The review

A team of three consultants was engaged to conduct a systematic review of the VAC/GMHC organisational structure, culture and systems with a view to making the organisation more cohesive and cooperative. Over a period of three months, the consultants reviewed the organisation in action, meeting with individuals and groups, as well as reading written submissions and hosting public forums to better understand the aims of the various programs, day-to-day management and conflicts. After 400 hours of investigation and reporting, the consultants produced their final report in July 1996.15 Their recommendations included that the VAC/GMHC and the Positive Living Centre (PLC) be co-located, and that PLWA Victoria – by this time known as PLWHA Victoria16 – become an independent organisation, resulting in its establishment as the definitive state-wide advocacy and representative body for positive people. This latter recommendation was voted for unanimously by the new VAC/GMHC Management Committee in May 1997.17 A redevelopment of the internal programs of the VAC/GMHC was also recommended and implemented over the following two years. The six programs were restructured into three core programs: Community Education, Client Services and HIV Services.18

The process for establishing PLWHA Victoria as an independent organisation was begun, as recommended by the review, and a memorandum of understanding between PLWHA Victoria and the VAC/GMHC was signed in 1998.19 It was a difficult transition for PLWHA Victoria, which felt cheated, having resources taken away and its budget cut back. As well as this, the removal of the PLC to be co-located with the VAC/GMHC left many PLWHA members upset. While there was acknowledgment that managing and running the PLC had limited the organisation’s ability to focus on advocacy, the proposal made by the review left them unhappy. David Menadue remembers, ‘we wanted a Peer Support Officer and a Treatments Officer and a decent budget to work with, [but] for a while we worked with very little and our relations with VAC/GMHC management were strained’.20

The review also recommended changes to the rules about the composition of the Board. After the review, the Board, which had included program managers as well as the VAC/GMHC management committee members, became officially restructured as the Board of Directors.21 David Menadue recalls:

We brought in a review and a whole lot of things were changed, particularly the composition of the Board. They decided to get rid of program managers so you wouldn’t have these people fighting for resources all the time; they’d have guaranteed positive people on the Board, which was great; it was all about trying to reduce the stress that was happening in governance and make the organisation a lot more functional.22

The consultants recommended that members of the Board be elected from the general membership and not include program managers, and the role of the Board change from that of management to governance, focusing on guidance and direction of the organisation rather than day-to-day operations. A Chief Executive Officer (CEO) was appointed to oversee all of the organisational changes. Susan Harben took up office as the VAC/GMHC’s first CEO in April 1997.

Bill O’Loughlin was President of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) in 1996, and that year was asked to give the Keith Harbour Memorial Address at the VAC/GMHC Annual General Meeting. While praising the incredible work achieved in Victoria by the VAC/GMHC over the years, he warned:

The future remains precarious. The VAC/GMHC review recommendations call for profound change and this must be captured in the spirit we use to implement them.23

The VAC/GMHC and PLWHA Victoria worked hard to implement and engage with the recommendations of the review. Despite disagreements between individuals and groups, every staff, volunteer and community member had good intentions and wanted the best result for the HIV/AIDS and gay communities. In the 1997 Annual Report, President Joseph O’Reilly wrote:

The willingness with which we have embraced widespread organisational change augurs well for a dynamic, relevant and effective community organisation responding to the challenges of AIDS in the late 90s.24


References


Bill OLoughlin

Bill O’Loughlin, an early AIDS Mate and the first GMHC counsellor. In the 1996 Keith Harbour Memorial Address he praised the incredible work achieved in Victoria by the VAC/GMHC, but warned that the future remained precarious.

Phil Carswell