May 15, 2015  |  Second reading speech

Crimes Amendment (Repeal of Section 19A) Bill 2015

Mr CARROLL (Niddrie) — It is my pleasure to rise to speak on the Crimes Amendment (Repeal of Section 19A) Bill 2015. Before I get to the substance of my speech, I would like to follow the contribution of the Minister for Equality and also put on the record that it was the Andrews Labor opposition that made an election commitment to repeal section 19A. I will go to the facts. The former Minister for Health committed only to amending the legislation; there was no commitment to repeal.

I thank the parliamentary library for the research it provided to me, in particular an article in the Saturday Paper of 26 July 2014, which was written after the 20th International AIDS Conference was held in Melbourne. It would be remiss of me if I did not also acknowledge the six delegates, including the former president of the International AIDS Society, Joep Lange, who were on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on their way to the
conference. They did not make it. That left a pall over the conference. I think it is  important to put on the Victorian parliamentary record that our thoughts are with their families.

The former Minister for Health did attend the conference, and he also gave a speech. To say that he got a mixed reaction and received mixed reviews would be an understatement. The speech was widely reported at the time because it sent a lot of mixed messages. I want to go to the facts so I will quote the minister. He said:

… it is this government’s intention to amend section 19A of the criminal code.

There was no mention of repeal, which was what the stakeholders rightly sought. It was just an amendment. The minister dropped a bombshell and then left the Andrews
government to clean it up.

The Saturday Paper reports that after the minister’s speech, a former High Court judge, Michael Kirby, made some comments. The report quotes him and states:

I had no idea that was coming … But afterwards, when it was time for lunch and the minister had left, enthusiasm seemed awkwardly suspended between hope and cynicism. ‘They’re weasel words’, one activist told me. Another said: ‘We’re going to have to line our ducks up on this regarding a comment. We need some time to think about it.

Section 19A of the criminal code reads:

A person who without lawful excuse intentionally causes another person to be infected with a very serious disease is guilty of an indictable offence punishable by up to 25 years imprisonment.

Subsection (1) states that ‘a very serious disease’ means HIV.

I do not want to spend much more time correcting the record, but here we are today, a Labor government, repealing this legislation. In a press release of April 2015, the Attorney‑General said that this is another step forward toward equality for people living with HIV. This was an election commitment made by Labor in opposition. We are now
repealing section 19A of the Crimes Act 1958, which contains a specific offence of intentionally infecting another person with ‘a very serious disease’, defined inclusively to mean HIV.

As previous speakers have highlighted, this is the only HIV‑specific criminal offence in force in any jurisdiction in Australia. It singles out HIV, but even worse it harshly and
unfairly stigmatises people unnecessarily. We are here today because international bodies such as the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the Global Commission on HIV and the Law have labelled HIV‑specific criminal laws as counterproductive to HIV prevention. I am pleased that the government has developed this legislation in consultation with stakeholders, including Living Positive Victoria, the Victorian Aids Council, the Human Rights Law Centre, the Law Institute of Victoria, the Criminal Bar Association and Liberty Victoria.

I also want to put on the record what the Attorney‑General said when he put forward this legislation.

People living with HIV are entitled to equality before the law, and this is another step forward in ensuring that… This is about reducing the stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV, and in turn promoting equal protection by the law for all Victorians.

I think it is also important to reiterate the words of the Minister for Equality, who led our debate today, when the Labor Party formulated its position. He said:

This was a move recommended by the 2014 World AIDS Conference in Melbourne. Our laws should support public health efforts to redress HIV by encouraging people to be tested and managing the risk of infection.

I think it is important that people living with HIV are entitled to equality before the law. It was great that last year the very important World AIDS Conference was held in Melbourne. This was a very significant event. We have had international bodies calling for
reform of Victoria’s criminal laws. This is about fairness, this is about reducing stigma and this is about doing the right thing and repealing this legislation. Essentially this is about equal treatment for all Victorians.

Without a doubt section 19A provides for an offence that is discriminatory and well and
truly outdated. By removing this discriminatory law, the Andrews Labor government will reduce the stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV. More than that, it will promote equal treatment for all Victorians.

Indeed the best practice approach, which is advocated by Victorian and international organisations such the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, has warned against the overly broad use of criminal law to address the risk of HIV infection. Inappropriate use of criminal law undermines public health efforts and, even more so, discourages HIV testing.

This legislation will be critical to the successful management of risk and infection in the future. The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 and the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 provide that there should be equal treatment and protection by the law of people living with HIV. There is no reason, and there has never been a reason, that we should maintain these discrepancies in the law.

I conclude my remarks by congratulating the Attorney‑General and the Minister for Equality on their work with stakeholders in leading us to where we are today. This is important legislation. It is about making our statute book right. It is about making
Victoria the fairest and most progressive state in Australia. It is important that we maintain that, and I wish the bill a speedy passage.