The controversy around the defunding of Queensland Association of Healthy Communities (QAHC) is back. 108 pages of internal emails from Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg’s office have come into the stirrer’s possession. Reading these emails is an interesting experience. It’s a unique look into the inner-workings of one of the state’s largest organisations: Queensland Health.
It isn’t surprising that the emails show health minister Lawrence Springborg cowering behind his apparatchiks, who deliberately scheduled meetings with QAHC for when the minister was “away”. After all, who wouldn’t be a little nervous about meeting the organisation whose death warrant they had just signed? Who wouldn’t be somewhat apprehensive about meeting the head of the only organisation in the country having success in preventing new HIV infections, just after arbitrarily defunding them?
Contrast this with the treatment of Mark Coleridge, Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane. He wrote an email to all LNP officials demanding that the government “protect marriage” from those icky gays, and within four days scored a meeting with Attorney General Jarrod Bleijie and Queensland Premier Campbell Newman. The very next day, Newman introduced surprise legislation to rollback civil unions. The Act passed the day after that, and presumably on the seventh day Coleridge rested.
“Conservative government ignores separation of church and state” is hardly something to stop the presses. Nor is it shocking that the emails outline a cynical (yet ultimately abortive) land-grab by the Queensland Government, looking at ways to gain possession of QAHC’s office building in Brisbane, which was reputedly bought with bequests from AIDS victims.
To my mind the most shocking revelation is that Queensland’s senior health bureaucrats don’t know what thongs are. Yes, that’s right, and in Queensland no less: the state that distinguishes between casual thongs and the more formal double-pluggers (see footnote), the health department is run by people so out of touch with normal Queenslanders that they don’t know what the state’s official shoe is.
Once I recovered from my astonishment I noticed something worse: the correspondence implies that the ministerial decision to defund QAHC was made on the spur of the moment. We know that QAHC was defunded without warning, without community consultation, or even any thought as to its replacement. These emails lend circumstantial credence to the boasts of sex-on-premises venue owner, Ray Makereth, who publicly claimed that he personally convinced Minister Springborg to defund QAHC after a short discussion.
The emails also show that more effort was put into devising a media strategy so as not to appear anti-gay or wantonly cost-cutting than went into thinking about the spread of HIV. In fact, the media strategy ignores the drop in the HIV infection rate among gay men (the people QAHC was funded to work with), in favour of publicising the stellar increase in HIV rates in straight women (a group QAHC was not contracted to work with), in order to justify tearing up QAHC’s funding agreements.
We’ve uploaded these emails so you can read them for yourself. At their most basic they are correspondence between the Minister’s office and the health department. As you would expect from public servants, they are incredibly boring and take great pains to hide their meaning, but they instructive in what isn’t said (and what’s been redacted).
There was no review of the services and programs QAHC provided. There was no public health reasoning behind the decision to defund QAHC. The staffers even indicate that there was no point in having any discussions with QAHC about anything. In fact, the only plan they seemed to have was the media plan to sell the defunding decision by misleading the public.
Frankly, I’m not sure if Springborg cares about HIV, public safety or saving lives. Absent policy reasons or any performance management processes that you’d expect to see to justify defunding the only organisation in the country that was having any success in preventing HIV infections, what’s left to explain the decision? Discomfort about the reality that there are gay people? Political revenge? Religious interference? Or is it as simple as the dire state of Queensland’s budget? But you think he would chose staff who know what thongs are.
The Stirrer’s editor insists that I explain the difference between single and double-pluggers. Rubber thongs (sometimes called ‘flip-flops’ or ‘jandals’) are usually made from two pieces – a sole and an upper. A thong is either a single or double plugger because of the number of connection points holding the upper to the sole.
A typical single-plugger looks like this:
While a typical double-plugger looks like this:
As you might imagine, double-pluggers are considered more formal (and classier) than single-pluggers. Some discerning Queenslanders will not own single-pluggers, however most other Queenslanders consider them snobby, “up themselves” or social-climbers. There are also triple-pluggers, however like Victorian morning dress, these are now only seen at the highest of occasions, like the unveiling of a new statue to Wally Lewis, or an induction at the Queensland Sporting Hall of Fame.