The Queensland government has all but declared war on the state’s LGBT community, announcing it will defund the state’s only LGBT health and wellbeing organisation for what it says is a failure to reduce HIV rates and too much of a focus on “political issues”.
The move came just 24 hours after increased speculation that Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie was about to recommend repealing the state’s civil union laws.
Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said today that a rise in HIV diagnosis rates across Queensland (from 2.7 per 100,000 population in 2000, to 5.4 in 2010) represented an alarming failure in public health policy and public health outcomes over the last decade.
He said he had been advised the diagnosis rates represented the highest levels in Queensland since figures became available in 1984.
“When it comes to health… I refuse to throw good money after bad and I refuse to turn a blind eye to what are obviously ineffective campaigns at reducing HIV diagnosis rates,” Springborg said.
“This clearly indicates that the campaigns and strategies, and the way those campaigns and strategies have been provided, is in need of urgent review and re-direction.”
Springborg said he would immediately move to re-direct more than $2.5 million in government grants that had been channeled through the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities (QAHC) to conduct HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention strategies.
“Instead of this funding being administered by QAHC, which has published its intention to move the core of its activity away from AIDS/HIV to more general, political issues, it will be moved into the control of an expert panel – a Ministerial Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS,” he said.
QAHC has been in operation for 28 years with offices now in Cairns, Maroochydore and Brisbane.
They employ 35 full and part-time staff, 26 of whom would lose their jobs as a result of the funding decision.
“We are shocked at the announcement made by Minister Springborg today,” QAHC executive director Paul R Martin said.
“There has been no warning, discussion or negotiation with us about our current service agreements with Queensland Health, nor has there been any previous question about the quality or focus of our work.
“We understand that the government is looking to find savings, and we are more than willing to work with them on that. But to cut the only HIV prevention service for gay men and the only LGBT health service is astonishing.”
Every other state and territory in Australia funds community based organisations to deliver gay men’s HIV prevention services and LGBT health services.
“There is clear evidence of health need, we are a well performing organisation and the only gay men’s HIV prevention and LGBT health organisation in the state. Something else must be
motivating this decision” said QAHC president Mark Morein.
Springborg said the Ministerial Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS would be formed in the coming months when funding for QAHC programs ceased.
He suggested it was possible that the Advisory Committee may recommend some programs be funded through a non-government organisation that had, as its primary focus and goal, HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.
QAHC has been given three months notice, under the terms of its service agreement.