@Mark_Adnum Australians let us all ring Joyce…
RT @Mark_Adnum: Australians all eat ostriches. Four minus one is three. With olden royals, iron ore for soil. Our home is dirt and sea. …
It’s World AIDS Day this Saturday, and it would seem I’ve reached elder statesman status. One of our local LGBTI community papers, Melbourne Community Voice, interviewed me on the ways HIV has changed, and the challenges ahead.
Kidd notes that while physical well being has greatly improved, the negative impacts of stigma and discrimination have remained from the earliest days of HIV response. The image of the notorious ‘Grim Reaper’ advertising campaign has lingered along with negative perceptions of HIV and people with HIV for two long.
“I’ve never been a big fan of the Grim Reaper campaign. It did bring HIV – or AIDS as it was then – into the minds of the broader public but it was in a way that was not compassionate and there has been some analysis suggesting that when a lot of people saw that ad they thought of the Grim Reapers that were bowling down ordinary Australians as being gay men.”
“In some ways it contributed to that stigma.”
You can read the full interview online.
The Grim Reaper TV advertisement has cast a shadow over the HIV response since it was first aired more than a quarter century ago. The original ad, with its foreboding “Always use a condom — always” tagline and grim predictions that AIDS could “kill more Australians than World War Two,” has often been credited with raising awareness of HIV in Australia. It’s also been rightly criticised for having the unintended consequence of increasing stigma around HIV and towards gay men.
Those surreal bowling reapers were supposed to represent death, but too many people read them as representing gay men, hurling a deadly virus at the innocent women and kids at the end of the alley. The ad fed into a climate of fear and hysteria and generated a great deal of hateful commentary towards gay men and those living with HIV, who were seen as the diseased vectors of a plague that at the time seemed certain to sweep through the ‘innocent victims’ of the heterosexual community.
Despite its many failings, we’ve never quite shaken off Mister Grim and his bowling buddies. The ad is so widely believed to have been a smashing success that barely a year has gone by in the last quarter century when some ill-informed government minister or pundit calls for a ‘new grim reaper campaign’ to scare people into behaving more sensibly. Luckily, to date those calls have been largely resisted.
All that changed this last weekend with the launch of We Shouldn’t Be Making This Advert, a new TV advertisement from the Queensland government, the first evidence we’ve seen of its new ‘in-house’ approach to HIV prevention following the shock de-funding of the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities. And there, proud as punch, is our old friend Grimsby, not looking a day older despite the intervening decades, ready to scare us all back into using condoms.
Queensland’s LGBT and HIV communities have been hit with a double whammy this morning, showing just how dangerous the new LNP government in that state is.
First came the news that the Queensland government is set to overturn the state’s civil union laws. With a new poll showing that 50% of Australians are in favour of marriage equality, and just 33% opposed, the reported LNP plans represent the opening of a new front in the war on queer civil rights in this country. But given the LNP’s opposition to the legislation when it was passed, it doesn’t come as a complete surprise.
Much more troubling is the announcement this morning that the government has, without warning, pulled all funding from Healthy Communities, the only LGBT health organisation in the state and the front line of Queensland’s HIV prevention effort. Formerly the Queensland AIDS Council, Healthy Communities has been continually funded by Queensland governments of all political stripes since 1988, and currently holds (or rather, held) government contracts valued at $2.6 million for HIV prevention and LGBT health work.
In a press release (PDF link) issued this morning, Healthy Communities has confirmed that 26 of their 35 staff will lose their jobs as a result of the defunding decision.
This is an appalling, short-sighted, ideologically driven decision that will hurt LGBT people in Queensland. Cutbacks in HIV prevention funding in Queensland and Victoria between 1998 and 2006 led to pronounced increases in HIV infections, and this will happen again now.
According to the Queensland health minister, Lawrence Springborg, Healthy Communities is being defunded because it has “lost its way” and that funding is “made available for health campaigns, not advocacy.” This shows just how out of touch the minister is – it displays a complete absence of understanding of the basic principles of health promotion and its smacks of an ideological approach.
Springborg says the LNP government will fund a new AIDS Council – there’s no detail on when that will happen or how, but we can expect it will be a timid, compliant body with no real attachment to the community it is supposed to serve.
Elsewhere: A thoughtful post on the decision on View from the Quarterdeck.
