Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment Bill 2019 | Second Reading

Ms SULEYMAN (St Albans) (17:47:12): I rise to speak on the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment Bill 2019. This bill will amend the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 to reduce the barriers to HIV testing for Victorians. This is all part of our government’s commitment to equality and to expanding access to health care for all Victorians. There are sections of the existing legislation that are no longer necessary as they are now covered by national testing policies. The National HIV Testing Policy was first introduced in 2011 and is endorsed by the commonwealth. This policy sets out a framework for providing quality testing and is subject to annual review by an expert committee. Further, these existing provisions in the Victorian legislation contribute to structural stigma and discrimination and increase difficulties in expanding testing availability. Removing these requirements will support our government to achieve its target of zero stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with HIV, as outlined in the Victorian HIV Strategy 2017–2020. This will also bring Victorian legislation into line with New South Wales. I would like to particularly thank and acknowledge the Attorney-General for her work in putting together the Victorian HIV Strategy 2017–2020. As the Attorney-General said at the time: We are at a pivotal moment in the HIV response. Our research, policy and service delivery innovations have created the opportunity, for the first time, to virtually eliminate new HIV notifications in Victoria. May I say, this is something that the global health community has been working towards since the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. For the first time eliminating stigma and discrimination is now front and centre of our approach. Stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with HIV is completely unacceptable. Stigma is also one of the greatest challenges we face in tackling HIV. The HIV and Hepatitis Pre and Post Test Discussion in Victoria: Consultation Report of November 2017 says: Normalisation involves the repositioning of these viruses alongside other diseases and/or conditions requiring early diagnosis. We have heard from previous speakers that early detection is really the approach that we are looking at in saving lives. One approach that is commonly recommended and implemented is to offer routine HIV and viral hepatitis screening to all people who have or report any risk of exposure. In doing this, normalisation is associated with increased testing rates, reduced barriers to testing and reduced stigma associated with HIV and viral hepatitis. It relies on clinicians being competent and capable of testing and diagnosing and people expecting to be tested and treated. Of course we have come a long way from the days those living with HIV had to endure when I was young. At the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s I will never forget how society was bombarded with fear and misleading headlines, which really entrenched the stigma that we see today. I will never forget the controversial Grim Reaper advertisement, which was aimed at raising public awareness of the dangers of AIDS but also had a significantly negative impact on the community. We saw people in fear. We saw people that thought that if you touched someone with AIDS, you would immediately die. Some thought that the disease was contagious even through having conversation. Even today HIV advocates say that that particular advertisement contributed to 30 years of HIV stigma that is still being undone today. And, yes, we have come a long way in social attitudes, but we still have a long way to go. We could never take it for granted. These sorts of stigmas and discriminatory beliefs are things that we need to actively stomp out of our society. Regardless of your race or religion, your sex or gender, these issues have no place in our society. There have been significant developments in prevention and treatment, which is why Melbourne, I am proud to say, is Australia’s first Fast-Track City. The Victorian government, in partnership with the City of Melbourne, committed to our global initiative to fast-track local responses to HIV and AIDS. The goal of Fast-Track Cities is to attain the UNAIDS 90-90-90 target by 2020, but Victoria is well on track to achieve the 2020 target for testing, treatment and undetectable viral load. Currently we see that 89 per cent of people living with HIV are diagnosed; of these, 95 per cent are on treatments, and 94 per cent of those on treatments have achieved an undetectable viral load. But our government hopes that by 2030 Victoria will achieve the 95-95-95 targets for diagnosis, treatment and viral suppression. I am extremely proud that we have gone beyond the UN targets. This is a very ambitious Labor target and a plan that is backed by $1.2 million in funding to find a breakthrough cure for HIV. I am extremely proud of the Andrews Labor government’s agenda on equality. We have created Australia’s first equality portfolio and the first Minister for Equality, with the record resourcing of $61 million, compared with only $5 million under previous governments. The Premier has made a historic state apology to those convicted under the laws against homosexual acts. We now have adoption equality in Victoria, and we have also seen investing in our next generation through the first-ever LGBTIQ leadership program. But this is just the beginning, because we know, and we still know, that there is a lot to do on the road to full equality. This government is also committed to better health outcomes for all Victorians. Our track record in the last five years in relation to investment in health care is really a leader nationally. Also the Andrews Labor government has made it very clear that we will not stop until we reach the end of the rainbow, because in Victoria equality when it comes to race, religion, sex or gender is not negotiable, and we have made that very clear in our statements. I am extremely proud that we will have gone beyond the UN record by 2020 and hopefully at some point we will see a breakthrough: a cure for HIV in our community. There is still stigma in relation to this, but we have support, proper education and prevention. I think we have come a long way from what we saw back in the 1980s with those horrific commercials that just sent a whole community, a whole nation, into fear. We can continue on and make sure that HIV/AIDS is preventable and treatable, and with the proper mechanism and investments we will get to those targets and beyond those targets. As I said previously, stigma is one of the biggest issues around this, but with positive campaigning and education I believe this Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment Bill that we are debating tonight is part of expanding the response to the healthcare needs of Victorians, making sure that all Victorians have proper access to health care and making sure that all goals identified in our consultation paper back in 2017 are reached. I commend the bill to the house.

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