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Eight months of the LNP: Part two
Star Observer talks to Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg about the defunding of the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities, the Ministerial Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS and the Queensland government’s new ‘Let’s End HIV’ campaign.
Q. Prior to the election, were there any issues involving the LGBTI community in regards to health that were of particular concern to the LNP?
A. For several decades the LNP, and our predecessor parties the Nationals and Liberal Party, has championed and shown great concern for a range of health issues relevant to the GLBT community. As an indication of our commitment to sexual health issues, the LNP was the first to provide government funding to the former Queensland AIDS Council; a body that was essentially forced out of existence by the previous Labor government which stripped the council of essential funding for services.
Our concern for a range of mental health issues – which are often exacerbated in the GLBT community through issues of discrimination – was demonstrated through the LNP’s decision to found the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission and our decision to become the first Queensland government to introduce GLBT police liaison officers in every region of the state.
My concerns on these issues are well documented both in state Parliament and in media relevant to sections of the GLBT community. The LNP fought to retain the Queensland AIDS Council, we asked questions demanding to know why funding for events such as World AIDS Day had never increased and as the Leader of the Opposition I was very solid in my commitment to addressing issues in the GLBT community of discrimination and school-bullying and the inevitable mental health consequences of these practices.
As a result of years of feedback from sections of the GLBT community, the new LNP government made a decision to make HIV/AIDS a health priority in Queensland and has established the HIV/AIDS awareness body that is exclusively focused on health advocacy and health outcomes; and not distracted with political advocacy and political outcomes.
Q. When did QAHC become of concern to the Health Department?
A. I can’t speak for the administration of Queensland Health under the previous government. Needless to say though, the LNP was elected with an undisputable mandate to clean-up Queensland Health once and for all.
Ensuring the $1 billion grants programme directs funding exclusively to genuine health services through genuine health providers with genuine health outcomes is one of the many priorities I set myself following the rorting and abuse of the Queensland Health grants scheme that became symbolised under Labor by the “Fake Tahitian Prince” fiasco.
I find it odd that over the last 10 years HIV diagnoses rates have doubled yet I cannot find one single comment from any of the Labor health ministers during that period that even acknowledged the growing problem. And nor can I find sustained questioning by some sections of the GLBT media of the previous Labor government over its failure, and almost disinterest, in HIV prevention and awareness.
When I became minister, QAHC advised me of a more than doubling [of diagnoses] rates over 10 years.
Given Australia has signed up to new national targets for the reduction in HIV/AIDS infection rates, it stands to reason that you would not even contemplate adopting the strategies and networks that had presided over such significant increases over a long period of time.
Q. Why was the community and QAHC not consulted prior to the defunding decision?
A. This question has been raised and answered many times before. Needless to say, even the Labor Party is quickly realising that things needed to change. At the recent meeting of the State Parliamentary Estimates Committee the Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Health both partook in a five hour session to ask me any question at all about the health portfolio and expenditure for the year ahead. Labor didn’t ask a single question whatsoever about QAHC or HIV/AIDS funding. Instead it was left to the LNP members of that committee to pursue health issues pertinent to the GLBT community in Queensland.
Q. Have you received any preliminary feedback and reports as to how effective the HIV MAC has been so far? Have you had similar feedback/reports about the effectiveness of the ‘Let’s End HIV’ campaign?
A. The feedback has been very positive, and why wouldn’t it be? For the first time in more than a decade HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns have run across television networks across the state and we have a body – made up of people with real expertise – who are entirely focused on the health issues at hand. The strategic delivery of services, awareness campaigns, and even necessary legislative changes can be pursued with greater ease and focus through the Ministerial Advisory Committee.
Our decisive approach has generated more discussion on HIV/AIDS in Queensland in eight months than in the previous eight years. Of course, there has been some peripheral negativity from people and groups who seem to confuse health services and health awareness with political agendas.
I think it would be naïve to ignore that sectional, and possibility radical elements, of the GLBT community, view change through the prism of political conspiracy.
But in time those people will see that this government, backed by genuine expertise on the MAC, has a very genuine interest in tackling HIV/AIDS and that’s why we’ve made a decision to make it a health priority in Queensland.
Q. Would you like to say anything to address the concerns that the LGBTI community in Queensland has had about your department, its actions and intentions since the defunding of QAHC and for the rest of the LNP’s term in government?
A. I think it is important for media, including the Star, not to stereotype members of the GLBT community as all thinking the same. Your question implies that members of the GLBT community must all think and say the same thing. Many sections of the GLBT community have welcomed this government’s approach and the LNP’s decision to make HIV/AIDS a priority health issue. They have welcomed this government’s move to separate health issues from political issues, and they have welcomed this government’s drive, across the board, to ensure the health dollar is spent on the best health outcomes.
Every single recipient of a Queensland Health grant is under review and I have engaged the services of the state’s former Auditor-General to ensure the grants program is properly targeted, provides value for money; has truly measurable health outcomes; and is immune, as much as possible, from fraud or misuse.
Members of the GLBT community have also welcomed my commitment that there will be no cut in the state government’s resources to HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness strategies. The new Ministerial Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS will have access to the same level of resources that were made available through grants to QAHC.