Why is Tony Abbott so scared of a conscience vote? As Amanda Vanstone writes in the Sydney Morning Herald today, his decision to announce there would be no conscience vote, after the parliament had wound up for 2011, goes against his stated position:
He has told Australians that if elected he would not let his personal views dictate policy; nor would he take instructions from Rome. He said these things because he is conscious of the apprehension among women and liberals that he would take Australia to a more conservative position than we now have on issues such as abortion and gay rights. So, the last thing he needs is to act in any way that causes women and liberals to doubt his word. Announcing that he did not want a conscience vote when his party members had dispersed is difficult to explain away. It looks deliberate. Even tricky.
Meanwhile, the extraordinary Shelley Argent and her comrades at Queensland PFLAG have produced the following TV ad, which will reportedly air from tonight.
The annual HIV surveillance figures are out today and, as usual, there is lots of reporting of apparently bad figures. “Australians newly diagnosed with HIV totalled 1050 during 2009, the highest number in almost two decades,” according to this AAP story.
Indeed, there was a rise in HIV diagnoses last year, and we’ve crossed the seemingly symbolic 1000-cases barrier, and that is of course significant cause for concern. But HIV diagnoses have been up around the 1000 mark for several years now, and deaths from AIDS are at an all-time low – just nine people were reported to have died from AIDS-related causes in 2009, a piece of good news that the media has pretty much ignored. Because of this, the number of people living with HIV in Australia has risen every year, and so the number of new HIV diagnoses should be read in that context.
The chart below shows what happens when you do. The blue and green lines show the number of HIV diagnoses per year since 2000, and the consequent raw incidence rate per 100,000 population. The pink line shows the raw incidence rate per 100 people living with HIV, and shows a clear downward trend since 2005, as HIV infections have not risen in proportion to the number of positive people living in Australia. (Click the image to see a larger version).
To my mind, this is a significant piece of good news that the media has ignored. But that’s not surprising as NCHECR’s annual surveillance report doesn’t include this measure, making a ‘bad news’ interpretation of the data almost inevitable.
That falling pink line suggests that positive people are succeeding in preventing onward HIV transmission. With a larger HIV-positive population, you’d naturally expect more HIV transmission to occur, yet this isn’t happening.
If this falling incidence rate were acknowledged, we could begin to ask why it is so. What has changed since 2005 to reduce HIV incidence, and how can we extend that success? Reported rates of unprotected sex among gay men have risen during that period, so how do we explain this apparently contradictory effect? These are important, and potentially valuable, questions.
HIV incidence is falling, not rising, when you take into account the growing positive population. This is something we should be celebrating, and for which positive people should be congratulated, instead of focusing on raw numbers that give a skewed perception of the epidemiology of HIV in Australia.
There are several caveats to the data I used for the chart. Most of the data came from the published NCHECR surveillance reports, which can be found here and from ABS population data. The 2010 report isn’t up yet, so I have taken the figures for 2009 from today’s media reports. And as I say, I’m no statistician, so I will accept criticism of my methods with my usual sanguine humour.
It’s polling day today. This great ritual of democracy ought to inspire and excite us, but like a lot of Australians, this time round I’m more depressed than inspired, and more angry than excited.
Over the last five weeks we have lived through the most negative, cynical and dispiriting election campaign in memory. Virtually devoid of policy debate, unrelentingly negative from the get-go, a squalid race for the bottom that reflects the parlous state of politics in Australia. If, as they say, you get the politicians you deserve, then we must have done something very bad to deserve this lot.
Like most people in Australia, this election is not about me. Whether you’re an inner-city progressive, a Toorak Tory, a socially regressive cow cocky or a middle-aged queer tree-changer like me, neither of the big parties give a damn about you. This election is only about a handful of ignorant bigots in a few marginal seats in western Sydney and south-east Queensland. The rest of us don’t matter.
The result is a political auction to see who can be toughest on the most vulnerable and helpless people in society. The resulting campaign has degenerated into a five-week harangue attacking refugees, immigrants, welfare recipients, and anyone else who doesn’t fit the economically aspirational but socially insular template of the so-called ‘Howard battlers’ who now virtually run the country. Then there’s the rivers of middle-class welfare, the pandering to special interests, the bare-faced lies, and the sheer, mind-numbing, putrid, soul destroying emptiness of it all.
What should be a debate about the country’s future is instead presented as a choice between two individuals, one a self-flagellating Christian fundamentalist and the other an ambitious and calculating woman. Tony or Julia, who are you going to vote for? But both these stories are false: Abbott and Gillard are both career politicians, equally ambitious and both motivated by one thing only — gaining and holding power at any cost. Whatever it takes, as Richo said.
