Strategic planning and review

While the VAC/GMHC leapt into developing a rapid and determined response to the rise in HIV infections, the organisation also began to develop a strategic vision to prepare for the tasks and challenges that surely lay ahead. As a result of the 1996 review and restructure, the VAC/GMHC became much more aware of the need to continually review its structures, processes and priorities. The development of successive strategic plans over the following decade allowed the organisation to ensure its activities remained relevant and effective in the context of a changing HIV epidemic. This became a running theme and a real focus of the organisation from 2000, under the leadership of Mike Kennedy. As Executive Director for eleven years from 1999, Kennedy had a particularly significant impact on the VAC/GMHC, ‘helping to get the finances in order, sufficient resources for previously under-funded programs and leading many HIV-related advocacy issues on a state and national level’.28

Spirits were high in 2000 with the election of a Labor state government after many years of tough economic times under the previous Kennett Liberal government. However, the VAC/GMHC soon found itself in a position that was strikingly reminiscent of the peak of the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s and early 1990s: they simply could not continue to meet increasing demand without additional funding. And so began a period of intensified government lobbying. ‘Urgent negotiations’ were held with the Department of Human Services (DHS) in 2003 and the VAC/GMHC was successful in obtaining sufficient funding to avoid having to reduce any services; but budgetary issues remained a major priority of the Board.29

In light of rising HIV notifications, the Ministerial Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and Related Diseases (MACAHRD) suggested that the Department of Human Services conduct a review of the VAC/GMHC programs that it was providing funding for, to ensure that an appropriate mix of services was being provided to respond effectively to the increase. Planning for the formulation of the next strategic vision for the VAC/GMHC was put on hold in 2003 while this review was carried out. It involved a five stage process, including a series of public consultations and discussions with stakeholders.30

The review recognised the changing environment within which the VAC/GMHC was working. Sexually transmissible infections were on the increase, especially among gay men, more people were living with HIV/AIDS in Victoria than ever before, and demand for services was increasing while funding had simultaneously been in decline over several years. The review strongly endorsed positive comments made by many stakeholders about the VAC/GMHC and its essential role in the Victorian response to the epidemic. A total of 35 recommendations were made, which were broadly consistent with the VAC/GMHC’s submission to the review. However, the response from DHS to two of the recommendations – essentially, those requiring increased funding – was considered seriously inadequate by the VAC/GMHC. DHS did not agree with the recommendation to provide an annual capital grant to the VAC/GMHC to contribute to ongoing maintenance costs for the Peter Knight Centre, nor was funding forthcoming for the VAC/GMHC to put a greater focus on HIV prevention and expand its activities in that area. While DHS recognised that this was crucial to an effective response to the epidemic, it would not support expansion of the VAC/GMHC’s prevention initiatives without reducing funding for programs providing support to people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs), which were experiencing increasing demand.31

This stalemate situation was to continue for the next few years, with the VAC/GMHC continuing to lobby government for further financial support for expanding prevention initiatives, while maintaining support for PLWHAs. In 2006, the Board announced ‘finally, our lobbying efforts for a more strategic approach to planning and funding in the HIV sector in Victoria seem to be paying off’.32 DHS agreed to a project to develop a model of care and access pathways for HIV support services. What’s more, the Health Minister announced more than $1 million in additional funding, recurring over three years, ‘to scale up the HIV prevention response in Victoria’.33 This extra funding allowed the Health Promotion Program to develop prevention campaigns reaching a much broader audience and also allowed for the implementation of the department’s Gay Men’s STI/HIV Prevention Plan, which aimed to provide an integrated model for HIV service provision across the state.34


Mike Kennedy

As Executive Director for eleven years from 1999–2010, Mike Kennedy (right) had a significant impact on the VAC/GMHC, obtaining much-needed resources and leading HIV-related advocacy issues on a state and national level.


20 years 2

Celebrating 20 years of the VAC in December 2004. Phil Carswell, David Menadue, Michael Bartos and Kevin Guiney.


20 years 1

20 years on. Phil Carswell (second from left) and Bill O’Loughlin (third from left) celebrate 20 years of the VAC in December 2004.