Free speech is meaningless unless it involves the
freedom to make statements that others think are false.
The argument for free speech is that open discussion is
the best system for reaching the truth. Viewpoints can be
strengthened by being challenged.
In 1997, representatives of the Australian Vaccination Network became aware that Federal Parliament was going to be amending Childcare Payments legislation in a way that would make it very difficult for parents who hadn’t vaccinated fully or at all to access government entitlements.
At very short notice and without a whole lot of knowledge of the processes involved, the AVN sent a delegation to Canberra to lobby Senators and MPs to add in a clause allowing parents to become conscientious objectors to vaccination and still receive the same benefits as those who vaccinated.
One of the most helpful people during that visit was Senator Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens. Senator Brown was a medical doctor who knew a great deal about the issues surrounding vaccination. He understood our concerns and fully supported the right to freedom of choice and information. Not only did he allow our delegation to use his office for the nearly 2 weeks we were at Parliament (which included helping us to get appointments with parliamentarians and using the telephones and photocopying facility as well), but Senator Brown was one of the people who asked questions on notice and also helped us to introduce the amendments which eventually codified the right for parents to register as Conscientious Objectors to vaccination. Thanks must also go to Senator Dee Margetts, (Australian Greens) and Senators Bartlett and Lees (Democrats) and Harradine (Independent) as well as Senator Crowley (Labor) who did everything they could to assist three legislative neophytes.
The cast of characters has changed – but the discrimination remains the same
Then Federal Minister for Health, Dr Michael Wooldridge, believed that all parents desired vaccination for their children, but that some simply forgot, or were too busy to get it done. So the stated intention for the vaccination requirement was to make sure that these supposedly careless, absent-minded parents would receive a reminder about vaccines.
Senator Brown was not having a bar of that argument however. He saw this as a discriminatory move by the government and fully supported changing the legislation to protect Australian families.
During the committee debate, he stated that:
Looking ahead to amendments coming down the line, we are intending to move that the conscientious objector does not have to first be counselled by an immunisation provider or such person, which would indicate that a conscientious objector at least has to have medical grounds for objecting.
Let us assume this amendment gets passed. If the person simply writes to say that they have a conscientious objection and we have dropped the requirement that they be counselled by an immunisation provider about the benefits and contraindications of immunisation, does the government’s interpretation remain the same—that a letter of conscientious objection, notwithstanding the grounds for that conscientious objection, will suffice to ensure that they do not have their payments terminated?
This was not passed into the final bill because, according to Senator Herron (Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs at the time), forcing parents to see a doctor and be counselled on the issue of vaccination,
gives a person the opportunity to realise the benefits of immunisation and also to discuss the reasons why they are objecting to the immunisation so that it is not done flippantly.”
Evidently, the government of the day felt that parents could be flippant about their children’s health as well as careless and absent-minded.
In response to Senator Herron’s claims, Senator Brown – and remember, he is a medical doctor – said:
I would put it that if people who have an objection to immunisation should be counselled so should everybody else. In fact, there are very strong reasons for counselling those people who are going to have their infants immunised so that they adequately and thoroughly understand at least what is written on the slip that comes with the vaccination from the manufacturers—that is, the warnings that are involved and so on.
… I cannot accept what the minister says at all. The fact is that there is very much contradictory evidence and debate, even in scientific and medical circles, about vaccination. As a general practitioner, in the past I have been in the position of having to help inform people about vaccination. When you do get to the little wrappers that come with the little bottles of vaccine and read the small print, the alarm bells start ringing.
… Vaccination is the application of a vaccine. That can be taken into account for oral doses as well. The problem with immunisation is that that is the result of a reaction to vaccination. It does not always occur. Immunisation may or may not result from vaccination. The word `vaccination’ is the better one to use.
