HIV-positive people should be denied entry to Australia as migrants or refugees, Prime Minister John Howard said today.
In an apparent echoing of comments late last year from Pauline Hanson, Mr Howard has said HIV-positive people should not be allowed to migrate to Australia.
"My initial reaction is no (they should not be allowed in)," he said on Southern Cross radio.
"There may be some humanitarian considerations that could temper that in certain cases but prima facie - no." He went on to say he would like "more counsel" on the issue.
HIV legal campaigners have said Mr Howard is wrong both medically and legally and should be investigated for possibly vilifying people with the virus.
The current rules, according to the Immigration department's website, require permanent visa residents aged 15 or older to have an HIV/AIDS test.
"A positive HIV or other test result will not necessarily lead to a visa being denied," the department says.
"The main factor to be taken into account is the cost of the condition to Australia's health care and community services."
But Mr Howard has said he will look at changing that: "I think we should have the most stringent possible conditions in relation to that nationwide ... and I know the Health Minister (Tony Abbott) ... is examining ways of tightening things up.
"I think people are entitled to be concerned."
Mr Howard has said Australia already stopped people with tuberculosis coming in and this was why he supported stopping HIV-positive people as well.
The HIV/AIDS legal centre has said Mr Howard is wrong to link the conditions, as TB is much more easily passed on than HIV. The centre also said HIV patients were already blocked from entry in "the vast majority" of cases.
"Although immigration law is not subject to discrimination legislation, Mr Howard’s comments are. Mr Howard should be investigated as making comments capable of amounting to vilification," the centre said.
The Immigration department's website suggests that it is not always the case that TB sufferers are barred from living in Australia.
"TB is mentioned in legislation as precluding the issue of a visa, but opportunity is given to enable an applicant to undergo treatment in most cases," its guidance says.
If the treatment is successul or if tests suggest it is "non-active", patients are allowed to stay. "Your visa is not at risk, once in Australia, no matter what status of tuberculosis is diagnosed" as a result of ongoing medical monitoring, the guidance says.
Mr Howard was commenting in response to new Victorian health department figures showing the number of HIV-positive people moving to the state had quadrupled in the past two years.
Last December Ms Hanson, who is contemplating a political comeback, said: "We're bringing in people from south Africa at the moment, there's a huge amount coming into Australia, who have diseases, they've got AIDS.
"They are of no benefit to this country whatsoever, they'll never be able to work ... yet no-one is saying or doing anything about it."
- with AAP