Former governor-general Sir William Deane is one of those men regularly included in people’s top 10 fantasy dinner party guest lists. His decades of campaign work for often unpopular social issues and his lifetime spent in the law have made him a person most Australians would like to meet.

Community professionals will have a chance to sit down to dinner with the former governor-general next week, when Deane speaks at a Sydney Gay and Lesbian Business Asso-ciation dinner to raise funds for CARE Australia’s overseas HIV/AIDS projects.

Deane serves as CARE Australia chairman. One of the international aid organisation’s key projects is the fight against HIV/AIDS in the third world.

The whole purpose of CARE International is a world without poverty. And the fight against HIV/AIDS is central to that, he says.

I’ll take a good example. On 11 September in the terrible terrorist attacks in the US, more than 3,000 people died. On that day in Southern Africa between 6,000 and 8,000 women, men and children died of HIV/AIDS. Every day since then more than 6,000 women, children and men have died of HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa alone.

Closer to Australia in South East Asia more than 2,100 people contract HIV/AIDS every day, and this number is climbing all the time. It’s an overwhelming challenge.

There’s nothing for most of the people affected. What really gets you is the children, because so many of them have lost both parents and an overwhelming amount have lost their mothers.

The culture of silence and shame which surrounds the virus in many countries makes raising awareness difficult, Deane says.

A lot of people don’t like to talk about it. I was in Vietnam a couple of months ago visiting our CARE program and I found there was a tremendous reluctance to talk about HIV/AIDS. Part of what we aim to do is to draw attention to the problems and also to seek to get an awareness of the needs of people affected by the illness.

Deane told the Star he had met with members of the Business Association and was impressed by how much fundraising work the members had done for HIV/AIDS charities.

Despite his long history of support for unpopular causes, Deane has remained largely silent on the issue of equalising the rights of gay and lesbian people. The Star asked the committed Catholic where he was placed on the rights of gay and lesbian Australians.

Am I absolutely opposed to discrimination in any shape or form against any people because of their sexuality? Of course I am.

When I look back at my lifetime to the intolerance that existed when I was a child it’s clear that we’ve made great progress. It’s also clear that we have a long way to go. [In the Catholic Church] there are some who are intolerant, but I think you could say that about just about any segment of society.

On CARE, Deane says the frontline, coalface work of the many Australian volunteer workers around the world was his inspiration for joining the organisation.

One of the great things about CARE I’ve found is that 90 percent of income that CARE Australia receives from supporters actually finds its way into work in the field.

Deane said the CARE HIV/AIDS program worked with a three-tiered approach, reducing transmission, care and support for those affected by the virus and promoting the rights of HIV-positive people.

Although a great deal of the former governor-general’s time was spent with CARE commitments, he told the Star he had not lost track of one of his other passions, furthering Aboriginal reconciliation in Australia.

It was another area where there was still much to do, he said.

We reached a wonderful point with Corroboree. Since then it’s seemed to me, I must confess, not to have gone backwards but to have stopped progressing at the national level. On the one hand I think the movement is just as strong at the grassroots level. We just have to keep going. I’m remaining active in that area, as patron of Reconciliation Australia.

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Business Association are hosting an evening with Sir William Deane at Le Meridien Hotel, 11 Jamison St, Sydney, on Tuesday 1 October. The night will start at 6:30pm with pre-dinner drinks and a three-course dinner will be served at 7pm.

The night will cost $90 for non-members and $80 for members. Reservations can be made by calling the Business Association secretary on 8354 1556 by Monday 23 September. All proceeds will go to CARE Australia’s South East Asian AIDS prevention programs.

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