A leading gay and lesbian health expert yesterday resigned from Queensland’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on HIV-AIDS Prevention, describing the actions of Health Minister Lawrence Springborg as ‘undemocratic’.
“When we went to the first meeting, they’d already made the Grim Reaper ad, and they’d already made the website with the Grim Reaper on every page, but they hadn’t consulted us,” said Dr Wendell Rosevear (pictured) in a phone interview on ABC Radio 612 last night.
Dr Rosevear understood the message to be ”’We’ve got an agenda but we’ll get you to rubber stamp it with your credibility’… but that’s not my style,” says Rosevear. “I’m a person who says ‘Hey we can’t just revert to fear as a motive, we have to foster valuing people.’”
Dr Rosevear was invited to join the committee, which was established by Health Minister Lawrence Springborg after the controversial defunding of the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities.
Springborg had announced the defunding in Brisbane’s Sunday Mail on May 20, claiming that QAHC’s HIV prevention programmes were ‘ineffective’ and that Queensland’s infection rate had doubled from 2.7 to 5.4 per 100,000 people.
QAHC has since pointed out that Springborg was misquoting his own department’s figures, which put the current infection rate at 4.7 per 100,000, while infection rates actually fell in 2011. Moreover, QAHC was only contracted to tackle HIV prevention in the gay male population, where
infection rates have remained stable.
Working for the new committee, Dr Rosevear found that “points that I put on the agenda were not allowed by the Minister’s office: to foster a re-engagement with community both with a dialogue and with partial but restricted and qualified funding.
“Fundamental to Australia’s success has been a co-operative relationship between government and the gay community. If we’re really serious about AIDS prevention, we need to value people and work together. My main commitment was to try and regain a working partnership. But the Minister clearly said yesterday that he had no intention of revisiting the issue or funding QAHC in the future, and so I don’t know how we can achieve a workable relationship with the affected risk community.”
Also of great concern was a draft proposal that any group in receipt of 50% or more of its funding from the Queensland government would not be permitted to lobby for relevant legislative change. This action is seen by Rosevear as a bullying tactic.
“Springborg acted to defund QAHC without talking to them, and is now acting to silence any future community group, saying that they’re not allowed to lobby for legislative change at a state or a national level. So he’s actually being undemocratic.
“When we started working in AIDS, it was actually illegal to be gay in Queensland and we had to lobby to get rid of the illegality of being homosexual. In those days we had to invent coded testing otherwise people were too afraid to even test. There’s a strong link between valuing and engaging with community and valuing people for them to use the knowledge or even do the testing or to take the medicine.”