Former Queensland Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen reportedly tried to stop Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders from being screened for HIV because he believed the virus was a punishment from God.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Courier-Mail, Mike Ahern, who succeeded Sir Joh as premier in 1987, claimed his predecessor wanted infected Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders to remain untreated.
Mr Ahern, who served as health minister in Sir Joh’s Cabinet in 1987 before himself becoming premier, told the newspaper that health officials warned him privately that HIV-AIDS could wipe out entire communities in Queensland unless action was taken.
Former Queensland Premier Mike Ahern. Source: AAP
“Joh was aggressive towards me in relation to this,” Mr Ahern said.
“He felt that somehow or other God was punishing these people and I should leave it alone and let God look after his own. I said I can’t do that.”
Defying Sir Joh, Mr Ahern said he secretly ordered blood tests on Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders in Queensland, and a safe sex education program was implemented.
“There was no epidemic. And we saved hundreds of lives,” he told the newspaper.
Sir Joh served as Queensland premier from 1968 until 1987. He died in April 2005.