Friday, December 01, 2006

Self-loathing Melbourne homosexual finds convenient Sydney scapegoat

Yes, Melbourne vs Sydney rivalry is a pretty tired cliché, but GenY ingénue and Melburnian John Heard today manages to milk it a little bit more. In honour of World Aids Day he’s penned an OpEd bemoaning Sydney gay men as a bunch of deliberate or reckless HIV-seroconverters.

The stats, on the other hand, plainly put Melbourne gay men at the centre of a second-wave HIV epidemic, which started in 2000. (Note that this link doesn’t have NSW stats – I’ll look these up later, but from memory, while NSW is also having a second-wave HIV epidemic, its stats here are materially lower than Victoria’s (i.e. Melbourne’s).

I’m in complete agreement with John Heard that – S&M rivalry aside – Australia’s second-wave HIV epidemic should be gay activists’ national number one priority. But John alone seems to be saying: Not In My Backyard. Or “back passage”, as Julian Clary would put it.

Update: NSW stats

HIV-seroconversion stats for NSW have been surprisingly hard to find online. This recent SMH report, citing 954 seroconversions in 2005 would seem to be a wild over-statement.

For whatever reason, the NSW Health Department also gives a misleading, but this time understated figure, of 124 “newly acquired” (whatever that means) serconversions in 2004 (PDF). A more plausible, and certainly less qualified figure is that there were 1,494 notifications of people “testing positive for the first time” in NSW between 2000 and 2003 inclusive (same URL). Thus, allowing for a moderate upwards tapering, there were about 450 notified seroconversions in NSW in 2003. (A figure of 412 for 2003 is given here.)

Admittedly, this number considerably exceeds Victoria’s latest full-year (2005) figure of 286 notifications. But as I’ve said, Victoria is on track for 450-500 HIV seroconversions in 2006. NSW, in contrast, would seem to have a less steep, or maybe even downwards taper for the years 2004-2006. Notifications among gay men, at least, actually decreased in the 2004 year.

As to what NSW’s actual 2005 stats were, I’d love to know. Meanwhile, government collection agencies cavil and waffle with “newly acquired” pseudo-statistics.

Paul, just quickly and because I wouldn't want a Newmaniac to persist in error:

I am surprised that you picked up a Sydney v Melbourne rivalry angle - none was intended.

I used the Sydney figures because it was a short piece and I couldn't mention every city.

Any increase is a worry, I would never let minor parochialisms (which I don't subscribe to anyway, I love Sydney) impact what should be a united approach.

Best wishes mate,

- JH

I realise I theatrically overplayed the Sydney v Melbourne rivalry thing. Unlike you, I take what is happening in my own backyard very personally. Admittedly it is my Melburnian age-group, not yours, which is at the epicentre of HIV's second-wave in Australia.

(The graph in Figure 3 here suggests a Matterhorn-steep slope in HIV notifications by age (in NSW), on either side of Xer men (born between 1963 and 1976)).

Also, I've since realised that the SMH's "954" figure is presumably a *national* one, masquerading as NSW-specific. Typical Sydney!
Hi Paul,

National surveillance reports are available from the National Centre for HIV Epidemiology & Clinical Research (NCHECR) at

Victorian surveillance reports are available through IDEAS on the DHS website at

I've just added your blog to a new blog I'm starting up, called "Bad Blood", about HIV prevention in Victoria. Would love it if you felt like commenting, once I've got a steady stream of articles going.


Daniel Reeders
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