On 10 August, the NSW Government introduced the Public Health Amendment (Review) Bill 2017 which seeks to make amendments to the Public Health Act 2010.
This was the culmination of a statutory review process undertaken by the NSW Ministry of Health in 2016. This consultation was comprehensive and involved the opportunity for community to provide feedback through processes led by ACON and Positive Life NSW.
In November 2016, the NSW Ministry of Health tabled its final review, which ACON felt captured the majority of key issues related to HIV and sexual health and made reasonable and appropriate recommendations for legislative change.
The majority of the recommendations that were proposed in the report in 2016 are contained in this Bill. Importantly, the removal of the existing disclosure provision was supported.
However, a new offence has been created to replace the existing Section 79.
The new offence would mean that someone who knows they have an STI and does not take reasonable precautions would face a fine or prison time (up to 6 months).
Given that most of the STIs that would be covered by this proposal are treatable, it is our position that the new offence created in s79 introduces unprecedented, unjustified and disproportionate penalties and runs counter to good public health processes.
This new offence could deter people from sexual health testing and contact tracing. The evidence indicates that HIV and other STIs are more likely to be transmitted via someone who has undiagnosed infection.
This new offence was not raised at any point during the consultation processes and does not reflect the recommendations made in the report to Parliament. New South Wales has made significant progress in reducing HIV transmissions, thanks in large part to supportive policy settings from successive governments over several decades. We will continue to make the case for a more appropriate outcome to the Public Health Act review.
ACON and a number of organisations with expertise in the areas of sexual health and blood borne viruses have written to the NSW Minister for Health with concerns.
The transmission of STIs is a health issue not a criminal issue.
If you are concerned about this proposal, you can contact the NSW Minister for Health, the Hon. Brad Hazzard here.
When contacting a Minister, we always recommend that you communicate in a constructive and polite manner, with a focus on how this change would negatively impact on you and your community.
ACON’s original submission to the Public Health Act review in 2016 can be seen here.
For more information about criminalisation as it relates to HIV specifically, the ASHM Medical Consensus Statement on the sexual transmission of HIV and the law, click here.