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Campbell Newman’s ‘attack on gays’ could face legal test

Family and human rights lawyers are considering grounds to halt what they see as a pair of targeted attacks on the LGBTI community from the Queensland government.

A proposal to repeal civil union legislation, which arguably extends some family rights and obligations to same-s-x couples, hasn’t even made it to cabinet yet but already lawyers that specialise in gay families are looking to protect those already “unionised”.

While the tearing up of the gay men’s s-xual health program contract to the state’s only LGBT health organisation had only a minor chance of a legal recourse, the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities is also looking at its options before the state loses its only HIV education specialists.

Small rallies against the government’s moves took place in Brisbane last night, but many of the community’s advocates instead attended meetings of the LGBTI Legal Service. Aside from the immediate problem of finding itself without a place to operate — the volunteer lawyers run their free service out of QAHC’s offices — some want to pull out all stops to prevent the state “going back to the previous century on gay rights”.

The situation could mirror the repeal of gay marriage in California, where the state’s Supreme Court allowed those already married to keep their certificates and legal recognition. Almost 500 couples have registered a civil union in Queensland, although it is untested whether they grant any specific rights not already available to recognised de facto couples.

Julie Howes, from the LGBTI Legal Service, says the government’s moves look like an attack to destabilise the gay community.

What this says is they are not worth funding, they don’t have any human rights that need to be addressed, and in time this will mean more anti-gay violence, more discrimination, more health issues,” she told Crikey.

For the past 30 years, Australia’s AIDS councils, including QAHC, have steered the nation’s HIV rates well below the countries that left community groups out of their HIV strategy, such as the United States. Bill Bowtell, former Keating government adviser and one of the architects of the successful partnership strategy, described as “exceptionally foolish” the decision to inject another layer of bureaucracy in the form of politically appointed ministerial advisory committees.

The health of young Queenslanders at risk of HIV infection, whether they are gay or straight, will be best protected by educating and informing them about using condoms and clean needles and other behavioural changes that reduce HIV infection risks,” he told Crikey. “Politically directed ministerial committees have a disastrous record in creating such campaigns.”

Bowtell said the decision threatens, rather than strengthens, the health of young Queenslanders in the highest risk groups and challenged the health minister, Lawrence Springborg, to release all the public health advice and fact and figures on which the decision was made.

The reasons claimed by Mr Springborg to establish a new structure, without consultation or apparent detailed consideration, seem more based on politics than rational consideration of the evidence of what works best to keep new HIV infection rates low,” he said.

Education directed at young gay men especially remains the best and most cost-effective way of containing the HIV pandemic in Australia. This is best done through community-based organisations that represent and reach out to young gay men, and understand their needs and requirements.”

Robert Mitchell, president of the National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS, worried about the “serious missing level of understanding about incidence and infection rates” noting that the undiagnosed and recently diagnosed are the main drivers of the epidemic in Australia.

Success in campaigns that raise awareness and promote safe s-x in the communities most at risk of HIV will also have the effect of higher testing rates and therefore more diagnoses but ultimately less people with undiagnosed HIV, which ultimately will result in fewer new infections. In the short term, however, this can be seen as increasing diagnosis, this is a level of complexity that is not considered in using these statistics on face value to measure success or otherwise,” he said.

This comes at a time when we know more about how to achieve lower infection rates is just beyond understanding and shows what a political move this is.”

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  • 1
    Sharilynn Gerchow
    Posted Thursday, 24 May 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    I am not aware that any rallies took place in Brisbane last night. There will, however, be a rally next Wednesday, 30 May 2012 at King George Square from 5 pm. Your readers may also be interested in the most recent Press release from QAHC which rebuts many of the assertions made by the Qld Minister of Health:

    Healthy Communities has been deeply concerned about the increase in HIV over the past 10 years, with rates per 100,000 population rising from 2.7 in 2000 to 4.7 in 20101. As the first organisation to respond to HIV in Queensland back in 1984, we are keenly aware of the impact of HIV on the lives of people with HIV, their friends, families and communities and the importance of HIV prevention.
    We had already written to Health Minister Lawrence Springborg making 29 recommendations on how to improve the HIV response in Queensland and pledged our support to work with the government to implement these2. The response was to defund us.
    The Queensland Government spends less on HIV, Hepatitis C and STI control than any other state or territory in Australia.
    In 2007-08 (latest figures available) Queensland spent $2.34 per person on HIV, Hep C and STI control, compared to $3.65 in Victoria and $7.67 in NSW3.
    One non-government organisation on its own, tasked with working with gay men, is not solely responsible for HIV infection rates in Queensland.
    We all share responsibility for HIV: government, medical professions, schools, community organisations, businesses, the media, communities and individuals.
    The rate of HIV increase in Queensland is lower among gay men than in other population groups4.
    Gay men make up a lower proportion of HIV diagnoses than they did 10 years ago5.
    The rate of HIV infection in Queensland has caught up over the past 10 years to levels similar to NSW and Victoria6. This is due to population changes and the ‘natural’ progression of HIV across the country.
    The number of HIV infections in Queensland decreased in 20117.
    The prevalence of HIV among gay men in Queensland is 9%, by comparison it’s 25% in San Francisco8, 12% in Sydney and 10% in Melbourne.
    Healthy Communities remains committed to fighting HIV by using community based health promotion and peer education, continually improving our own services and raising important public policy issues.

