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Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has told a forum in Brisbane, held last week to protest the government’s funding cuts to the state’s largest sexual health clinic, to “give ‘em hell” and continue fighting for health care services for the LGBTI community.

Attendees at the Biala Community Forum were audibly surprised when the Griffith MP walked into the Wickham Hotel on May 7 unannounced to contribute to the protest and discussion of issues raised since the announcement of Biala’s closures in March.

Health and community experts joined Rudd and the forum’s organiser, state MP for South Brisbane Jackie Trad, in praising Australia’s and Queensland’s record in combating HIV/AIDS. All speakers dedicated this record to the physicians, clinics, governments and community health organisations that had worked together to run world-renowned public HIV/AIDS campaigns since the 1980s.

The cut backs to key services at Biala, a sexual health clinic that processes over 60 per cent of Queensland’s HIV/AIDS and STI cases caused great concern among the LGBTI community and many forum attendees questioned whether the Queensland health sector, that has bore the brunt of government spending cutbacks and job losses, could cope with any further pressure and demand.

The parliamentary secretary for federal health minister Tanya Plibersek, who had to pull out of attending the forum due to urgent commitments, was scathing in his attack on the state health minister Laurence Springborg.

Shayne Neumann was highly critical of Springborg’s right to call himself a health minister and urged him to immediately resign.

Rudd told the crowd he believed that Biala and the broader health debate in Queensland had now called for political action from the public, and that Springborg was uninformed and naïve on the issue.

“Anyone with half a brain, even Lawrence Springborg, knows that Biala provides an important service… there’s power in the people, and when you come together like this, this is now not an exercise in health policy; regrettably, folks, this is now an exercise in politics,” Rudd said.

“There’s no point us being here as a celebration of folks who have a common view saying it’s wrong. We’ve got to organise ourselves politically to make sure this is turned on its head.”

Rudd was also highly critical of LNP federal and state MPs for Brisbane, Teresa Gambaro and Robert Cavallucci, for not attending the community forum and urged the crowd to contact them and challenge them directly.

“Our job is to make life hell for [Cavallucci] and Teresa Gambaro. The federal LNP member for Brisbane is not here – and we, the feds, put money into these programs – why isn’t she here this evening? Does she not care about her constituents who need these services? Her electorate covers the Valley, where is she?”

Trad said it was encouraging to see people come together at the forum to protest and challenge what she referred to as a “very bad move by the Newman government”.

(Photo: M. Heffernan)

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