VICTORIA’S leading HIV and AIDS bodies have cautiously welcomed the announcement by state Health Minister David Davis who said he would look into amending Victoria’s HIV-specific criminal law.

Speaking at a pre-AIDS 2014 event on Sunday, Davis said that the government would amend Section 19A of the Crimes Act that currently criminalises the transmission of HIV, to ensure it is non-discriminatory and contributing to stigma facing the disease.

The Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) and Living Positive Victoria (LPV) announced in a joint statement that while they welcomed moves made by the government to address stigma, they expressed caution about the decision.

Along with LPV and the VAC, organisations such as NSW’s Kirby Institute, the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, and the AIDS 2014 Organising Committee along with 12 others all called upon the Victorian Government to clarify their plans regarding 19A and commit to a complete repeal of it.

“We are concerned by the language used in yesterday’s announcement promising to amend section 19A to make it non-discriminatory for people with HIV,” VAC chief executive Simon Ruth said.

“This suggests the possibility that section 19A could be converted into a general provision covering other infectious diseases. We believe that would be a step in the wrong direction.”

The group agreed that while intentional acts of HIV transmission still potentially has criminal aspects to it, there should be no criminal provisions that single out the disease especially when the issue is dealt with adequately within the existing criminal law.

“While intentional transmission of an infectious disease is potentially a criminal act, there is no justification in law or science for enacting special criminal provisions to cover it – the existing criminal law is sufficient,” HIV Legal Working chair Paul Kidd said.

“Section 19A carries a higher penalty than most offences and we are deeply concerned that the proposed amendment could risk repeating the mistakes made in 1993 when section 19A was enacted, but extending that to people with hepatitis or other infectious conditions.”

LPV president Ian Muchamore said a move by the government to repeal what he considered to be an embarrassing remnant of how HIV was originally treated by Victorian law, would be powerful statement in tackling the ever-present issue of HIV stigma.

“Repealing section 19A would have a positive impact on the stigmatisation of people living with HIV, with no negative impact on public safety,” Muchamore said.

“Its repeal would remove an embarrassing anachronism from the law of this State and put us on the path to eliminating HIV infections by 2020.”

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Davis said that the government was still in a preliminary investigation phase looking into exactly how they will go about dealing with Section 19A.

“We have committed to review this to amend [19A] to ensure that it is non-discriminatory. This will entail us doing the legislative work to work out the best way [to address amendments]. It will involve consultation with community,” Davis said.

(Picture: Paul Kidd and Simon Ruth at the press conference today. Photo: David Alexander; Star Observer)


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