Was Bob Brown anti-vaccination? No, he was not. But he understood the science behind the process of vaccination, accepted that some people would be harmed by vaccines and stated correctly that being vaccinated was not the same as being immune. Senator Brown supported the right of all Australians to make personal decisions regarding this issue in line with Greens policy which, to the best of our knowledge, remains the same today as it was all those years ago.
Are the Greens still Greens?
The Greens party has always stood for social justice, respect for our fellow human beings and our planet. It’s understandable however that some people may be concerned about whether this stance is still the same considering statements made by some members of the Greens regarding both vaccination and anti-discrimination laws in the last few weeks.
In NSW Parliament during the recent debate to require parents to show Conscientious Objector forms before their children would be admitted to either preschool or childcare, a Greens Member argued against allowing the children of either religious or conscientious objectors to be allowed to attend these facilities. Instead, he claimed that the only exemption that should be available is the medical exemption and even for that, parents would need a final approval from a GP – something which would be very difficult to nearly impossible to obtain since most GPs don’t acknowledge reactions even when they occur right in front of them! He also said that there are no religions which preclude use of vaccination as part of their tenets. However, we have it on good authority that Christian Scientists do not vaccinate (nor do they use any Western medicine). In addition, we have also heard that there are several other religions such as Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Orthodox Jews, Muslims and Catholics who either refuse to use certain vaccines or have policies that object to some vaccine ingredients.
The fact that Greens parliamentarians are apparently at the forefront of efforts to discriminate against caring parents who are making what they feel is the best possible decision for their own children is shocking to people who were previously Greens supporters. Many of these people have written to us to express their concern. We will publish those letters in the next blog so you can see how articulate, respectful and well-informed AVN members and supporters are.
Did Senator Di Natale try to get the AVN’s viewpoint before attacking the AVN in the Senate?
The most undemocratic example of these attacks on human rights however, has to be that of Senator Richard Di Natale. As we said in a recent blog, Senator Di Natale proposed a motion that the AVN immediately disband. How did he arrive at this decision? Why would a senator take such an action against a group simply because he disagrees with their message – a message that has been debated by some of the world’s most eminent scientists for over 200 years?
A couple of days before the motion was proposed, the following message appeared on the Facebook page of the hate group, Stop the AVN. Since this message was never posted to the Senator’s own Facebook page (or if it was, the post was later deleted), one must assume that Senator Di Natale was in direct contact with the organisation that has pledged to shut down the AVN in any way possible – including through the use of threats, abuse, harassment and vexatious government complaints. At no time did the Senator attempt to contact the AVN to get our side or to understand why Australian parents question vaccination.
By clicking here, you can read the full text of the Senator’s speech from his parliamentary website. Here, we will examine just a few of the many untrue statements and errors and inaccuracies. If Senator Di Natale has the support of the Greens party, this party should be made to explain exactly what evidence they had available to them to back-up the statements which he made under the protection of parliamentary privilege.
Senator (Dr) Di Natale is apparently unaware that Australia is in the midst of a whooping cough epidemic.
When reciting the litany of all that Australians can be grateful for when it comes to vaccination, Senator Di Natale says that,
“We are spared the horror of watching a child with whooping cough turn blue and suffer a seizure from a coughing fit.”
One would think that as a doctor, he should be aware of the fact that Australia is in the midst of a now 6-year long whooping cough epidemic. At its height, this epidemic had more per-capita cases of whooping cough reported than at any time since the introduction of mass vaccination in 1953. In fact, medical journals around the world have been publishing peer-reviewed articles since the early 1990s which indicate that the whooping cough vaccine may be responsible for this upsurge in both cases and deaths.
Senator Di Natale knows nothing about the AVN – and it shows
When discussing the AVN, Senator Di Natale claims that:
“In fact, their [the AVN’s] mission is to deter parents from getting their children vaccinated. They accomplish their mission by sowing fear and doubt in the minds of parents who have young kids, and by dressing it up in the language of science. They pretend to be neutral providers of information to allow parents to make a choice, but in reality they are fiercely anti vaccine.”
