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Tuesday, 30 November 1999
Page: 11111


Senator DENMAN (7:30 PM) —World AIDS Day is a time of both dignified sadness and noble courage. It is a time to mourn the loss of individuals and acknowledge that from their legacy the impetus for a non-violent political and cultural movement for justice was ignited. In the 15-minute memory of the news grab age, we forget the early scenes of horrific illness and pain. We forget the courage of those who said, `We are not lepers, we are you.'

In the early days there was refusal of treatment, calls for quarantine and subsequent increases in attacks on groups perceived as the problem. A Tasmanian group called Halo, a disgraceful hate group, tried to connect homosexuality and child sex abuse, ignoring the fact that most child abuse is male-female heterosexual and familiar. I speak from a personal perspective on this particular aspect. A friend of our family's was HIV positive and died from an AIDS-related illness in the late 1980s. At that time there was no sympathy for him in his home state of Tasmania. Had it not been for the incredible support he received from his subculture, friends and associates, he would have died a very lonely death in another state. This is not to say that World AIDS Day is the domain of a subculture but to acknowledge the astute and pivotal role the gay movement contributed to the broader public health movement in this country. The mobilisation of co-ops, 24-hour phone lines, food, information and understanding was incredible.

HIV-AIDS is not always sexually transmitted; it can also be contacted by sharing needles and equipment. There is general acceptance of legal exchange programs in Australia, often via non-criminal subterfuge where the health workers interface between the dual client demands of drug users and the general community. Courage and trust is shown by the clients who attend the exchanges knowing that they can be tagged by the moralists in our community as people who deserve the illness. The naivety of this retributive justice has nothing to do with the forgiveness mentioned in the world's spiritual writings. World AIDS Day is a time to recognise the debt we owe the many unpaid peer educators who moulded the message to allow efficient and succinct delivery of knowledge. It is about the quiet humility of thousands and thousands of volunteers such as the seamstress of the narrative quilt and the makers of the ribbons.

Unfortunately, many of our global neighbours have not had the benefit of enlightened social action. This is not only a result of economic disadvantage but also a result of historically and culturally specific mores. Thus, only by understanding and seeing the obstacles to reform can a cultural modification germinate. This realisation leads to training peer leaders. This message is then delivered to others, with cultural specific codes in place. Unfortunately, pre-existing sexual and chemical values will limit the market penetration of this vital public health strategy. In Africa, the numbers of projected HIV sufferers have been revised upwards three times in a little over five years. Male dominance and cultural adversity to condoms create optimum conditions for this viral contagion. As predicted, HIV has penetrated the Asian, American and European continents, and social rifts are occurring with outbreaks of the virus.

Without appearing morbid, a behavioural specific virus is a messenger highlighting the areas of disparity in a social and/or a fiscal sense. Other than abstinence or true monogamy, the best way to avoid the virus is the use of condoms. The acceptance of condoms in Australia is a result of mixing compassion and self-interest, opportunism and reason. Let us acknowledge the achievement of removing condoms from the embarrassed hush of the chemist's to the normality of supermarket shelves, and let us marvel at our strategy with injecting drug users that has resulted in a lower rate of infection in our prisons than in the general population of the United States.

The theme for World AIDS Day 1999 is to be 100 per cent aware, to listen to, learn from and live with people with HIV-AIDS. New trends in infection show we cannot become complacent about this virus—we are as vulnerable as ever to a resurgence of the virus. Only by reinforcing the need to listen and learn can we hope to build on our spectacular efforts of the past; and Australia does have a very safe record in this area. With the help of our gay colleagues, we will be able to continue to challenge the politics of ignorance and fear that hold within their shallow walls a recipe for a public health nightmare. Once again, we say thank you to a movement that has helped us, and continues to help us, avoid the devastation that is occurring in other nations. We ask you to reflect on this important day, 1 December, World AIDS Day.