Cautious welcome for Victorian Government’s move to end discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS

On the eve of the World AIDS Conference 2014, Victorian Health Minister David Davis announced plans to amend the Crimes Act to remove discrimination against people living with HIV. The announcement was welcomed by NGOs, but clarification was sought on key details.

The Human Rights Law Centre's Director of Advocacy and Strategic Litigation, Anna Brown, said that while it was important for the law to punish harmful conduct, the specific criminalisation of HIV/AIDS transmission undermined public health policy by deterring people from testing and adding to stigma and discrimination.

“Victoria is the only jurisdiction in Australia where transmission of HIV is singled out as a specific offence and carries with it a sentence equivalent to murder. Discriminatory criminal laws like this only serve to hamper public health efforts to combat the transmission of HIV,” said Ms Brown.

Section 19A of the Crimes Act is a specific offence that applies to the intentionally transmission of HIV/AIDS, punishable by 25 years imprisonment. The offence was introduced in 1993 when HIV/AIDS was viewed as a terminal disease by law-makers and its intentional transmission was considered akin to murder. The potential use of blood-filled syringes in armed robberies was used to justify the new offence but the provision has never been used to convict a person of a crime of this kind.

The Health Minister David Davis announced that the Victorian Government would amend s19A to remove discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS. However, the Government did not specify that it would repeal the offence, leaving open the possibility that the provision could be broadened to cover other serious diseases and the higher penalty would remain.

“The offence of causing serious injury already covers the transmission of diseases, so s19A is effectively redundant, merely serving to suggest that HIV positive people are somehow more dangerous than others. We hope the Government repeals s19A,” said Ms Brown.

The Human Rights Law Centre together with the Law Institute of Victoria, Liberty Victoria and the Criminal Bar Association has written to the Health Minister congratulating the Government but raising the need for further consultation on the reform process.

Read the media release here from the Victorian AIDS Council, Positive Living Victoria and other NGOs responding to the Government Announcement.