I was still relatively new to Australia when I attended the 3rd National Conference on AIDS in August 1988. But I’d been there long enough to recognise that Australia had an unparalled, progressive strategy for tackling HIV/AIDS.
It was a strategy that had strong support from all political parties in the Australian party. Or so it seemed until the Shadow Health Minister, Wilson Tuckey, got up to address the conference.
Tuckey demonstrated what I believe is now called ‘the confidence of ignorance’ – that is, spouting ridiculous views with absolutely no real knowledge of the facts or issues. That he did so as Shadow Health Minister was, unsurprisingly, deeply distressing to audience members, who responded by heckling, walking out or turning their backs on him.
Tuckey began his speech by ‘congratulating’ the audience for their success in “promoting the political position of the homosexual commmunity and those associated with the AIDS problem.”
“It has become the politics of a special interest group and it has directed a lot of resources in areas that, I believe, are not the most effective in achieving a resolution to this particular problem.”
To underline his view that the AIDS agenda had been hijacked by a special interest group he declared:
“AIDS is very much a disease that results from deliberate and quite possibly unnatural activity.
You don’t catch AIDS, you let someone give it to you.”
What followed was the most extraordinary rant in which he attempted to prove his ‘special treatment’ theory. To do so, he made comparisons with the most bizarre mixture of cases imaginable. Referring to “other great problems that cost people their lives in the community” he compared people with HIV/AIDS to people with Yellow Fever, people accused of acts of violence and people subject to blood or breath tests because of motoring offences.
It was an extraordinary mish-mash of issues, cobbled together, it seemed, to support his case for compulsory HIV testing when blood is taken for any purpose whatsoever.
Why should people with HIV/AIDS remain anonymous when people accused of acts of violence have their names published “long before they are found guilty of any allegations”? Why should people suspected of drink-driving be made to give blood when people with HIV/AIDS aren’t? According to Tuckey, this was down to the special treatment we were receiving.
The premature publication of names of those accused of crimes is certainly unfair – but it has nothing to do with the treatment of people with HIVAIDS. And I’m guessing Tuckey was nowhere to be seen when newspapers routinely published names and addresses of people accused of the hideous crime of being queer?
Taking blood or urine samples from motorists is linked directly to evidence that shows a clear correlation between levels of intoxication and the risk of accidents. There are no demonstrable benefits from routine testing for HIV.
I think it’s arguable that Tuckey’s repeated reference to testing of motorists showed that he was more concerned about ‘motorists rights’ than those of people with HIV/AIDS. His closing remarks to the audience were:
“It is your responsibility as much as anybody else’s to convince Australians that there is no difference in death by AIDS than death by car accident as the effect of, say, a drunken driver.”
He was removed from post a month later.