worldwide coverage of PM’s comment on Migrants and HIV

Whilst John Howard preaches in the media fairly regularly about issues relating to migrants, migration, asylum seekers and citizenship, occasionally he makes statements which suggest he doesn’t really know much about the details of how our migration laws work or the nature of our migrant intake these days. I did a post on such an instance some time ago. His recent off the cuff comment in a radio interview suggesting that, “prima facie”, HIV positive people should not be allowed to migrate to Australia, is another example.

I thought the comment was mostly a cheap shot which would do little other than add a bit to prejudice and misunderstanding in Australia about our existing migration laws and program, and about HIV/AIDS. However, I did a quick Google search whilst preparing some comments in response, and I was amazed at the huge number of links produced of the story running in international media. It wasn’t just British media either, such as:

or sites from the USA, where it also got a wide run:

It also appeared on websites such as

Applicants for permanent residency in Australia are already subject to health tests. I am surprised that the PM either didn’t know this, or didn’t think it was worth mentioning. His comment reinforces ill-informed and destructive prejudices that migrants ‘bring in diseases’.

Many people miss out if they – or even one of their children – have any of a vast array of pre-existing health conditions. Highly contagious diseases which can be spread through casual contact (of which AIDS isn’t one) like Tuberculosis are checked for public health purposes, but these healthh tests are mostly focused on reducing costs to Australia’s health system, which is why people applying for temporary residency don’t undergo such tests – because they have to pay full cost to access Australia’s health system anyway.

If Mr Howard genuinely believed there was a public health problem, he would be calling for full health testing for the hundreds of thousands of people who come here on student or temporary working visas (not to mention the millions who come on tourist visas each year). He won’t do this, and nor should he, as it would cause immense damage to the many sectors of our economy, when there is no evidence at all that it presents any significant health problem to Australia.

I note that the Prime Minister also said he would like to seek more counsel on the issue before going further. I hope he heeds the widespread public counsel he has received in response to his comment.

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19 Comments

  1. Not to mention that poor little girl Annum Kayani who was refused entry for the sin of being born with cerebral palsy. We all remember the horror of her dad, an Australian citizen, setting himself alight on the steps of parliament house and dying in agony 55 days later.

    The coroner’s report said DIMA was directly responsible for his death yet nothing was done, no-one sacked or censured.

    Typical of this country and Howard should have discovered that the story meant the “migrants’ were internal migrants, Australian citizens moving from one city to the other.

  2. He’s not reverting to type as much as channelling Pauline Hanson again. He lacks both compassion and imagination.

  3. red crab, as stated above, a health assessment is done on anyone applying for permanent residency – with an eye to potential costs to our health system, not direct community health risks (apart from contagious diseases like TB). So we can (and do) block many people on this basis, including people with with HIV, but this can also be waivered on public interest/humanitarian grounds if the government decides.

    Of course, the vast majority of people who enter Australia are not applying for permanent residency – millions of visitor visas are issued each year, as are around half a million temporary residency visas – none of these people are checked for HIV except (as I understand it) people who are applying to work in the health field (doctors, nurses, dentists, etc).

  4. Funnily enough Andrew after all the hullabaloo re Hanson, One Nation and Immigration, it seems we already have a discriminatory Immigration system. Who’d have thought eh?

    If someone asked me to give an off the cuff reply to should we import diseases into Australia, I’d say no too. As you’ve pointed out we already discriminate in this way.

    Where I used to live we have had African migrants spread HIV outside their community and even to tourists. There is even a myth which is believed by many that having sex with virgins will cure them. I’ve read and heard lately this belief is widespread, this link seems to back that assertion up…

    http://www.kubatana.net/html/archive/women/060915gcn.asp

    So CULTURE yet again steps in, what is the answer?

  5. Contagious diseases (of which AIDS isn’t one)

    Scientifically ignorant attitudes such as this do more harm to spread this appalling disease than anything Howard will say.

    Some science for you, Mr. Bartlett.

    Cancer is a non-contagious disease. TB is a contagious disease transmitted by airborne particles. HIV is a contagious virus trandsmitted through body fluids, especially semen and blood.

    HIV is a very poor transmitter of itself (luckily) but it is still contagious.

  6. quite right Geoff, as I’ve often said, our migration system is already very discriminatory – unjustifiably so in my view. hardly a good reason to make it even more discriminatory as Pauline Hanson wants.

    as far off the cuff responses, I can understand you giving a answer like that, but Mr Howard should know the details of what is done now.

    I’m not sure what your precise point is about culture, unless it was just to have a cheap shot at Africans. It is not just Africans who get or have HIV. In any case, those sorts of basic health issues should be a core part of migrant settlement assistance.

  7. At the risk of bringing down wrath on my head, to some degree judging and then ascribing intent to the answer requirwes at least to know what was the question.

