VICTORIA’S two major HIV organisations will take a shared policy platform to the state election in November, working together to lobby the major parties on key issues.

The Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) and Living Positive Victoria are expected to release the joint platform within the next month, and have already begun talks with the Victorian government and opposition.

“One of the key things for us is of course better access to treatment for people living with HIV, so certainly that’s a part of our election platform. We also want to make sure there’s an increases in testing in the community,” VAC president Greg Carter told the Star Observer.

A central aim is also to help educate the broader community about issues around HIV going into the election, and to clarify the two organisations’ positions on key issues.

Living Positive Victoria president Ian Muchamore acknowledged the commitment of the current state government to an effective HIV response, and said initial feedback from politicians was encouraging.

“People are willing to engage, but the asks in our document will not be easy asks, they will be things which are challenges for government,” he told the Star Observer.

Muchamore cited a lack of access to free HIV medications for people living outside of Melbourne as a key election issue.

Smaller HIV organisations Straight Arrows and Positive Women Victoria, as well as representatives from the Indigenous community, have also been involved in developing the platform.

This marks an unprecedented period of cooperation for the two organisations, who on Monday signed a historic memorandum of understanding (MOU) at The Laird Hotel, the birthplace of VAC in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

Despite media reports the signing indicated a future merge of the VAC and Living Positive Victoria, VAC refuted the rumour and told the Star Observer there were no current plans for a merge.

Both organisations made a strong show of support at the event, and VAC president Greg Carter pointed to the de-funding of the Queensland AIDS Council in 2012 and the collapse of the AIDS Council of South Australia last year as important reasons for a show of solidarity.

“(The MOU) clarifies if anyone was in any doubt — and possibly (there has) been on some occasions — that there is a deep mutual respect amongst those organisations for the work that the other organisation does,” Living Positive Victoria president Ian Muchamore said.

Muchamore also said the MOU affirmed the necessity of a central role for people living with HIV in the response to the epidemic, and emphasised the importance of a peer-led response.

In the short term, the two organisations are collaborating extensively in the lead up to the AIDS 2014 conference in Melbourne next month.

Following a major restructure last year, the past 12 months have been a period of rapid change for VAC in particular. While new chief executive Simon Ruth has driven some of the change within the organisation since he stepped into the role in January, he  told the Star Observer that the AIDS 2014 conference was also a major factor.

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