Thursday, 9 February 2023
David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan) (17:41): (32) My adjournment matter today is for the Premier, and the action I seek is consideration of a state funeral for Emeritus Professor David Penington. On 6 January this year the world lost a great person who made an enormous contribution to this state. Professor Penington spent most of his 92 years on this earth in Victoria, and over his long life he has saved countless lives and transformed our health system on so many levels for the better.
Professor Penington had a long and distinguished association with the University of Melbourne: 17 years as professor of medicine, eight as dean of the faculty of medicine and eight as vice-chancellor, from 1988 to 1995. As dean of medicine, he developed new approaches to undergraduate medical education and made access to medical school a possibility for socially and educationally disadvantaged students, including refugees, principally from Vietnam. He really was a visionary.
From 1983 Professor Penington led Australia’s response to HIV and AIDS. He was chair of the National AIDS Task Force, and his tireless efforts over many years helped to make Australia a world leader in HIV/AIDS public health strategies and in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic. While he is widely credited for the Grim Reaper campaign, I think his biggest achievement at the time was changing Australia’s response to drug use. Without him we would not have had needle exchanges, in Australia or around the world. Without him countless people would have contracted and died from HIV.
He continued to be one of Australia’s leading public intellectuals and health experts. He courageously advocated for sensible drug policy, publicly and politically, as the chair of Premier Kennett’s Drug Advisory Council and Premier Bracks’s Drug Policy Expert Committee. In 2014 when he was awarded Victorian of the Year he said:
We’ve got to find better ways to handle illicit drugs … The reality is that prohibition just hasn’t worked for 100 years and the problems are getting worse. We need to talk about drugs as a health issue …
We honour many great people who have done wonderful things for Victorians and for Victoria. Professor Penington’s legacy to Victoria and his commitment to improving the lives of Victorians should also be recognised. I believe that a state funeral for this brilliant and compassionate Victorian is the least we can do to acknowledge this extraordinary person.