The Norfolk Island government has issued invitations to representatives from welfare and rights organisations to discuss last Thursday’s parliamentary motion to ban HIV-positive people from visiting or living on the island.

Anti-Discrimination Board president Chris Puplick and Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) executive director Don Baxter have confirmed that they are amongst those invited to the island this month.

According to Puplick, the meeting should open discussions on principles relating to the national HIV and hepatitis C strategies and how the issues of exclusion and discrimination relating to the motion are in breach of government policies.

However, both Puplick and Baxter told Sydney Star Observer that logistical problems in reaching the island means they are still considering the government’s invitation.

Norfolk Island Legislative Assembly member John Brown last Thursday put forward the motion to deny people living with HIV as well as people living with hepatitis B or C an entry permit to the island, which is located 1,600km north-east of Sydney.

Brown has so far defended the motion, telling the media that the plan is a response to Norfolk Island’s poor health care system, which cannot cope with serious diseases due to a lack of facilities.

Puplick was cautious about the validity of Brown’s argument on the island’s health care system, rejecting the MLA’s motion as discriminatory, but pointing to the federal government as being ultimately responsible for the situation.

There is some degree of sympathy for Norfolk Island regarding their health care system. People there are not entitled to Medicare coverage and they also don’t have rights to drugs subsidised under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, Puplick said. That is a central issue. At the end of the day, the responsibility for this situation must be accepted by the federal government.

[However] I think John Brown’s motion is unnecessary. It is discriminatory and contrary to policy so I would hope it does not succeed in the Norfolk Island assembly. If it does I would hope that the island’s administrator would withhold his consent and if that did not occur, then the federal government should kill that legislation off.

Baxter said that AFAO would generally advise people living with HIV, hepatitis C or B to think very carefully about moving to the island because of its poor health care system. On the other hand we don’t accept that Norfolk Island should be allowed to have a policy that singles out people with HIV and Hep B and C as not being allowed to live there, Baxter said

This is a case of prejudice disguised as a public health argument. If it is a real public health argument then they [the Norfolk Island government] would be applying these sorts of restrictions to all sorts of conditions and indeed even age, which they are not doing.

The Norfolk Island government will discuss Brown’s proposals in parliament next month. If the motion is passed, Puplick has voiced his intention to call on the federal government to disallow the legislation on the grounds that it is discriminatory.

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