By Philip Baker
SYDNEY — The AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP) has cautiously welcomed the announcement last week of a long-awaited Anti-Discrimination Board inquiry into HIV/AIDS-related discrimination. While ACT UP has been pressing for such an inquiry, it is concerned about the ADB probe's openness and terms of reference.
HIV/AIDS discrimination is most prevalent in the health system. ADB and AIDS Council of NSW files show instances of doctors and dentists having refused to treat HIV-positive people, hospitals conducting AIDS tests without patients' consent and discrimination in obtaining drug treatments. A major Sydney hospital has been using yellow armbands to identify people with AIDS.
After 10 years of the AIDS epidemic, the ADB has been unable to enforce anti-discrimination legislation in relation to HIV status. In 1990, after the board held a series of meetings to consider strengthening the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act in this area, Attorney General John Dowd refused to accept that such discrimination occurred.
The board then decided a public inquiry was necessary to force the government's hand, but was slow setting it up. The inquiry's terms of reference are:
- To determine the extent of discrimination against people who have, or are perceived to have, AIDS or are HIV positive.
- How existing laws, policies and practices affect HIV/AIDS-related discrimination.
- What options are available to counter HIV and AIDS-related discrimination.
Interested organisations and individuals will be invited to submit written submissions by July 1, after which the board will decide where and when to hear oral submissions, including confidential submissions. According to ADB president Steve Mark, the inquiry will be completed by the end of the year and a report available within three months of that.
Problems facing the inquiry include funding and methods of gathering submissions. "The board hasn't made it clear whether submissions can be made on behalf of someone by a third party, including someone who is dead", ACT UP spokesperson Tony Westmore told the May 17 Sydney Star Observer.
For further information on ACT UP Sydney, telephone (02) 281 0362.