Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg has lambasted the state’s AIDS Council and the former Labor Government for a five per cent rise in gay men having unprotected sex between 2011-12.
But Labor and the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities (QAHC) both claim that the minister is greatly confused over the issue and is being irresponsible and misleading the public by effectively blaming members and groups within the LGBTI community.
The Courier Mail reported fresh data from a draft report saying the proportion of gay men having unprotected sex rose from 34.1 per cent to 39.1 per cent between 2011 and 2012. The article mentions these figures however whoever approved the report and how the figures were attained and calculated were not reported.
In a statement that appears to once again reignite the debate over the defunding of QAHC, Springborg said safe sex campaigns had descended into a form of political advocacy rather than health advocacy.
This is a very similar line of argument that the minister used as reason to defund QAHC last year.
“The previous Labor Government squandered the health dollar trying to buy and appease radical political lobby groups rather than investing in serious health outcomes and cultural changes,” he told the Courier Mail.
He said the safe-sex campaigns, costing millions in tax-payers money, were a “complete farce”.
“It means that the so-called gay community leaders that championed these campaigns have completely sold out the people they claim to represent.”
In a statement to the Star Observer, Shadow Health Minister Jo-Ann Miller said that Springborg would have been receiving advice from the same source that advised the former Bligh-Labor Government.
“Mr Springborg as Minister would be receiving advice on funding allocations for HIV education campaigns from the same health officers who advised the former government,” Miller said.
“If he is rejecting expert departmental advice he needs to be upfront and say so.
“He also needs to explain the source of his alternative advice on which he now appears to be making funding decisions.
“But by using smear tactics to give the impression that some gay community groups are somehow involved in blatantly political campaigns is not being truthful.”
Executive Director of QAHC, Paul Martin said that the minister has a simplistic view of HIV prevention and has misled the state about gay health organisations.
“Minister Springborg fails to understand that ‘unprotected sex’ and ‘unsafe sex’ are two different things.” Martin said.
“Queensland research among gay men has found that there has been increasing levels of ‘sero-sorting’ – that is people of the same HIV status having sex together without condoms. Increasing levels of unprotected sex is not the same as unsafe sex.”
“In addition, men are increasingly using various risk reduction strategies to reduce the likelihood of HIV transmission in situations where condoms are not used. This shows that gay men are not ignoring the safe sex message, but are actively looking for ways to reduce HIV transmission.”
Martin found himself yet again defending QAHC against continued claims that the organisation was “a radical lobby group”.
“We are a health service organisation providing a range of evidence-based practical health services to the LGBT communities of Queensland. Part of our work also includes identifying wider structural barriers to health (e.g. stigma and discrimination) and advocating for healthy public policy.”
He also defended QAHC’s highly successful ‘Rip&Roll’ campaign, claiming that the safe-sex initiative was the most successful and highest profile campaign in the state’s history.
“Each year ‘Rip&Roll’ cost only around $150,000 to $200,000 – not the ‘millions of dollars’ claimed by Minister Springborg.”
Martin also vehemently defends the work done by QAHC volunteers and its staff against the ministers claims that QAHC had exploited the LGBTI community.
“Comments by Minister Springborg that ‘so-called gay community leaders’ have ‘completely sold out the people they claim to represent’ are deeply insulting and offensive to the volunteers and staff that have worked tirelessly for the LGBT community over the past 28 years.”
“Minister Springborg has declined to meet with Healthy Communities since becoming Health Minister, despite the organisation raising concerns about HIV prevention strategies, LGBT health concerns and requesting meetings with him.”