Concern that HIV bill will be rushed through under the guise of COVID-19

The chair of the WA AIDS Council has raised concern that the controversial Prison Amendments bill will be rushed through parliament under the guise of COVID-19.

The WA Legislative Council is set to debate the bill this afternoon. Health experts have raised alarm over the introduction of the bill that will allow prison officials to demand mandatory testing for HIV and other blood-borne viruses if a prison officer is assaulted.

The WA AIDS Council, the National Association of People with HIV/AIDS and the Australian Association of AIDS Councils have all raised concern over the bill which they say ignores science and the realities of living with HIV in the 21st century.

Hopes that the bill would be sent to a parliamentary committee for deeper inspection and reflection may have been dashed as there is concern the bill has been amended to include tests for COVID-19.

Speaking to the Star Observer, Chair of the WA AIDS Council Asanka Gunasekera shared his concern that COVID-19 legislation was being used to bypass deeper analysis of the bill’s contents.

“On Friday the legislation was amended to include blood tests for COVID-19. Now it’s COVID-19 legislation, so it allows the government to bypass standing orders and once you make it COVID-19 legislation you can’t refer it off to a legislative committee.”

“It’s being rushed through at a time where WA has seen zero new cases in seven days, yet it’s still being used to get the government’s agenda up,” Gunasekera said.

“Many in the HIV sector have independently written to The Minister [The Hon. Francis Michael Logan MLA] saying that this matter needs to be sent off to a legislative committee so it can be debated properly and evidence can be taken for legislation to be effective.”

“Now we know COVID-19 is still prevalent, but it’s telling that at a time of easing restrictions, COVID-19 is being used and added to this bill so it can be rushed through parliament. That is a deeply worrying way for a parliamentary democracy to operate,” Gunasekera said.

Corrective Services Minister Fran Logan has been contacted for comment regarding the content of the bill but has not been able to respond.  

Graeme Watson

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