In what can only be described as a torrent of ignorance, health spokesperson for the Greens, Senator Richard Di Natale, put a motion to the Senate on Tuesday, June 25th, calling for the AVN to “immediately disband and cease their harmful and unscientific scare campaign against vaccines”.
Senator DI NATALE (Victoria) (15:47): I move:
That the Senate—
(i) the low vaccination rates in certain parts of Australia, and the threat this poses to the health of Australian children, and
(ii) the irresponsible campaign run by the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN), which is spreading misinformation about the risks of vaccination and discouraging parents from vaccinating their children; and
(b) calls on the AVN to immediately disband and cease their harmful and unscientific scare campaign against vaccines.
I use the term ‘ignorance’ because, as president, I immediately phoned Senator Di Natale to ask why he had chosen to do this. His response was the usual: you are a dangerous organisation, you cause the death of children… etc. When I asked how he had formed such an opinion he had virtually nothing to offer. His stock standard recurring answers were “I’ve heard enough to know” and “your public statements are misleading”.
I asked for something specific that had led him to his conclusion, and he gave two words: “marvelous measles”. It turned out he was referring to the book “Melanie’s Marvelous Measles” (a children’s book which discusses the benefits some believe flow from going through certain childhood illnesses). He was under the impression it had been written by AVN founder and public officer, Meryl Dorey. I pointed out that this was wrong. The book’s author was not even a member of AVN. He quickly responded with “but you promote the book”. I pointed out that we sell many books in our bookstore. He replied with “well that’s my point”.
Now, I probably don’t have to draw the attention of readers to this but let’s pause for a moment to consider the wisdom. Let’s close down every bookshop in the land, because they probably all sell a book that someone doesn’t agree with. Then close the public libraries. Free speech? Forget it. Yes, this is Australia. And yes, we are talking about the Greens! But don’t expect to wake up. You already are.
Back to the conversation
My suspicion that he was ill-informed had been well and truly aroused, so I asked what else he ‘knew’ about our organisation that was concerning him. And, sad to say, he had nothing. Absolutely nothing! He asked me whether the AVN was for or against vaccines. I explained that the AVN was a discussion forum and didn’t have a ‘view’. He then wanted to know what my personal view was. So I told him I was unconvinced of their value. At that point I think he felt he had scored a hole in one. When I pointed out that I was not the AVN he asked me what the view of the membership was. I explained that I didn’t know because we didn’t ask them. He then insisted I take a “punt” on everyone’s view. I asked why? He said he wanted me to be more honest. Somewhere, somehow, he’d come to the conclusion I wasn’t honest about something.
That was it. That was the extent of Senator Di Natale’s justification.
I explained very briefly what the AVN was about and asked him if he would like to know more about what we do. He finally accused me of screaming at him and hung up on me. Now this was not as perplexing as it might normally have been because he had punctuated the conversation earlier with claims that I was angry and, toward the end, kept asking me to calm down. And each time he did this I had no idea why. I wasn’t angry and certainly not screaming. A little frustrated at times because he was talking over me. In fact, I recorded my side of the conversation, so if you would like to satisfy yourself of my behaviour, feel free to listen at the link below:
[Bear in mind it is a one sided recording. It’s probably unlawful in most instances to record another party without first obtaining their permission. So my software records my side only. It’s helpful for situations where you get misquoted or, as in this case, accused of something. Bear in mind also that I was speaking with someone who has just recklessly used the Australian Senate to condemn our organisation, for no reason other than hearsay: just what you have read above.]
A Green by any other name
Senator Di Natale was not the only one I contacted. I phoned Greens leader Senator Christine Milne (both her Hobart and Canberra offices). I also sent two emails directly to her. In the second phone call I explained to a staffer that the two emails remained unanswered and that we would be releasing information to our members and supporters about this on the following day. I was informed that Senator Milne was extremely busy but that someone would contact me before close of business Wednesday. That didn’t happen.
I was determined to hold off before writing about this. The Greens have historically had a positive relationship with AVN. Former leader, Bob Brown, advocated for us extensively in parliament, and was instrumental in introducing the conscientious objection clause in the Childcare Payments Bill 1997 (the same clause the Greens in NSW are now trying to have removed). So what has changed? Certainly not the AVN. Is this a new look Greens party? Or is it simply the work of one ill-informed senator on a personal crusade?
We wait to hear. One thing’s for sure. There are many AVN members and supporters who have long considered themselves ideologically aligned with the Greens, and they are now waiting for some official word on what has become of the party. Several have already attempted to contact the party and register their concern.
The AVN calls on Greens leader, Senator Milne, to clarify whether Senator Di Natale represents the views of a new-look Australian Greens, or whether he will be sanctioned. We also invite her, and any other party members, to come over for a chat and find out what we are really about, instead of relying on ill-informed hearsay and media smear campaigns.
While we wait, you may like to make contact with the senators yourself. Here are the relevant links:
Senator Christine Milne
Senator Richard Di Natale