THE new Queensland Labor government has reconfirmed its commitment to review funding to community groups defunded by the previous Liberal-National government, including the Queensland AIDS Council (QuAC).
During the January state election campaign Labor made a commitment to restore government funding to the LGBTI sexual health organisation, which had $2.5 million cut from its services by the former Health Minister and current Opposition Leader, Lawrence Springborg.
“There is more to the health portfolio than just hospitals,” recently-appointed state Health Minister Cameron Dick said last week.
“Our focus will be on preventative health programs, health promotion, and research and innovation which drive positive health outcomes, ease pressure on the entire health system, and improve the quality of life for all Queenslanders.”
During the campaign, Brisbane Central state Labor MP Grace Grace made a specific reference to re-funding QuAC.
“A Labor government is committed to restoring funding to the Queensland Aids Council,” she said.
QuAC executive director Michael Scott said the comments made by the new Health Minister gave the organisation hope.
“The organisation is extremely hopeful of receiving funding, not because we just ‘want funding back’ but because we genuinely believe that we are best-placed to reach the part of the community most affected by HIV transmission,” Scott told the Star Observer.
“We do not take anything for granted, and will provide a range of initiatives to the Health Minister to not only reduce HIV transmission, but also to improve the health and wellbeing of LGBTI people across the state.”
Scott highlighted the personal interest in QuAC expressed by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk along with Grace and Deputy Premier Jackie Trad.
He also he was keen to meet the new Health Minister “to put forward a comprehensive proposal” that addresses Queensland’s rates of HIV and STIs.
“We are particularly concerned that with the rates of HIV increasing last year by over 20 per cent that HIV prevention has not been targeted well,” Scott said.
“Education to gay men and men who have sex with men has all but ceased, and has been watered down from the top down approach we have seen in the last three years.
“A true grassroots, community driven approach to HIV prevention must be implemented immediately for our prevention efforts to be successful.”
The Campbell Newman government’s decision to defund QuAC was made after Springborg accused it of “losing its way” in relation to its HIV prevention work – referring to increased notification rates – and becoming too political.
The HIV Foundation Queensland (HIVFQ) was subsequently established in 2013, and along with the already-established Queensland Positive People, both receive state government funding.
QuAC’s defunding sparked controversy throughout the Newman government’s term.
“The most significant impact has been the loss of staff attached to the gay men’s health section of the organisation which worked directly on HIV prevention,” Scott said.
“In 2012 we had a strong focus on innovative health promotion messaging which was stopped abruptly. Our campaigns and group work sections also ceased, as did our alcohol, tobacco and other drugs work and social media work.
“Ultimately a number of staff were made redundant in 2012 and 2013. This meant the scaling back of services in both Brisbane and Cairns. It meant the complete closure of the Sunshine Coast office, and a ceasing of services to Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and much of regional Queensland.
“HIV prevention workers, who were frontline workers crucial to the HIV prevention strategy for LGBTI community were lost.”
Last month, Scott noted that new notifications of HIV continued to increase over the term of the LNP government, echoing remarks he made during a candlelight vigil for World AIDS Day where he criticised Springborg’s comments about QuAC “losing its way”.
Scott said he was now looking forward to a productive relationship with Queensland Health along with other organisations in the HIV sector.
“There were many initiatives that we worked on Queensland Health with before 2012 that we would like to see continue into the future,” he said.
“This is the way it should be. The Australian response to HIV has always centred on a partnership response – that is a partnership between affected communities, researchers, governments at all levels and NGOs.
“We are keen to build on the partnership approach to HIV prevention [in working with other HIV/AIDS organisations].”