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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 12058

Mr DANBY (7:25 PM) —I rise in support of this motion to mark World AIDS Day. This year is the 20th anniversary of the first World AIDS Day, which originated from the 1988 world summit of ministers of health on programs for AIDS prevention. Australia’s representative at that meeting was Dr Neal Blewett, Minister for Health in the Hawke government and the minister who laid the foundations of Australia’s response to the HIV-AIDS epidemic.

World AIDS Day provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the development of the global fight against HIV-AIDS. The red ribbon, which many members are wearing today, is the symbol of World AIDS Day. This year’s World AIDS Day’s theme is: ‘Stop AIDS—keep the promise, lead, empower, deliver’. This theme is a timely reminder to us as law makers of our obligation to provide leadership in the fight against HIV-AIDS. Over the past 25 years in Australia we have pioneered the model of the three-sided coalition—a coalition of government, the medical profession and the affected communities. That strategy has proved remarkably successful, but it depends on us as law-makers maintaining our commitment.

It is hard to believe that it is a quarter of a century since AIDS first arrived in Australia. I have lived all my life in St Kilda, in the Elwood area, that part of Melbourne which has a strong gay community. I well remember in the early years of the epidemic the effect this disease had on them, a disease that has spread all over the world. I remember the fear that was aroused by the sudden appearance of this mysterious and fatal disease amongst gay men in the early 1980s. I remember the hysterical attacks on the gay community by some parts of the media and by some politicians.

I also remember the immediate efforts of the affected communities to get together, to organise themselves, to take action to prevent a further spread of AIDS and to support, in particular, those affected by it. I could go on for hours about the way the gay community in Melbourne has supported people who have been so affected. It is very moving. In July 1983 the Victorian AIDS Council was formed and for the last 25 years it has provided inspirational leadership for the Victorian gay community and many other people affected by the epidemic.

Over the past 25 years Australia has mounted one of the world’s most effective responses to the AIDS epidemic. We have had 10,000 AIDS cases and 6,700 deaths. That is a terrible toll, but it is far less than it would have been if effective action in the area of prevention had not been taken, both by affected communities and by Australian governments. It is far less, on a per capita basis, than in almost any other country.

When we look around the world we see in other countries close to us, such as Papua New Guinea and, unfortunately, South Africa and indeed throughout most of the continent of Africa, an unwillingness to take the kinds of measures that Australia has taken over the last 25 years. As stated in the motion, approximately half a million children and approximately 33 million people are living with AIDS or HIV. Particularly in Africa there is the tragedy of orphans who have had both parents die from the epidemic.

As an Australian parliamentarian, I am very proud to have visited Thailand recently to see the work of two devoted Australian doctors who are working on a nutrition project with the Thai Red Cross. Nutrition can affect the health and recovery—indeed, the physical existence—of people suffering from HIV-AIDS if they make sure they are nourished in the correct way. These two Australian doctors have been over in Bangkok. One has been there for 10 years and the other for five. That is the kind of spirit that has made Australia’s contribution to the fight against HIV-AIDS renowned around the world.

But in Australia we cannot be complacent. Complacency leads to new HIV infections and more AIDS diagnoses. Over the past 20 years, all Australian governments have pursued a bipartisan HIV-AIDS program. The current program, begun in 2005 under the previous government, is being continued by this government with an annual budget of $28 million. I commend all of those in the community sector— (Time expired)