The Victorian AIDS Council annual general meeting was held on Sunday, with keynote speaker Professor Sharon Lewin addressing the lack of community consultation around Fairfield House and President Michael Williams announcing his resignation amidst significant changes to the board.
Delivering the 21st annual Keith Harbour Address Lewin responded to vocal community concern over recently-announced changes to Fairfield House from a palliative care facility to an outpatient unit.
“I can’t give an address at VAC and ignore the discussions over the last two weeks about Fairfield House… this is clearly an issue I’m deeply involved in and of course responsible for,” Lewin said.
“It’s become evident over the last ten to fourteen days that we need far more community consultation, and we certainly recognise and apologise that we underestimated this initially. But the plans are in place for much more extensive community consultation.”
Elections returned just one existing board member, Treasurer Greg Carter, adding other organisational changes to the news of Williams’ resignation.
Williams will step down as VAC/GMHC President in December, following a tumultuous year for the organisation that saw the sudden resignation of Executive Director Matt Dixon last month in unclear circumstances.
The Star Observer spoke to Williams about the decision, and he said had never planned to stay with the organisation for a long period of time.
“Well the board’s changed, and when I came on I was always determined I wasn’t going to be someone who stayed around to be carried off with a grey beard. I think turnover is really important and renewal in community organisations is really important,” he said.
Williams also addressed ongoing criticisms of the effectiveness of VAC/GMHC’s health promotion work in the face of rising rates of HIV infections across Australia, despite a small drop in Victoria. He said the organisation was engaged in close ongoing consultation with government around taxpayer-funded health campaigns.
“Provided we keep up that approach I think it will be okay, that the government feels confident that we’re delivering the services that we’re funded to deliver,” Williams said.
“We’re very cognizant of what’s happened in other states. I think in Queensland and South Australia—an organisation that doesn’t have its house in order or that loses sight of its mission.
“I think it’d be very easy in this fiscal environment for a government to say somebody else could do that work or we could fund somebody else, and that’s basically what’s happened in Queensland.”
Williams said there had been no indication the Victorian government is unhappy with the way VAC/GMHC is delivering services and denied concerns there is a risk of losing some of the organisation’s government funding. He also said recruitment for a new Executive Director to replace Matt Dixon is under way.