Virtual address at World AIDS Day breakfast

  • Speech (check against delivery)
Subjects: Australian Government support to AFAO.

Good morning, Brendan, and thank you very much for your warm introduction.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners and custodians of the very many lands on which we are meeting virtually today. I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.

It is always a great pleasure to address this distinguished gathering — the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, the National Association of People with HIV Australia, the Pacific Friends of Global Health, many, many other groups and distinguished leaders in the HIV response — and of course, my parliamentary colleagues of the Parliamentary Friends Group.

Thank you so much, those of you who have been charged with the responsibility of making this happen, despite the challenges of COVID-19 and social distancing. It does feel strange, though, and I miss the opportunity to see so many of you here in person today. It also is an opportunity for me to acknowledge my parliamentary colleagues, my Cabinet colleague, Greg Hunt, as well as Shadow Ministers Penny Wong and Chris Bowen. As we have observed in the past, this really is a cause and a focus that brings everyone together.

The national theme for World AIDS Day this year is particularly apt: ‘Now More than Ever’. So much has changed since we met to mark World AIDS Day in 2019. And COVID-19 has, unavoidably, taken so much collective energy in 2020, and that does have the potential to threaten many of our hard fought gains in other areas, including against HIV/AIDS.

We know it has had a disproportionate impact on marginalised parts of the community — people with disability, women — and increased and also exacerbated gender-based violence. And we also unfortunately know that the increased risk of HIV exposure linked to domestic violence is of concern and in some places we've seen resources diverted away from HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

I think it is timely to remind ourselves today that HIV/AIDS was the pandemic of the 1980s in many ways and, now more than ever, it is important to reflect on the lessons and experience of the HIV response, and particularly the community-centred model that has been at its core.

We can draw real strength from the simple fact that there are few communities more resilient and better prepared to combat a viral threat than those that live with HIV every day. These communities move quickly to protect the most vulnerable and to harness their decades of experience and knowledge. They have met this colliding pandemic with dedication and innovation, embracing new ways of working and engaging.

To each and every one of you, thank you. You’re a big part of the progress we've made, and that Australia has been proud to support in reducing new HIV infections and the AIDS mortality rate. As Brendan has alluded to, Australia is a long-term supporter of global and regional action to combat HIV/AIDS. We are closely engaging UNAIDS on HIV prevention in our region, and the next global AIDS strategy.

And I am very pleased to announce today that Australia will co-facilitate the upcoming UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS with Namibia. The HIV/AIDS movement has a strong history of mobilising political engagement, and we look forward to continuing this tradition and working with AFAO and others to particularly support civil society engagement in this process, and to emphasise the importance of community centred response.

Friends, civil society is also critical to the success of the Global Fund. The Australian Government was proud to pledge $242 million for the 2019 replenishment of the Global Fund. And on 14 November, just a couple of weeks ago, the Prime Minister announced that the $24.2 million set aside from our contribution will be directed to provide technical assistance to countries in our region so that they are able to maximise the impact of the Global Fund investments, focussing on two critical areas of need — HIV prevention and strengthening of laboratories that are testing for HIV, TB and malaria, as well as COVID-19. Over the next three years, Australia will invest over $11.5 million to accelerate HIV prevention activities in the region at this critical juncture, including enhancing local capacity to scale up prevention for key populations. We want to make SDG3.3 a reality.

So colleagues and friends, thank you for coming together in this virtual way this morning. Now, more than ever, we do need to keep our attention and our energy focused on this cause and I look forward to continuing to being a part of that and to working with you all. Thank you very much for having us.

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