Victorian Health Minister David Davis has announced the government will amend Section 19A of the state’s Crimes Act, which currently criminalises the transmission of HIV specifically, to ensure it is non-discriminatory.
Section 19A deals with people who intentionally cause another person to become infected with HIV, and has been the subject of a campaign for its repeal by Victorian HIV advocates. The law is widely considered to stigmatise people living with HIV, and is the only HIV-specific law in the country.
The announcement has elicited emotional responses from the community—when Victorian AIDS Council CEO Simon Ruth read the Health Minister’s comments at a concurrent pre-conference for the Global Forum on MSM and HIV the room cheered.
The commitment comes as part of a planned statement from all Australian health ministers, to be made later today, on “eliminating institutional barriers to the equal treatment of people living with HIV”.
Chair of the Victorian HIV Legal Working Group Paul Kidd told the Star Observer that while the repeal of 19A was a “largely symbolic” move, it would go a long way to addressing HIV stigma.
“The existence of HIV-specific criminal laws is something that sends a very clear message that HIV positive people are a threat to the community,” he said.
“We believe that removing that HIV-specific law is essential to addressing HIV stigma, and dealing with HIV stigma is what we need to do in order to eliminate HIV transmission.”
Kidd highlighted the importance of the consultation process moving forward on any amendments, and stressed the need for bipartisanship on the issue. Other advocates have also called on the opposition to support the move.
Executive officer of Living Positive Victoria Brent Allan told the Star Observer the announcement was a huge step forward for ending HIV stigma.
“For so many of us living with HIV the notion that we have to be fearful about being criminalised for disclosure or not disclosure, whether transmission occurs, has really enforced stigma across so many people,” he said.
“I think it’s a brave step by the government to take this, to say we want to lead the charge and we’re going to end HIV stigma.”
A spokesperson for Minister Davis told the Star Observer the exact details of any amendments had not yet been determined.