University of Melbourne Magazine

Communication and Health Policy Creation during the Australian HIV/AIDS Crisis

  • The Australian response to the AIDS crisis was one of the most effective in the world, marked by cooperation between government, community groups, and academic researchers. Debate raged against a context of new medical discoveries, a long campaign for gay rights, often panicked and denunciatory media coverage, under a new reforming federal government. The consensus to pursue policies of harm minimisation and promote safe sex was far more contingent than it might seem today.

    At its most fundamental level, the AIDS crisis transformed the lives of individuals who became infected, and those of their families and friends. Yet it also deeply affected others. Those in professional practice were forced to confront a disease without cure, with which medical science grappled. Activists advancing the rights of social minorities were thrown into a different setting, in which friends became sick, and the community and fellow feeling gradually built up suddenly came under new scrutiny and attack.

    The AIDS 2014 International AIDS Conference presents an opportunity to recall the lessons of earlier campaigns, to reflect on their enduring legacy, and ask how their example might be applied today. 

    The University of Melbourne will convene a Witness Seminar, bringing together representatives of government, gay and community health activists and the academy to retrace the events unfolding during the height of the crisis. The Seminar will explore the personal and professional challenges raised by the crisis, the challenges of communicating new public health policy, and the difficulties that arose from collaborating with individuals from different backgrounds. 

    Please note that this format also offers audience members a limited opportunity to add their own testimony and share dimensions of this issue that had important consequences for a wide range of communities throughout the Australian public. 

    The participants include:

    Dr Norman Swan, Producer and Presenter, Health Report, ABC Radio National (Chair)

    Professor Emeritus David Penington AC, Chair, Committee of Inquiry, National AIDS Task Force 1983-87, former Dean, Faculty of Medicine and former Vice-Chancellor, University of Melbourne

    The Hon Dr Neal Blewett AC, Former Australian Minister for Health

    Dr Alex Wodak AM, Director of the Alcohol & Drug Service at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney and former President of the International Harm Reduction Association

    Mr Gino Vumbaca, Executive Director, Australian National Council on Drugs

    Ms Judy Frecker, Clinical Nurse Consultant (CNC) – HIV/AIDS for the Royal District Nursing Service (RDNS)

    Dr Adam Carr, journalist and editor with gay news publications, founding member of the Victorian AIDS Action, Committee and later President of the Victorian AIDS Council 1986-7


    This is a free event.


    11:15 am – 1:15 pm, Sunday 20 July 2014

    Clarendon Auditorium, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

    2 Clarendon Street, South Wharf, Melbourne

    Register to reserve your place