight years. Obviously more research has been done since then and I find the figure of 15 years even more alarming. So it is necessary for us to come to grips with the problem.

Of course, there are high risk groups in the community. One group is made up of people who use unhygienic hypodermic needles for intravenous drug injection. The other group of people in the community who are particularly vulnerable are those who promote or practice anal sex whether they be members of the heterosexual or homosexual community. I think safe sex education as far as the use of condoms is concerned has not worked so far. I understand that a number of people in the homosexual and heterosexual communities have disregarded the advice concerning this wise practice. The following comment is made on page 18 of the statement:

The prime purpose of the campaign has been to promote safe sex among those who are sexually active-not to promote condoms for their own sake.

There is absolutely no point in telling people about possible defences against the virus when they still believe that the virus attacks only homosexuals and intravenous drug users. Rather, the aim should be to increase the understanding of all Australians of the hazards of AIDS.

I heard on a radio news program this morning that President Reagan is advocating abstinence. I have strong doubts as to whether that is going to be a successful campaign. Nevertheless, he holds a view which probably would be shared by Senator Harradine.

Senator Harradine —I thought that was what the Government said it was going to do in response to what I said.

Senator JESSOP —President Reagan holds that view and no doubt he will mount a campaign--

Senator Harradine —Are you under the impression, as I was, that the message is a condom?

Senator JESSOP —The statement says that the main purpose of the campaign is not to promote condoms for their own sake. I do not know how one interprets that but I think it is subject to more than one interpretation. I believe that it is an ambiguous statement. But that is something for everybody to work out in his own mind. I was encouraged by what President Reagan said about the need to step up urgently research with respect to the production of an adequate vaccine to deal with this problem. The Australian Government and other governments throughout the Western world in particular ought to be encouraged as well and contribute a significant amount in respect of research funds in order to maximise the rapidity with which such a vaccine can be produced.

I for one have been a bit disappointed at the usage of the word `gay' in our community. I have had to rule out the use of that expression in my language because it is misinterpreted. If I say to Senator Sheil `We'll have a gay time tonight at the party', that is subject to certain misinterpretation which I am sure would be offensive to Senator Sheil and me.

Senator Harradine —Go to the Gaiety Theatre?

Senator JESSOP —That is another example. Perhaps we could use the world `sad'. Although a number of people in the community have homosexual tendencies because of the hormonal distribution throughout their metabolism-I think that is sad but, nevertheless, it is a fact of life-some in this group are sad because they have acquired this particular sexual preference. So I think that expression is more appropriate. There are a significant number of homosexuals in the community. A survey conducted many years ago throughout the United Kingdom found that something like 20 per cent of the male population and 15 per cent of the female element were homosexual. This is a significant problem. The answers are not particularly evident to anybody at the moment. I think education programs are most important. I believe that it is vitally important that Australia and other countries-Britain, West Germany and so on-assist President Reagan's drive to produce an adequate vaccine. We need to provide some assurances and arrest this particular problem as soon as possible.