Spitting and mandatory BBV testing: Back to the Future...

Stream: Law and Policy: HIV
Date: Thursday, 31 March 2016
Time: 3.30 pm – 4.45 pm


The SA and WA governments recently passed legislation providing for forced BBV testing of individuals who have spat at (or whose bodily fluids have contacted) a police officer (in South Australia, it also covers other emergency services). The introduction of the legislation followed concerted Police Association advocacy.

Presented as protecting police, these laws will in fact serve to fuel officers’ unfounded fears regarding HIV transmission risk. The legislation ignores carefully framed National HIV Strategy and HIV Testing Policy limitations on compulsory testing, and is likely to be arbitrarily applied. There is an important role for the Commonwealth in identifying and responding to jurisdictional issues of national significance. The SA and WA legislation clearly flouts national policies but the Commonwealth has taken a hands-off approach, arguing that these are jurisdictional issues. This perspective ignores the potential for policy replication elsewhere – particularly in the context of law and order politics. The legislation has been presented as workforce protection without regard to actual BBV transmission risks and perpetuates the common misconception that HIV can be transmitted through contact with saliva. It will serve to heighten police officers’ fears when what’s needed is accurate information regarding risk.

It seems that in 2015 we are seeing the introduction of laws based on 1984 notions of HIV transmission risk. It’s time for the Commonwealth establish “a respectful dialogue” – as suggested in the National HIV Strategy – with WA, SA and the Police Association and work to prevent their replication across Australia.


Michael Frommer (Presenter), Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO)
Michael Frommer is the Policy Analyst at the Australia Federation of AIDS Organisations. As a passionate human rights advocate, he has long had a interest in the protection and promotion of human rights, both in the HIV response and more broadly.