D-Day: advocacy and the Baume Review

While the VAC/GMHC and PLWA Victoria both had a strong focus on advocating for the rights of positive people and the wider gay community, they saw themselves as quite distinct from the political activism of the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, better known as ACT UP, which formed in Melbourne in May 1990.51 ACT UP was particularly focused on the right of HIV positive people to easy access to new treatments. Its frustration over the government’s refusal to speed up the lengthy and complicated process of approving new drug treatments – despite the increasing number of people dying from AIDS and the recommendations of the Australian National Council on AIDS (ANCA) – led to the ‘D-Day’ protests of 6 June 1991.52 ANCA had recommended fast-tracking the approval of experimental drug treatments by accepting approved pharmaceuticals imported from Britain and America, without the requirement of Australian trials. Health Minister Brian Howe did not accept the recommendations and, in frustration, ACT UP members staged radical protests across the country, using the letter ‘D’ to represent the words deaths, drugs, delays and deadline.53 In Canberra, ACT UP activists famously abseiled onto the floor at Parliament House while Minister Howe spoke during question time, and the floral clock in Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Gardens was made into a miniature cemetery, with flowers from the garden beds ripped out and replaced with wooden crosses.54

ACT UP, the VAC/GMHC and PLWA all worked to raise the profile of the HIV positive community and ACT UP played a hugely important role in drawing attention to issues that were of concern to the VAC/GMHC and PLWA, such as treatment access. However, while ACT UP focused on radical, confrontational protest action, PLWA and the VAC/GMHC made it a priority to present themselves as responsible organisations that could be relied upon to be part of serious discussions with government health departments and committees. David Menadue recalls that although the VAC/GMHC and PLWA agreed with much of what ACT UP was advocating, it was felt that becoming significantly linked with ACT UP could jeopardise their funding arrangements. When Keith Harbour was arrested on the steps of the Victorian Parliament House in 1990 during an ACT UP protest, his involvement ‘was as an individual, not as a representative’ of PLWA or VAC.55

For Phil Carswell, a fundamental aspect of the success of AIDS activists of that era was their determination to take AIDS issues to the Health Minister and not back down until a solution was agreed on.56 ACT UP’s D-Day protests and continued lobbying by other AIDS organisations led Minister Howe to commission another review of Australia’s drug regulation system, known as the Baume Review. Produced by Professor Peter Baume, a former Federal Health Minister and professor of community medicine at the University of New South Wales, the review was released in July 1991 and proved much more acceptable to the Australian government than the earlier recommendations of ANCA had been. The Baume Review did not endorse ANCA’s recommendation that approved treatments from overseas be accepted in Australia, but suggested that clinical trials in Australia be significantly expanded and that a limited time frame be put in place for the Therapeutic Goods Administration to adhere to when approving new treatments. Minister Howe accepted these recommendations and began a process of significant overhaul of the system of pharmaceutical regulation.57 This was a major triumph for AIDS organisations across the country, demonstrating what their intense lobbying could achieve in terms of influencing governments to bring about real change. VAC/GMHC President Tony Keenan reported that the release of the Baume Review ‘saw the efforts of a long and hard campaign come to fruition. Whilst there are still some concerns about the implementation of the recommendations, the report signals a significant victory for people living with AIDS/HIV’.58


References


D-Day protest Flinders Street

D-Day protests of 6 June 1991 when members of ACT UP staged radical protests across the country, using the letter ‘D’ to represent the words deaths, drugs, delays and deadline. Protestors at Flinders Street Station.

Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

D-Day protest Floral clock

Melbourne’s floral clock is transformed into a miniature cemetery.

Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives

Keith Harbour arrest 1991

Keith Harbour arrested on the steps of Parliament House during an ACT UP demonstration in 1990.

Living Positive Victoria

D-Day protest Parliament House

ACT UP members protesting outside Parliament House in Canberra on D-Day, 6 June 1991. VAC/GMHC HIV Education Officer Bill Hathaway is pictured far right.

Photograph by Jamie Dunbar

Phil Carswell, Brian Howe, Caroline Hogg

Phil Carswell with Federal Health Minister Brian Howe and Victorian Health Minister Caroline Hogg at a quilt unfolding ceremony.

Phil Carswell