Thank you, good morning everyone and Tony thank you very much for your very generous acknowledgement and that very warm welcome. This is a long and very important association for me and I appreciate the honour you do me by inviting me to speak here again this morning.
May I also acknowledge Peter Sands, the Executive Director of the Global Fund and thank you Peter for joining us virtually today.
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet this morning for this Parliamentary breakfast, in my case, the land of the Ngunnawal people, and send my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
I also acknowledge my parliamentary colleagues who are participating this morning, my Ministerial colleagues, shadow Ministerial colleagues and the Chair and Deputy Chair of the Parliamentary Friends for Action on HIV/AIDS, Assistant Minister Tim Wilson and Senator Louise Pratt.
This is an important annual event. While this year is once again virtual and I did see Helen Evans post about zoom fatigue and I tend to agree, it is nevertheless always a pleasure to gather with distinguished leaders in the HIV response, together with our parliamentary colleagues.
We do gather in a notable milestone year.
As Peter Sands said, 2021 marks 40 years since the first cases of AIDS were officially reported, 25 years since UNAIDS was established and 20 years since the Global Fund was created.
We have seen remarkable progress during this time, and that includes in our neighbourhood.
In the Indo-Pacific region, AIDS-related deaths declined by 56% over the ten-year period from 2010.
This achievement is a testament to the hard work of countless people over these many decades, including many of you here today and many that we have lost and who we acknowledge and remember today.
Our Scientists, our health care workers, our activists, civil society groups, all working with governments to improve the lives of millions of people.
But there is much more work to be done and Peter your words this morning were very compelling and a very important reminder to us all, particularly your reinforcement of the importance of community, particularly your reminder of Australia’s long focus on community engagement. Also again, I thank Tony Kelleher for his acknowledgement of the world that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and indeed the Department of Health in Australia do in these areas.
We also know that the impact of COVID-19 on the HIV response is devastating.
It has disrupted HIV programs; it is exacerbating those inequalities that Peter spoke about that drive the HIV epidemic; and it is exposing the fragility of hard-fought and valuable gains.
We can see this in declines in HIV prevention and testing services, including the drop in the number of people who are being reached with HIV prevention programs.
It is sensible that in moving forward with the HIV response, we also need to address COVID-19 and its impacts in our region.
Our objective must also be to prevent health systems and workforces being diverted from broader health efforts.
In part, that is why Australia’s commitment to sharing 60 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines with countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific by the end of next year, we are also ensuring that we are backing in those health systems with support to provide them that structure around COVID vaccine delivery that will not detract from their own health system fundamentals.
We have a strong record as has been acknowledged, and I’m very grateful for those acknowledgements, of supporting the global HIV response. We also have a strong record in this country of which I’m proud of a bipartisan or non-partisan approach to these issues across our Parliament.
We have been a top contributor of core funding to UNAIDS over a long period, and our contribution to our Global Fund is at $920 million since inception.
I know what our standing work both organisations do and we are proud to support them.
I was pleased to affirm Australia’s resolute commitment to working with UNAIDS in my meeting with Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima, in Geneva in May of this year.
This year Australia and Namibia co-facilitated the Political Declaration adopted at the United Nations General Assembly High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS in June.
I particularly thank AFAO who joined Australia’s delegation and worked hard to support our engagement with civil society to ensure it was an integral part of the Declaration. It was a very, very good collaborative effort and I want to thank and acknowledge the efforts of all those involved.
The Declaration is a new global commitment on the way forward.
It puts human rights, science, and addressing inequalities at the centre of the HIV response.
We will be guided by the Declaration in responding to the challenges ahead and in how we maintain momentum in the HIV response.
In the Indo-Pacific region, we continue to work with UNAIDS to improve access to HIV prevention and testing services for vulnerable populations.
In Cambodia, in Indonesia, in Papua New Guinea and the Philippines this collaboration includes working with Government and civil society to support community-led organisations to improve prevention and testing services and address inequality, stigma, and discrimination that is faced by people living with HIV.
We are clear on what needs to be done and we have not and will not falter.
We are committed to continuing our work together to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
So to all our colleagues and my many friends, thank you for coming together this morning to demonstrate our unwavering commitment to meeting that goal.
I apologise that I am not able to stay for the entire meeting. Parliamentary commitments preclude that this morning, but my very best wishes and again my thanks for bringing together today’s meeting. Thank you.