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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 12063


Mr PERRETT (7:45 PM) —I rise to support the motion moved by the member for Melbourne Ports. I would also like to commend the member for Swan for his contribution. He is always a fair-minded person and it was great to hear his words on this important topic.

Like many people and parliamentarians throughout Australia, I am today wearing a red ribbon. I thought about wearing the rainbow ribbon today. I phoned my brother Nicholas for a bit of advice and he said that with my poor taste in clothes the rainbow ribbon would be more appropriate because it would go with everything. Leaving aside his cruel but accurate advice, I deferred to the simple red because, 20 years on, all informed Australians understand that acknowledging HIV-AIDS is not about the homosexual community; instead, it is about commemorating, supporting and understanding all people with HIV-AIDS. It is a disease that strikes irrespective of our sexuality or faith or beliefs.

When I first learned about HIV-AIDS it did put the fear of death into me. The Grim Reaper campaign, with the bowling ball, was an incredibly effective advertising strategy. To quote Elvis Costello, ‘Death wears a big hat.’ And so our Death, or the Grim Reaper from the 1980s, with a bowling ball and no regard for child protection conventions, remains to this day an iconic image for me and for many people my age or older. Since 1981, around 7,000 people in Australia have died from AIDS related illnesses. I knew just one of the 6,767. Many people here tonight would know of others. Certainly people in my family know too many more.

The Hawke-Keating government’s attentiveness to the disease when it first came to our shores meant that there was a relatively low incidence of seroconversion. Thankfully, the Howard government—I will give them credit—continued to perform great work in this area also. I especially acknowledge the Leader of the Opposition for the great work that he and his wife, Lucy, have done in this area over the years. Unfortunately, we can contrast this bipartisan support and approach with Ronald Reagan’s approach. He was a President who could not even bring himself to say the word ‘AIDS’. I do not wish to speak ill of the dead, but he was a disgrace to former union leaders. Who knows how many lives were ruined or lost because of Ronald Reagan’s prejudices and ignorance?

There have been great innovations in HIV-AIDS medication over the last 20 years. Now this big disease with the little name is not the death sentence it once was—at least not in Western countries, where we have medication and resources to combat the ravages of the disease. But unfortunately there is still ignorance in some countries where the non-scientific approach of politicians and religious leaders is still killing people unnecessarily. In 2007, 72 per cent of AIDS related deaths in the world occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. Obviously, faith based treatments are not the answer. Instead we need to have real scientific approaches.

One of the dangers in the innovation and treatment that I referred to earlier is that there is no longer the same sort of fear—there is no Grim Reaper in everybody’s lounge room anymore—and this might make risk-taking behaviour more acceptable in some sections of the community in Australia. This means there is an even greater onus on the government to educate younger people to make sure that they do not engage in risk-taking behaviour. Especially at Schoolies Week and the like, people can become involved in all sorts of activities that might include risk-taking behaviour.

Last year in Australia there were 1,051 people diagnosed with HIV-AIDS. They joined a community that is way too large already. There are 16,700 people already living with HIV-AIDS. That is equivalent to a good sized town, and that is way too many people. Hopefully our community has stopped looking for the rainbow ribbon when it comes to talking about HIV-AIDS. That is from 20 years ago. We have moved on. We are much more inclusive and much more understanding about how we should approach these things. Obviously, we never need to have an approach similar to that of Ronald Reagan to drugs, when he said, ‘Just say no.’ That will not work. We need to be much more proactive. It is good to see a lot of community groups and churches being much more proactive in combating HIV-AIDS. I commend those opposite for the bipartisan support shown by them, especially by the opposition leader, on this important issue.