Uproar over changes to HIV and STI disclosure law
CHANGES to the NSW Public Health Act mean people with AIDS, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections will no longer be required by law to tell sexual partners they're infected.
But there's a catch. If they fail to use "reasonable precautions" to prevent infecting them, they could face six months in jail, or an $11,000 fine.
It's a change which has angered parties on both sides of the disclosure debate.
Liberal MP Peter Phelps said the change means infected people can now "legally hide" their status and "con" sexual partners into bed unaware of the risks.
But sexual health advocates say the revisions are not only a "backward step", but also a legal minefield.
HIV peer advocacy group The Institute of Many (TIM) has written to the NSW Health Minister, Brad Hazzard asking him to reconsider.
TIM co-founder Nic Holas said while people who "wilfully and intentionally" attempt to infect others with HIV or an STI should be punished, there are plenty of laws in place to do so.
There were also concerns about how police and prosecutors would determine what exactly are "reasonable precautions", he told Gay Star News .
"Could it be disclosing your status? Always using condoms? Having an undetectable viral load? All three? We don't know because it's terribly unclear.
"It's not just people with HIV, it's anyone with an STI that can fall foul of that," he said.
It is a serious offence under the Crimes Act for someone to intentionally or recklessly cause grievous bodily harm through transmission of an STI.
The state government introduced the original laws in the 1980s, at the height of anxiety about the spread of AIDS, forcing people to tell sexual partners if they were carrying STIs or face a $5500 fine.
Mr Phelps says scrapping that law and replacing it with the requirement to take "reasonable precaution" rather than disclosure "denies the partner the right to make an informed choice about the risk of contracting an STI".
"If a person believes in informed consent prior to sex, it should be a standard that is applied for sexually transmitted diseases as well," Mr Phelps told the NSW Parliament.
"If a person does not accept that disclosure is necessary, they are effectively saying a person can con their way into sex. I do not think that is appropriate."
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the new punishment for failing to take reasonable precaution sends a "clear message that if you have sex with someone knowing you have a sexually transmitted disease, it is unfair and potentially very harmful ... and you should wear the consequences".
The revision came after a NSW Health review said the disclosure requirement was a "blunt and ineffective tool" to stop the spread of STI's, and the best way to stop their spread was to promote safe sexual practices and screening.
Mr Holas said there was "total support" for removing the requirement to disclose STIs, bringing NSW into line with Victoria.
"However, this change means that anyone who has HIV or an STI is under threat of this incredibly heavy-handed punishment," he said.
"This has been proven to actually discourage people from getting tested, and according to the World Health Organisation 'may actually increase rather decrease HIV transmission'.'
NSW this year recorded a drop in new HIV cases of 39 per cent, according to NSW quarterly HIV data report.
In the first half of this year, NSW had recorded the lowest number of new HIV notifications since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
The changes this week passed through the lower house of NSW Parliament.
Originally published as Use a condom or risk jail time