In our hearts we want our politicians to be motivated by a desire to build a better world, to protect and strengthen us, and build a united, resilient society. We want them to make us better people. Instead the political process has become a contest of personal ambition, played out by a small group of pathologically self-interested career politicians and perverted by the media into a presidential-style contest where the he-said, she-said narrative trumps any discussion or analysis of policy. Instead of debate, we get arguments about debates, breathlessly reported by a press pack who have unwittingly become players in the game.
The opinion polls published over the last few days have both major parties neck and neck, locked in at roughly 50% each of the two-party preferred vote, as if the electorate can’t make up its mind who it hates the most. A pox on both their houses.
I sincerely hope that Tony Abbott does not become our 28th prime minister today. I know that would be a disaster for Australia, or at least for the Australia I believe in. But I cannot say I feel any affection for Julia Gillard either. Like just about everyone I know, I’ll be voting for the Greens, who look likely to substantially increase their numbers in the senate, and maybe score a seat in the lower house for the first time at a general election.
But the Greens will not be the government — either Labor or the Coalition will, and neither deserves to be.
So, the Prime Minister has been to Yarralumla and we are all going to the polls on 21 August. About time we brought these shenanigans to a climax. The next five week are likely to be unpleasant enough, with Labor and Liberal trying to outbid each other in a naked grab for the hearts and minds of the lowest common denominator.
I could go on about the relative merits of the parties, but if you want meaningful action on climate change, genuine equality for gay and lesbian Australians, a compassionate response to asylum seekers, fair workplaces and investment in public services and public transport, there’s no real option. Reject the major parties race to the bottom and vote for the Greens.
Managed to get internet access again last night just as the rumours started to circulate of a Labor putsch, and a scant 12 hours later, Australia has a new Prime Minister – the first woman in the Lodge, the first atheist (that we know of), the first redhead (I think) and the first from the left of the Labor Party in my lifetime. This is good news for Australia and for the Labor Party.
Following this news from Syria, it’s hard to think how I would explain the change to Syrian observers, who have been living in a one-party state since the 1950s, and under a hereditary presidency for the last half century. Syria has a lot going for it, but a healthy democracy isn’t part of it.
I guess we could argue the toss about whether a party-room knifing represents a healthy democracy or not, but instead I’d like to nominate a few things I hope Prime Minister Gillard will achieve during her time at the helm of the ship of state.
Given her background, I’d expect a focus on workplace relations and social justice issues to be central to her ethos, just as foreign policy and managerialism were hallmarks of Rudd’s. I hope we’ll see a new conversation about asylum seekers and new approaches to meeting our responsibilities ethically and compassionately. The detention centre on Christmas Island must be closed, and the hysteria taken out of the national debate through some real leadership in this area.
Climate change is the other big challenge and I hope the new government will go back to tors and redevelop their emissions trading proposal in a way that makes real reductions in emissions and sets the foundation for a zero-emissions Australia. Meaningful investment in alternative energy is desperately needed and the coal lobby’s influence in this area must be shunned.
On health, I hope the ALP goes to the election with some real game-changing proposals for health reform, beyond the paper-shuffling of the recent reforms. A national dental scheme would be welcome. I’d welcome the junking of the 30% health insurance rebate, but I suspect that’s a bridge too far.
On communications, the proposed national internet filter should be immediately junked, and if possible I would like to see Senator Steven Conroy locked in a small, windowless room where he can do no further damage.
For me personally, I want my relationship to be recognised, properly, formally and at the federal level, through same sex marriage (unlikely) or a national civil partnership law. If nothing else, I want the debate on this issue to move beyond the rote recitation of the “one man, one woman” shibboleth.
And for Julia, I hope she can provide the leadership, and the resistance to factional influence, that the ALP and the country needs. Watching Kevin Rudd’s presser last night in my hotel here in Aleppo, I noticed he referred to unnamed forces influencing policy on climate change and refugees – which I took to mean that he had been frustrated in these areas by factional forces. The ALP needs a strong leader who can keep the factions in check, and keep the party to its promises. Whether Gillard is that person, I guess we’ll know in due course.
Finally, to Kevin. I will confess to a mote of sadness in the way that Rudd was deposed. Like a lot of Australians I had tremendous hopes for him in 2007 and it has been heartbreaking to see those hopes dashed. Rudd brought tremendous energy to the role of Prime Minister and carved out the beginnings of an enhanced foreign policy agenda for Australia – I hear he has said he will recontest his seat at the election and will serve on the front bench if asked. I hope Julia makes him foreign minister. It’s a job he could excel at.