Standing up for Canberra

World AIDS Day 2015

I rise today in support of World AIDS Day, which falls tomorrow, as the member for Griffith has mentioned. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this subject, and I thank the member for Griffith for moving this motion.

I have spoken many times before about the story of AIDS and how, through the incredible work of scientists, researchers and medical professionals like my sister, HIV and AIDS can now not only be prevented but be treated. I can recall a time—it seems not so long ago, Mr Deputy Speaker, and you are about the same vintage as me—when the threat and fear of AIDS gripped this nation. I am talking here about the 1980s. It was a great, unknown terror. Nobody knew what it was or what it meant. All it meant, essentially, was certain death. It was an epidemic. In Melbourne, where I was living, it seemed almost every person my age, including me, had lost a friend or loved one to this disease.

The result of this fear, of this trauma, of this lived experience was that people became informed, they became vigilant and they protected themselves. In the eighties my sister, who is a scientist, worked in AIDS research at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne. I remember talking to her about her work as we went from being totally in the dark about this disease to knowing it, to gradually getting an understanding of it and, through that, to being able to control it. HIV is now a manageable infection and no longer a gradual progression to AIDS and then death. Treatments not only control the virus; they can reduce its infectiousness. The progress that has been made in tackling this disease in what seems like a relatively short couple of decades is nothing short of remarkable.

However, there seems to have been, unfortunately, an unintended flip side to this progress. As treatment has progressed, fear has subsided and so too, it would seem, has our vigilance. It is alarming that over the past 15 years the number of new HIV diagnoses has gradually increased—from 719 diagnoses in 1999 to 1,081 in 2012. It is estimated that 27,150 Australians are currently living with HIV, and around 350 Canberrans are living with HIV. This reiterates the need for vigilance. Those of us who were there in the 1980s particularly remember and reiterate the need for vigilance.

The theme for World AIDS Day this year is the same as last year: getting to zero—zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths. The elimination of HIV is something that the UN's SecretaryGeneral's Special Envoy for AIDS believes is achievable in the Asia-Pacific region within the next 15 years. However, it will only be achieved if we are vigilant and avoid complacency. I cannot underscore that enough. We have to be vigilant and we have to avoid complacency.

I believe it is the responsibility of those of us who lived through the birth of the HIV-AIDS epidemic in this country to keep the younger generations informed. I say to them: sit down with those of us who went through that living hell in the eighties, those of us who, like me, lost friends. My husband lost friends. We lost friends who died in only their 20s and went blind and were incredibly traumatised before they died. Anyone who lived through the eighties in their 20s, as I said earlier, knew someone who was touched by this disease, and most of us knew someone who died. So I encourage the younger generation to sit down with those of us who are just a bit older to listen to our experiences and the horror of watching that unfold and the great sadness of losing friends in their 20s who had so much to give and who lost their lives so early and, quite often, in very, very difficult, challenging and painful circumstances, covered in sarcomas. It was tragic.

We must be vigilant. We must avoid complacency. I say to people: always practice safe sex. When travelling overseas, be prepared. Take protection with you as it might not be available where you are going. Do not share syringes and other personal items like razors. Also, get tested regularly.

In closing, I want to congratulate Philippa Moss from the AIDS Action Council of the ACT who was recently awarded the Telstra ACT Business Woman of the Year.

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