The new model of community sector funding is burning it’s way through LGBTI organisations, threatening to destroy much accumulated wisdom and expertise. It will only strengthen the tendency of the Commonwealth to see, not an LGBTI People, but a collection of LGBTI Problems.
It’s left Rob Lake, retiring Executive Director of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO), feeling frustrated at funding that’s restricted to single short-term projects.
“It’s hard to keep a stable core when you’re constantly skimming off the top of these non-recurring programs. We’ll probably end up with about half our current funding, possibly 60%.”
They have not fared quite as badly as some. The Department of Health says AFAO got “only a little less” from them, but AFAO also lost Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade funding for programs in Bangkok and Papua New Guinea (they are currently working on replacement funding for new overseas programmes, from the Global Fund To Fight AIDS).
Rumours abounded that Rob resigned as soon as he heard of the cuts, but he says that’s not true.
“I was due to finish up in June anyway, so I’m leaving, but that’s partly because we want to put some of the restructuring stuff in place before the first of July, when everything happens. That’s when AFAOs biggest contract ends, which is the Gay Men’s Prevention contract, which funds really all of our policy work, like HIV Australia, all of our media works, policy work and campaign work.“
What really concerns AFAO is that the new funding model reduces their ability to develop policies and to advocate for them. Quite where the government plans to get policy advice on AIDS/HIV, if not from the AIDS peak body, isn’t altogether clear. This slash and burn treatment may produce short term gains, but is likely to create long term woes.
The picture that emerges is of the government developing and deciding policies, and then looking around for community groups to carry those policies into effect. And do nothing else.
“[The government’s] main interest is in funding activity rather than policy. We funded all of that – HIV Australia [magazine], conferences, etc. – from [the Gay Men’s Prevention Contract], but now the contract basically says, we have to do x number of campaigns on gay men’s prevention, and that’s it. So what we’re looking at now is, how do we maintain our capacity to do policy work, particularly to initiate policy work? [The government’s] current thinking is, they fund us to answer their questions when they ask them. The things they don’t ask us (they seem to be saying), are not their priority: they’re our priority. We always will respond to government stuff, but we have other things we want to think about, we have other things we want to talk about.”
Describing the cuts as ‘significant’, Rob says the challenge now is to restructure AFAO in such a way that the policy work can continue. He maintains this is essential, in a time when testing, rapid testing PreP and treatment as prevention are all rolling out.
“A lot is going on in terms of trying to use new research to get the results, particularly on reducing HIV infections. For these things to unroll properly we need to have a back and forth dialogue about how it’s going, what the problems are.That’s why we are so concerned about our capacity to have input. That’s what the big push is for us.”
Right now AFAO is on tenterhooks hoping their tender for the Gay Men’s Prevention contract has been successful, and a little apprehensive about the possible terms of the contract.
All this upheaval is only the symptom of a much deeper issue, one that isn’t even on the radar. We are not recognized as a distinct people, says Rob. We do not appear in the statistics as a specific category. As a result, the only way we can manage to grab the attention of politicians and bureaucrats is to have a Big Problem.
The original Big Problem was, of course, HIV/AIDS. To this has now been added Mental Health and its close associate, Bullying. These have all proved useful ways of attracting attention and funding, but it does mean we are always seen as Problems which need to be Solved, We’re always having to present as sick, or troubled, or damaged in order to get attention, and it’s demeaning. We need to be fully recognised as a People and a culture. This, I might add, is why winning marriage equality is so important.
Rob is not alone in this analysis: one person even called the lack of recognition “a crime against our community”.
“We should have special status as a community, because for at least 200 years we’ve been denied equality, putting us a long way behind the eight ball. In fact, we should be over-equal for a time, until we catch up. Peak bodies like AIDS Councils, one trans organization, and so on, these all ought to have permanent recurring funding for their basic operations.”
There have been Ministers for Women, Ministers for Indigenous Australians. Until Abbott took office, there was a longstanding Department for Social Inclusion, but it never included us. But there has never been a Minister for LGBTI – except in Victoria. And even there, the state government squibs it, by calling Martin Foley the Minister for ‘Diversity’, and making it a part time role.
Meanwhile the Commonwealth offers less money, less respect, less support, and leaves us all to burn.
Previously in this series: