Responding to a report of a parliamentary inquiry into the Mandatory Disease Testing Bill 2020 released last week, ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill once again said the legislation is unnecessary and counterproductive, and it will further exacerbate unfounded fears and anxieties of frontline workers.
“We have worked with community, public health, medical and legal partners to provide extensive evidence and oppose this Bill over the past 12 months,” Parkhill said. “We remain steadfast in our position that the Bill is unnecessary – NSW has proven our public health response is highly effective at keeping workers safe – and this Bill is based on outdated fear, rather than evidence. Time and time again, we have reiterated the scientific fact that HIV simply does not get passed on through saliva or spitting.
“Yet, if passed into law, this Bill will give police the power to force people who come into contact with frontline workers to get tested for HIV and other blood borne virus, even in cases of spitting, which carry no risk of HIV transmission.
“We fully endorse evidence-based public health measures to protect frontline workers from occupational risks of HIV and other diseases transmission. The current Bill will not do that. It will not protect frontline workers,” Parkhill said.
“This current Bill hands decision-making and assessment of risk over to untrained, non-experts. It is not based on evidence and will only perpetuate fears, uncertainty, and anxiety about how to properly manage exposures to bodily fluids. Its operation has the potential to expose health staff drawing blood, without patient consent, to risks of aggression and potentially violence.
“There is no evidence of any cases of occupational transmission since 2002, and never in a police officer,” Parkhill said. “In short, no demonstrated need for this current Bill exists and, in pursuing it, we put much at risk, including placing an unnecessary burden on the NSW public health system.”
Parkhill also took aim at the Inquiry for failing to include any recommendations that addressed the public health and civil liberty concerns of experts.
“Evidence from those with expertise in the transmission of HIV and other blood-borne viruses was extensive and unified. That fact is: not a single expert supports the Bill.
“Yet, despite our own, and other organisations, putting forward practical and workable amendments to the Bill, the Inquiry failed to include any meaningful recommendations to ensure a public health framework governs the mandatory testing scheme, and aligns with public health objectives,” Parkhill said.
“Further, no recommendations were put forward in relation to enhancing the learning and development needs of police and other frontline workers in relation to the management of blood borne viruses. If NSW had in place a sustained education program for police officers and other frontline personnel, it would have negated calls for this Bill being put forward in the first place,” Parkhill said.
ACON is urging parliamentarians to adopt its suggested amendments, all of which centre on ensuring that mandatory testing only occurs where there is an assessment of actual risk of transmission by public health experts.
“The inquiry has clearly shown police and corrections staff are not the best placed to conduct health risk assessments – decisions to carry out mandatory blood testing orders should sit with the NSW Chief Health Officer,” Parkhill said. “Considering the impacts of the Bill on civil liberties, no arbitrary detention should occur, and proper appeals are required.
“We implore parliamentarians, in their deliberations, to consider these amendments and do what is best for public health, frontline workers, and those people who will be vulnerable to having their liberty taken away through this Bill.
“The health of workers and all people in NSW should not be a partisan issue and we strongly encourage people of good conscience who wish to do no harm, to use their influence to support sensible and important changes to the Mandatory Disease Testing Bill. We are heartened by