    Do you know what the question was to elicit the answer?

    Although it is a fair point that so many people arrive anyway wihtout being checked, does make it a bit of a furphy.

  8. Let me clarify for you then Andrew.
    1/It was dishonest of so many politicians to say Hanson and One Nation was trying to make our immigration policy discriminatory when they knew it already was.
    2/I already knew our policy was discriminatory and it is on more than just Health.
    3/Yes more than just Africans have HIV, but not everyone believe the blood of virgins will cure them.

    As for settlement assistance… we all know how successful that has been lately. Under multiculturalism how do you intend to change cutural beliefs?

  9. Geoff, there are no Africans in Australia raping virgins to cure them of AIDS so what on earth are you blaming multi-culturalism for?

    The system is discriminatory because rich people can always buy their way in whether they have leprosy, the black death, AIDS or anything else because they are not checked.

  10. Geoff:
    1) As I said above, the fact we have a system that is already discrminiatory doesn’t make it OK to make it more discriminatory, as Ms Hanson called for (and still does) – in particular wanting it to discriminate specifically on the grounds of religion and race/nationality. I agree that many politicians glossed over existing discriminatory aspects (which apply particularly in regard to disability, sexuality and age), but that hardly makes adding race and religion to the list a good thing. I imagine many people just assume the mantra that we have a non-discriminatory migration program is true, just because the White Australia Policy no longer officially exists.

    2) That’s good. I would hope Mr Howard does too, in which case he could have said we already have health checks regarding HIV and there is no evidence of any public health problem from migrants in this aream rather than make a comment sugggesting it is a problem and needs harsher action.

    3) Indeed. Not all Africans believe this either.

    Any good settlement assistance program includes education about health issues. Attacks on multiculturalism do risk weakening the commitment to strong settlement services. Assistance can still be improved from what it is now, but it is far better and more comprehensive since a specific policy of multiculturalism was adopted.

    Pommygranate: Common usage of contagious means “any disease easily transmitted by contact.” Sharing air (for TB) is a million miles removed from sharing blood or semen – trying to suggest they are equally serious in a public health sense hardly reduces public anxiety. However, in deference to your expertise, I will amend my original post to clarify it beyond doubt.

  11. The facts are our health system can’t cope with simple diseases that exist through out our country now,its not only the aids figures that are on the increase.Allowing people to enter that are carrying disease or the aids virus under any circumstances is wrong.We now have diseases that where once eradicated back but the strain is much stronger & the anti-venene no longer works.I do feel compassion for the people with aids, at the same time it makes more sense to go to a country that can give them medical assistance.If there aren’t beds for people with cancer who have been placed on waiting lists,why bring people into the country with diseases.

  12. Andrew

    Without wishing to appear pedantic, the scientific definition of ‘contagious’ is ‘communication of a disease by contact’.

    Contact can take many forms – the most common are saliva (e.g. influenza and TB), blood (e.g. HIV) and semen (HIV, syphillis etc).

    Non-contagious diseases are those generally not caused by a bacteria or a virus. For example cancer (although there are some exceptions), hypertension or Alzheimer’s.

    Sharing air is indeed a million miles from sharing blood or semen but i was referring to the seriousness of the disease of AIDS not the virus’ poor capacity to transmit itself.

    In fact, it is a blessing that the this particular retrovirus is so poor at transmitting itself. It often kills it host and it is very difficult to ‘catch’ HIV from an infected person.

    The model of ‘how to transmit yourself’ is the rhinovirus or common cold. It never kills its host, it mutates weekly meaning vaccines are useless, and it nearly always moves on to infect other hosts.

  13. HIV is contagious and potentially dehabilitating if it develops into AIDS. Why import trouble, risk and liability?

    It is only strong lobby groups (gay and straight depending on which country) that have prevented the disease from being notifiable which has resulted in a massive spread and untold grief. You have to declare criminal records but not a disease that kills – absurd political correctness!? I don’t agree with John Howard on many things but I do on this.

  14. Andrew…
    Is Hanson going to be a threat? Just curious why you seem to focus on her, when ON had the policy. A badly worded one, but one which stated it would be non discriminatory unless policy was leading to major changes in our culture and society. I dare say most Australians would be behind that.

    ” I imagine many people just assume the mantra that we have a non-discriminatory migration program is true, just because the White Australia Policy no longer officially exists.”

    Then those like yourself are and have been disingenuous to allow them to believe so.

    “Indeed. Not all Africans believe this either.”

    True but some obviously do.

    ” Attacks on multiculturalism do risk weakening the commitment to strong settlement services. Assistance can still be improved from what it is now, but it is far better and more comprehensive since a specific policy of multiculturalism was adopted.”

    It’s fanciful to believe that in a multicultural society people will drop their cultural beliefs. Anecdotal evidence proves otherwise. Far better to allow people who wish to become Australians to migrate.

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