Senator Dean Smith pays tribute to two leaders in Australia’s response to HIV

This speech was delivered on Wednesday 14 February 2018 by Senator Dean Smith in Parliament.


Before I begin, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that my speech contains the name of a deceased person.

In times of uncertainty, leaders reveal themselves. They do not walk a path already set out for them. They pave the road themselves with the boldness and the measuredness of their actions. Australia has emerged as a world leader in addressing the impact of HIV and AIDS. We’ve certainly come a long way on this journey, from being the home of the Grim Reaper to pioneering management treatment and response. Indeed, leaders in this field are confident Australia could well be the first country to virtually end the transmission of HIV. Significantly, we may be on the cusp of achieving the ambitious 90-90-90 goal introduced by UNAIDS less than five years ago. The most recent development of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee—just in the last few days—recommending PrEP be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme is welcome news for those at risk of HIV in our country. For that and so many other achievements we should be proud.

But we know there is much work yet to be done. No-one understood this more than two trailblazers we recently lost, Levinia Crooks and Neville Fazulla, whose focus and optimism have been instrumental in Australia’s success as a leader in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Much has been said about the late, great Levinia Crooks. She was adjunct associate professor and CEO of the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine for almost 20 years. When you talk to those who knew Levinia or even knew of her, the word ‘visionary’ is used a great deal. She threw herself into learning about, researching and taking action on HIV and AIDS in the 1980s at a time when people were afraid for their lives. Levinia, all the while, must have known there was hope on the horizon—a visionary indeed. Levinia was a well-acknowledged and tireless advocate whose compassion and determination not only guided but propelled her into effecting change. She had an uncanny ability to bring people together and collaborated for the best possible result. Her boundless support for those living with HIV and ongoing engagement with doctors and healthcare providers ensured that Australians were able to not only manage their health and wellbeing but enjoy life. Importantly, she pushed the debate in directions that led to outcomes.

Levinia, sadly, passed away in October last year, but her incomparable contribution to Australia’s response to HIV/AIDS and sexual health continues to inspire and lead many of us. Because of her activism and her actions, we can continue to address sexual health issues in our country without fear.

Another giant in the response to HIV and AIDS was Neville Fazulla. For three decades, Neville Fazulla was at the front line of advocacy. He fought tirelessly for people living with HIV, campaigned for a community response and was a proud representative for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In living his life openly as a man with HIV, he was an inspiration to so many whose fears of stigma and discrimination often prevented them from getting tested or seeking treatment. Neville Fazulla was a champion for self-management and the implementation of self-management programs, so people could be independent, self-sufficient and confident about their quality of life.

Neville was, importantly, a vital voice in Australia’s conversation about HIV and its impact on Indigenous communities, notably through his work as Chair of the Anwernekenhe National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HIV/AIDS Alliance and Anwernekenhe conferences. He was a founding member of the steering committee for the all-important Anwernekenhe I, in 1994, the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander gay men and transgender sexual health conference ever held in our country.

We lost Neville last month. As the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations eloquently phrased it, ‘The magnitude of Neville’s contribution is impossible to capture and will be felt for years to come.’ As chair of the parliamentary liaison group for HIV/AIDS, blood-borne viruses and sexually transmitted infections, I wanted to acknowledge the indelible mark that both Levinia and Neville have left on a community that regarded them so highly—two warriors for whom the fight against HIV/AIDS was defining and, in so many respects, personal. In remembering them, let us think what we can do.