It was alarming to hear over the weekend that the Queensland Government has suddenly decided to axe $2.5 million of funding from the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities (QAHC).
Queenslanders woke up on Sunday to discover, mere weeks after assuming the portfolio, Health Minister Lawrence Springborg would forthwith strip QAHC of its money because it had not made a dent in reducing HIV infection rates — which have doubled in Queensland in the last decade.
No one knew this was the minister’s intention, least of all QAHC, until they read it, agog, in The Courier Mail on Sunday morning.
Nor did Australia’s peak HIV organisation, the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO), have any prior warning of the impending decision.
Now, having thrown the baby out with the bathwater, 26 people are likely to lose their jobs and Queensland’s HIV prevention campaign for gay men (the population group most at risk of new HIV infection) is in limbo.
Springborg may have underestimated the anger this will cause in Queensland’s (or mostly Brisbane’s) small but vocal gay community. A rally protesting the decision has already been organised for later this month. Then again, perhaps he doesn’t care what Queensland’s gay community thinks. His decision certainly speaks to that.
I don’t have a problem with governments making hard decisions when they need to. Certainly the HIV rates in Queensland are not a pretty picture, but there is a complex set of reasons for this.
If Springborg bothered to work with QAHC on this, some headway might be made. But QAHC hasn’t even been given a chance. Now Springborg says he wants to establish a new HIV ministerial advisory council to tackle the issue.
AIDS Council heads around the country are rightly shocked at the move to defund QAHC and say the internationally established path to tackle HIV is through community partnerships, not dumping them at the first sign of trouble.
Gay men and men-who-have-sex-with-men make up the majority of new HIV infections in Queensland. The gay community has to have a voice at the table to help drive this rate down. Defunding a trusted community organisation is not the way to go about bending the community’s ear.
Springborg’s snap decision shows an arrogant dismissal of the work done by QAHC and Queensland’s LGBTI community has every reason to feel slighted.