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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1704


Senator SHEIL(11.29) —It is unfortunate for me that the debate has gone on so long. I thought I was going to get an opportunity to congratulate the President on his election. A lot of time has passed since he was elected but every time I have got up to speak he has not been in the chair. So I will do so in absentia. I notice that Senator Grimes has been walking desolatorily about the chamber. I would like to say farewell to him today. We were both elected on the same day in 1974. I do not think we have agreed on anything since, but I wish him well in the future. Also, while I am on this sort of subject, I would like to commend Senator West on the maiden speech which she made yesterday. It will be interesting to see how she develops here and to find out exactly what she means by a `non-controversial subject'.

When I was a young chap studying medicine there was a saying that if one spent an evening with Bacchus and a night with Venus, one would spend a lifetime on mercury-mercury, of course, being the treatment for syphilis in those days. Venereal diseases have been a perennial problem throughout history and the penalty has always been rather harsh and sharp. I remember when I was reading the history of the spread of syphilis in Europe there was a saying that civilisation and syphilisation went together. I am inclined to agree with Senator Harradine that the problem, then as now, has been promiscuity.

AIDS, of course, started as an epidemic and it has now transformed itself into a pandemic. The fact that President Reagan made his first statement on the matter today which, I understand, he did under some pressure from the American community-he was tending to ignore it-lends some weight to the importance of the problem we have before us, particularly as AIDS is a fatal disease from the word go. President Reagan has concentrated on the education program, the suggestion of abstinence and the safety factors. I must say that I am rather pleased that the Australian Government recognised the importance of the program early, when it raised its head, and I commend the work that has been done, particularly with regard to the blood transfusion services in Australia. We do not want to become complacent but we can sit back with a certain amount of satisfaction knowing that safety in that area is not far away.

In the other areas, of course, the campaign is about to start today. That is the reason why this statement has been brought down. I happen to be on the parliamentary liaison committee. The Government's AIDS attack has been on three fronts: The parliamentary liaison committee, the National Advisory Committee on AIDS and the scientific committee under Professor Penington, whose work, I commend, too. He was very thorough in his handling of the matter. He has now been transferred to the Melbourne University as Vice-Chancellor and there will be a new appointment soon. Through the drug offensive the Government has put forward $100m in order to counteract drugs in Australia and about $3m of that is being pumped into the AIDS campaign. This will be getting off the ground shortly. I understand there is a preview of it in the building today. I know the Government has made cost sharing grants to the anti-AIDS campaigns in the various States, all except Queensland. Queensland has the attitude that it will not do anything to give any kind of approval or recognition to the homosexual community.

I know that there are controversial areas at the moment, such as the AIDS testing of all immigrants or visitors to Australia and the AIDS testing of all prisoners in gaols because of the prospect of homosexual type rape in gaols. The question that would arise there is just when one would test them, because if a young chap is arrested and taken away to the watch house to spend a night there it would be an awful sentence to be given a dose of AIDS while spending that night in the watch house. Nevertheless, the question of whether to test all prisoners is a problem.

I am concerned to some extent about the degree of penetration this advertising will have in the community. I know there will be a lot of parents who do not want their five-year-old daughter coming home and saying: `Mummy, what's a condom?'. A lot of people who deserve to have a period of innocence in their lives will be exposed to all this kind of publicity, because the campaign will be on television, radio and the newspapers; and there is also the production of this pamphlet. Nevertheless, we are faced with it. I think that as long as we concentrate on the at risk groups we will not get the message far enough afield, as has been shown by the surveys that have been taken. Honourable senators may have seen the Four Corners program which showed the depth to which the public ignorance extends at the moment. But we do have to get the information out because AIDS is a fatal illness.

I am concerned particularly at the `revenge' spread of AIDS at the moment, whereby people who discover they are afflicted with it and feel that they have contracted it unwittingly and unjustifiably decide to spread it as widely as they can as a form of revenge. That really is disquieting to me. I welcome the ministerial statement on AIDS and wish the program well. I hope that Australia can somehow or other extract itself from the pandemic that exists in the world today.