Meet the David Kernohan, the new boss at the WA AIDS Council

David Kernohan has joined the WA AIDS Council as its new Chief Executive. Kernohan has held senior executive roles in the not-for-profit sector in Western Australia for over 20 years, most recently as CEO of the Mental Health Law Centre (WA).

The new head honcho caught up with OUTinPerth and shared his hopes for the WA AIDS Council in the future.  

What attracted you to this role?

I like a challenge, but I think it was the sense of coming into an organisation that working, and working well, and just taking it to the next level.

A lot of my previous roles have been going into organisations that needed a lot work to get them to where they should be. Coming into the AIDS Council, it’s an organisation that has been working effectively, but we really have to preposition ourselves as we move into the era of competitive tendering.

Your background is very diverse, you have experience in mental health and the legal area, which is interesting because health issues don’t happen in isolation from other factors.

The whole area of sexual health is impacted by our mental health, alcohol and drugs and all that kind of thing. There are similarities to the areas I’ve worked in previously.     

What do you think the role of the AIDS Council is in 2017, as we move past the organisation’s 30 year mark. What is the AIDS Council here to do in the future?

I think it is all about health promotion in a very holistic sense. Coming out of that history, how do we meet the needs of the various groups in the community, not just the LGBTQI community but the broader community as well, because the incidence of HIV is increasing in heterosexual men. So it’s about how we meet the needs of these different groups and provide the information which is going to allow them to make choices about their sexual behaviour.     

Do you think most people don’t realise how diverse the work of the AIDS Council is across different community groups?

I think so, we need to help the broader community to know our footprint, because I don’t think people do know. I mean I wasn’t aware, I’m as guilty as the next person of being fully aware of what the AIDS Council does, for example things like the schools program, or with mobile populations or the Freedom Centre. The service the council provide are broad. We do struggle against the perception that we just provide services for specific groups, or just provide counselling rather than more broader issues.

The WA AIDS Council has been accused in the past of being an organisation that lacks representation from positive people, it’s been described as moving too slowly and of being personality driven. How do you go about tackling those criticisms, are they justified?

I think it’s about setting up ways of communication can occur, I think there is a sense that because of the diverse groups that the council provides service to, that you can’t just focus on one particular group, so you need to set up structures and processes so you can hear and be engaged with different groups.  

I think a challenge for a lot of non-for-profit organisations is that there is a tenancy to be driven by a team in charge at a particular time, it really is these days about acknowledging that you might be a non-for-profit. But you actually have to run as a business. That means you have to make sure there are processes in place so the brand continues, despite the personalities.  

The WA AIDS Council conducts a wide range of activities, most people would be unaware of the breadth of its operations. Is there any aspect of its work that you think has run its course and no longer needs to be serviced?

Well it’s only five weeks since I began. I’m sure there are things that we’ve been doing in the past that we can do more effectively in the future.

The two things I’ve sort of been saying to staff as we move forward over the next twelve months is to reflect on what have we been doing in the past, and how do we do it more efficiently in the future.

One of the challenges we will face is a reduction in funding. So we need to work out how do we provide service in a more efficient manner, so in the era of reduced funding we can still produce good results and have an impact.

One of the challenges of the HIV sector is finding new ways to have to create awareness, often finding new ways to have the same conversation. What are the things we should be talking about in the HIV conversation in 2017, is it all about PrEP or are their other things that need to be discussed? 

PrEP is understandably the biggest thing, but there is as you say, a risk that if we see PrEP as the answer that can be a short sighted approach.

Certainly PrEP is an answer that is useful, but I think there are broader issues in terms of people’s sexual health. PrEP won’t stop the incidence syphilis and gonorrhea.

It’s about how we have those discussion about HIV, STDs and other blood borne viruses in an era where people do become relaxed because they think there are ways to avoid it, it is a challenge.

We have to ask ourselves do we really know what people within the LGBTI community know about HIV, or are we making assumptions.  To be effective in terms of our messaging we really have to listen to the broader community in terms of what are their issues.

Friday December 1st is World AIDS Day. 

Graeme Watson

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Graeme Watson

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