Federal health minister Tony Abbott’s failure to appoint any community representatives to the new Ministerial Advisory Committee on AIDS, Sexual Health and Hepatitis (MACASHH) has shocked HIV organisations.

Although the minister’s office is not expected to make an official announcement until today, AFAO president Darren Russell told the Star it was his understanding no one from the community HIV sector had been appointed to the central committee.

There certainly seem to be strange appointments but even more worrying is who’s been left out, Russell said. We could cope with one or two quirky appointments if there was good community representation overall but on the main MACASHH committee there is no community representation whatsoever and that’s the first time in the 20-year history of HIV in this country that has happened. It’s a real move away from the partnership model that has been so successful in this country.

Abbott, a Catholic and a member of the monarchist movement, has, according to The Age, appointed Nick Hobson, a member of Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy and a former RAAF officer, to the central committee and Jesuit priest Fr Michael Kelly to the HIV sub-committee.

David Menadue, vice-president of the National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS, has agreed to sit on the HIV subcommittee, but long-time PLWHA activist Bill Whittaker has refused a similar appointment in protest. AFAO executive officer Don Baxter has agreed to sit on the sub-committee.

Whittaker said that he believed that the new structure of MACASHH was fundamentally flawed and as a matter of principle he could not participate.

I just think Tony Abbott is thinking, -˜I want people who share my values and who give me advice I want to hear,’ Menadue told The Age.

A spokesperson for the minister told The Age that being gay was not a selection criterion for membership of any of the committees, a comment ACON president Adrian Lovney branded as outrageous.

We think that being gay should be part of the selection criteria. It remains that 85 percent of people with HIV in this country are gay and a somewhat flippant statement that having gay people at the table is unimportant is outrageous. It’s also a fundamental departure from the HIV policy that has got us to this point, Lovney told the Star.

We are very disappointed that MACASHH appears to be stumbling before it even made it out of the starter’s gate, he said.

Fr Michael Kelly told the Star that he would be making decisions on the basis of common sense, the facts, the available money and the opportunities for proper and responsible public health behaviours.

When asked specifically about condom use he said he was of the view that it is the lesser of two evils that should be the moral position in public health issues.

I am only one voice. I will be a responsible voice. I am an intelligent person and I will make an informed decision -¦ I think the Catholic community has a right to its representative there and they are only one voice among many, he said.

Catholic gay activist Michael Kelly (no relation) disagrees. He told the Star that no matter how progressive Fr Kelly’s own positions may be, he would be forced to play church politics.

He’ll be forced to have one eye on public health issues, the other eye on Vatican politics and a third eye, if he had one, on the right-wing Catholic extremists who will be reporting every move he makes to George Pell.

This is not the sort of person we need advising the minister on HIV AIDS, Kelly said.

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