Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:12): I rise to support the motion from my friend the member for Griffith, acknowledging that this week we will hold, on Thursday, World AIDS Day, and the theme this year is: HIV is still here and it is on the move. World AIDS Day has been held every year since 1988. More than 36 million people around the world are living with HIV.
The first recorded case of HIV AIDS in Australia was in Sydney in October 1982, and the first Australian death from AIDS occurred in July 1983. Between 1984 and mid-1985, there was a 540 per cent increase in HIV infections. And there was no cure. Labor health minister Neal Blewett, with the support of the then opposition, deserves incredible praise for embarking on a world-leading, pioneering and brave campaign to promote a safe-sex message. A television advertisement showing the Grim Reaper knocking people down like pins in a bowling alley was first screened on 5 April 1987 and kicked off efforts to provide the public with reliable information on preventing HIV and AIDS.
The success of the campaign can be judged by the reduction in the rate of infections. New diagnoses of HIV—according to the Australian Federation of Aids Organisations, based in my electorate in Newtown—have stabilised at just over 1,000 per year in the last three years. HIV diagnosis among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, however, has been increasing over the last five years. Ninety per cent of people living with HIV are men.
The stabilisation follows a concerted effort to increase the scope and regularity of HIV testing. The key is awareness. Pre-exposure prophylaxis has revolutionised HIV prevention. Through its use—along with rapid HIV testing, treatment as prevention, condoms and lube, and supportive attitudes and laws—the situation in Australia has stabilised. What is more, highly effective treatment for those with HIV means that deaths in Australia are now rare.
Unfortunately, people are still dying, including my dear friend and the first out MP in Australia, Paul O’Grady, who passed away in recent times after a very long illness. When he contracted HIV he resigned from the New South Wales parliament because he was not expected to live very much longer. He of course lived for decades longer as a result of the effort of science in prolonging people’s lives and providing that treatment.
Internationally, there remains a massive challenge. In our region of the Asia-Pacific, 180,000 cases of AIDS and 1.2 million cases of HIV are reported each year. The Australian government has committed $220 million over three years towards the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. This fund operates in 120 countries and is estimated to have saved 20 million lives since 2002. Australia should play a leading role in our region in tackling HIV, and this of course should be a bipartisan effort.
I want to today pay tribute to those people who in the early years had the courage to come out and say that they were HIV positive, sometimes attracting criticism and very personal derision as a result of the courageous stance that they took. Many of those people are no longer around. But, as a result of that many—hundreds of thousands—of lives here in Australia have been saved. The courage and vision that the former Labor government showed—and also it must be said the fact that the opposition of the time was prepared to support that leadership from Neal Blewett has made a real difference in our society. It is another reason why we need to be open about these issues, how we need to as a community do whatever we can to ensure that in future years we do not actually have a theme of ‘HIV is still here and it is on the move’; but that we can celebrate that HIV is in the past.