  • 2
    SusieQ
    Posted Thursday, 24 May 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Its starting to sound like Queensland is back in the Bjelke-Petersen era again!!!! What next??

  • 3
    Holden Back
    Posted Thursday, 24 May 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    SusieQ, I’m still waiting for the farmers vs miners stoush. The LNP attempting to walk both sides of that particular barbed-wire fence should prove amusing viewing.

  • 4
    Blair Martin
    Posted Thursday, 24 May 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Yes, SusieQ, it is. SistersInside, a program to help indigeneous women in Townsville serving time in prison (many illiterate) has been axed, the Premier’s literary awards axed, civil unions looking like they will be axed and the ones already performed could even be declared null and void, Springborg’s defunding of Healthy Communities (and not just HIV/AIDS programs, but programs that tackled alcohol and drug abuse, tobacco smoking and mental health issues as well) and to top it off, Newman will not present certain pieces of legislation to the Parliamentary Committees for examination, saying that anything they mentioned as a policy in the election campaign had already been before “the big committee” (aka the voters) and it was not necessary for that to be examined. With just one house of Parliament and 78 out of 89 seats with the Government and a media pack that cheer-led Newman into power, there is no independent scrutiny or criticism heard. And to rub salt into the wound, Newman increased Parliamentarians salaries by $9,000 and brought in a raft of LNP mates as consultants to go over the books and run the State the way they want it run. Brown paper bags, white shoes and “don’t you worry about that” can’t be far behind.

  • 5
    Liz45
    Posted Thursday, 24 May 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    All through the recent campaign, Campbell Newman kept on ad nauseum about the terrible state Qld finances were in, blah blah, and how they’d focus on putting it right etc. Now, the most important functions to date have been axing monies to the Arts, getting rid of a author’s award and now this? Yep, Bjelke is alive and well in Qld - again! Oh yes, aboriginal people have been bashed and bullied, and the next group will probably be workers, in particular anyone who’s against CSG mining!

    Newman isn’t going to have anyone scrutinising his Legislation - due to his HUGE vote! So, I hope people can see what happens to democracy when they vote for the Conservatives? I don’t recall the people saying they wanted this? I don’t recall Newman saying this would happen as part of his campaign?

  • 6
    Karen
    Posted Thursday, 24 May 2012 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Queensland is f*cked.

  • 7
    Hugh (Charlie) McColl
    Posted Thursday, 24 May 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    It’s OK Karen, don’t believe everything you read in the media. Besides, if Queensland is f*cked what happened to NSW last night and which state did that happen in?

  • 8
    Karen
    Posted Thursday, 24 May 2012 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    What are you talkin’ about, Charlie? State of Origin or Thommo getting sinbinned into the privileges committee? If its the former, you’ll get your come uppance. Ha, ha. If its the latter, we’re talkin’ about apples and oranges here. Or are you referring to something else entirely? Didn’t tune into the news last night.

  • 9
    AR
    Posted Thursday, 24 May 2012 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    WA & Victoria (at least mentally paralysed, thankfully), NSW & Qld should be warning enough of what will happen should MM & his unlovely ilk get their arses of the Treasury benches.
    Fuelled by resentment, beholden to the Born-to-Rule, arid of vision (or even the concept) and intent on doing the bidding of their betters (even though that would include most invertebrates) the next regime looks very scary.
    A small point, no doubt lost on all but the most pedantic, is no-one else terrified by MM’s use of the phrase “in power” rather than “in office”?

  • 10
    Bill Hilliger
    Posted Thursday, 24 May 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    Give it time Campbell Newman = Joh Bjelke Peterson the old carpetbagger. I left out the “Sir.”
    Queenslanders will no doubt enjoy going back to days of old and are no doubt welcome to the Newman ‘can do’ lot.

  • 11
    Hamis Hill
    Posted Friday, 25 May 2012 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    That oppressed minority might actually prefer the “Tom Cruise” of
    Liberal politics politics but why don’t these very effective
    “campaigners” get behind a “Campbell For Canberra” push and save
    themselves and Queensland? The polls and everyone else are
    shouting “Anyone But Abbott” and “Totally Not Tony” so why not send the
    latest drover’s dog to the big kennel in Canberra? On the back of a push
    for a single consevative party, Queensland style, at the federal level,
    making John Howard the very last Liberal PM? We hate all coalitions
    not just the terrible coalition betwwen Labor and The Greens?
    Come on Qld, Come On, Come On! CAN DO CANBERRA!

  • 12
    Liz45
    Posted Friday, 25 May 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    @HAMIS HILL - You’re joking right? Howard a Liberal PM? He was right of Menzies, in fact even Liberals were appalled by him? Look at Malcolm Fraser? Never thought I’d see the day when I’d be agreeing with him on major matters, such as asylum seekers and treatment of aboriginal people? I don’t want anyone like Campbell in Canberra! Women’s advancements would go backwards - unbearable thought!

  • 13
    zut alors
    Posted Saturday, 26 May 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    The only positive thing about the Newman government is that one day, in the faraway future, Queenslanders will again experience the thrill of emerging from the darkness - just as they did post-Bjelke-Petersen. Unfortunately, the intervening era will be grim.

  • 14
    Blair Martin
    Posted Saturday, 26 May 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    The way modern political cycles go, that “faraway future” could be the next election!

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