In late 2020 the NSW Liberal/National Police Minister, with the support of NSW Labor introduced the deeply flawed Mandatory Disease Testing Bill 2020. The Greens strongly oppose the bill on the basis that it does not come close to achieving its stated aim of protecting frontline workers from contracting blood-borne diseases and created unacceptable risks for certain communities - further vilifying and isolating certain people in our community.
The Greens absolutely agree that frontline workers deserve support to ensure their safety at work, however the Mandatory Disease Testing Bill 2020 won’t actually provide the necessary medical and mental health support that frontline workers need, instead it will move us further away from best-practice approaches and significantly violates basic human rights.
The bill is based on a number of extremely problematic assumptions and outright inaccuracies, relies on unworkable time frames and contradicts decades of evidence based health advice. It also presents an unacceptable risk in regards to our civil liberties.
Opposition to the Bill
There are numerous problems with this bill, but the key areas of concern for the Greens are:
The reliance on incorrect assumptions regarding how blood-borne diseases can be contracted: Much of the bill relies on the assumption that blood-borne diseases can be transmitted by acts like spitting or coming into general conduct with the blood of a person with a disease. These ideas are extremely outdated and not supported by evidence. Imposing laws based misinformation not only mean that are unnecessary, but could lead to the further stigmatisation of and discrimination against certain communities including LGBTIQ+ people and people with addiction. This bill is also in direct contradiction to the work the NSW Government has done over decades with key stakeholders to address this stigmatisation and discrimination.
The granting of unnecessary new Police powers that impinge on civil liberties: The bill includes a number of provisions which allow the NSW Police to take actions outside of their usual powers and against people as young as 14. One particularly concerning example is that bill allows for the Police to detain an individual indefinitely after issuing an order for a blood test until a testing facility is available. If the person is detained in the middle of the night, or in a remote area this could mean hours, even days of detention without any charges being laid. All that is required for an order to be issued for a test is for a frontline worker to assert that one is necessary. The bill also allows for the use of force to obtain blood samples without the consent of the individual being tested.
The reinforcement of misinformation among frontline workers: The bill makes incorrect assertions about how blood-borne diseases can be transmitted. This has the affect of misleading workers about the probability of such a transmission occurring in the course of their duties, creating unnecessary fear and anxiety. Providing training to frontline workers about the real circumstances in which transmissions can occur would go much further in ensuring their safety and alleviating any stress.
In order to raise these concerns, the Greens worked together with Alex Greenwich MP to move a number of amendments to the bill. All of which were voted down by the Liberal/Nationals and NSW Labor. You can see those amendments here and here. You call also read the debate on these amendments by clinking the various links labelled "Consideration in Detail - Mandatory Disease Testing Bill 2020" on this page.
As a result of the concerns raised in the Legislative Assembly by the Greens and Alex Greenwich MP, the bill has now been referred to an inquiry which will take place in 2021.
A number of experts in the LGBTIQ+ and Health spaces have consistently raised their objections to this kind of legislation, pointing to the problematic assumptions at its heart, and the risks of further stigmatising already vulnerable communities.
Back in 2018, when there was a previous proposal to introduce legislation of this kind, a number of key stakeholders published this position paper raising their many concerns. The position paper was co-authored by:
- Aids Council of NSW (ACON)
- Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM)
- Positive Life NSW
- Australian Federation of Aids Organisations (AFAO)
- National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS (NAPWA)
- Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP)
- Hepatitis NSW
- NSW Users and AIDS Association
- Bobby Goldsmith Foundation
Since then, each of these organisations have continued their vocal opposition to mandatory disease testing. You can see the most recent media release from ACON on this issue here.