Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:18:54):
I am pleased to rise to speak to the Public Health and Wellbeing Bill 2019. I appreciate Ms Shing’s comments in regard to stigma, and I would just like to read a quote from Ban Ki-moon when he was United Nations Secretary-General.
He said: HIV stigma remains the single-most important barrier to public action … it helps make AIDS the silent killer, because people fear the social disgrace of talking about it or taking easily available precautions.
Stigma is the chief reason why the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world. And this is so true. I worked as a volunteer at the AIDS council in Canberra in the late 1980s, and I went to many, many funerals for people who died of AIDS-related illnesses.
Do you know what? When it came to testing, we were really uncertain about testing because of the stigma. Once you knew and once you were required to disclose your status, the discrimination that you would experience, the stigma that you would experience—the way that even your family would shut you out and the way your dentist would no longer give you a check‑up—actually led to many of us not being tested.
We thought we would rather just consider that we were positive, consider that everyone was positive, take precautions and not be tested because of the stigma. Also at that time AZT was the only medication available. It had many side effects, and certainly it was not a cure. We do not have a cure for HIV, but, my word, has it changed.
I listened to Ms Shing talk about the 95-95-95 target, which is 95 per cent of people who are positive know they are positive, 95 per cent of them are on treatment and 95 per cent of them have got such low viral loads that they are undetectable. U equals U—undetectable equals untransmittable.
Even saying those words surprises me. I do not think I ever thought we would get to the stage when HIV is a chronic illness that you lived with, not an illness that you die from. My friends now take one pill a day, and that keeps them extremely well. The testing that we are now doing, the PrEP, the PEP and all of the treatments that we have now made available for HIV means that U does equal U—undetectable equals untransmittable.
Yet there is stigma that still surrounds it. When my friend, who is very open about his status, speaks to people that he does not know about his status you still see a slight gasp, even from the most progressive and modern people. You still see a slight shift backwards as if just by being in his presence they may be vulnerable to catching HIV.
That still occurs today. The stigma still occurs today. I know many of my friends have found it easier to be out about being gay but not about being HIV-positive. That stigma still abounds, and that still brings them great fear.
This bill, by recognising that the way we test for HIV is very different and that the results of an HIV test are very different today, is welcome. I think it will go some way towards treating HIV as it should be, as a chronic illness that can be managed and managed well. I hope we do, in managing it well, achieve those 2020 goals of 95-95-95.
I think they are achievable, and I commend the work of all of the AIDS councils around Australia. I used to be involved in a charity group called TDF, the Trevor Daley Fund. It provided money to people with HIV just to help pay their bills, help them have a holiday and help them do things. It was called the TDF, which also meant To Die For. Now, it was sick humour, but it was true.
I am just so pleased that in 2019 Trevor Daley, who died of HIV/AIDS and who was a friend, would not believe that we are talking about untransmittable, undetectable HIV. This bill allows us to reflect on that fact but also remember that there are still 8000 people living with HIV in Victoria, that those people still need to be supported and that we still need to fight the stigma that they experience every day.
I will continue to support my friends, and I will continue to call out HIV stigma whenever I see it or hear it. I am very pleased that this bill goes towards normalising and reflecting on where we are with HIV. I commend the bill.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Speech given 13/8/19