What does the Senator base this statement upon? Where is his evidence? Even the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC), which illegally investigated the AVN in 2009/2010, stated that they had found no evidence that we had ever told anyone not to vaccinate nor had we discouraged anyone from making that choice. One would think that a Senator standing up in Parliament to make such strong statements would do everything in his or her power to ensure the truth of what they were saying. But as we noted earlier, Senator Di Natale did not contact the AVN with his concerns nor did he offer us an opportunity to discuss these issues with him.
Senator Di Natale refers to ‘debunked science’ as proof that the AVN is wrong.
“They [the AVN] say that the MMR vaccine causes autism, a claim they know has been thoroughly and comprehensively debunked.”
Senator Di Natale is obviously referring to the study by Dr Andrew Wakefield et al, published in the Lancet in 1998. This study was the subject of the longest medical investigation in British history by the General Medical Council (GMC) who determined that 3 of the 13 researchers involved had committed fraud in relation to some of the tests performed. They never debunked the results of the study (which wasn’t really a study at all – it was simply a case series reporting on 12 children this team had treated). Last year, one of the three investigators won a high court challenge against the findings of the GMC and there is a great deal of pressure being brought to bear from within the scientific community to reinstate the article in the Lancet.
Since the original Lancet study was published, there have been dozens of peer-reviewed articles which have verified the original findings of the 1998 Wakefield case series. Is Dr Di Natale unaware of this fact?
In addition, the studies to which he refers – the ones which supposedly ‘debunk’ the link between autism and vaccination – have themselves been discredited. Poul Thorsen, a man who is now one of America’s 10 most wanted criminals, was either the lead researcher or worked on 22 out of 24 of these studies. He is now awaiting extradition to stand trial in the US for fraud and embezzlement of between 1 and 2 million dollars from the Centers for Disease Control.
Senator Di Natale greatly exaggerates the risk to children from measles
In the 20 years prior to the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1970, the death rate from measles ranged from between 0.1 and 0.2 per 100,000 per year. In fact, in the early 1980s when the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine was first used in the UK, a medical encyclopedia edited by the then-editor of the British Medical Journal stated that the only long-term side effects from measles virus was life-long immunity to measles infection.
Yet here is how Senator Di Natale describes this common and formerly benign disease of childhood:
“It is a virus that damages the human body and has the potential for serious and sometimes fatal complications. In 2001 the World Health Organization estimated 158,000 deaths from this disease. It is one of the leading causes of preventable death worldwide. To suggest that a parent should deliberately expose their child to this disease is reckless. Measles is dangerous and it can be fatal.”
To suggest, as Senator Di Natale does, that Australian children are at high risk of permanent disability or death from measles infection and that measles vaccine will reduce that risk is both unscientific and reckless. And estimates provided by the World Health Organisation are just that – estimates. They are determined by computer modelling which has never been confirmed by actual on-the-ground statistical information. This issue is covered in great detail on our sister blog, the Real Australian Sceptics.
Senator Di Natale thanks abusers and harassers
“I am grateful to people like Daniel Raffaele, Peter Bowditch, Ken McLeod and others who have endured the harassment of Ms Dorey and her followers, but they do it in order to save other parents the unending pain and heartache that they themselves have had to endure.”
This is one of the most shocking statements that Senator Di Natale made. Daniel Raffaele is neither a parent nor someone who has ever shown any sympathy to parents who have had to endure his harassment. He has publicly stated that he would see the demise of ex-AVN President, Meryl Dorey, and late-night phone calls, confirmed by the NSW Police to have originated from his home, were made to Ms Dorey’s house asking her to ‘Die in a Fire’ and ‘Just burn’ (click the links to listen to recordings of these calls). In fact, Ms Dorey currently has an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) against Mr Raffaele which stops him from coming within 100 metres of her.
Peter Bowditch is one of the most abusive individuals involved in this issue. He regularly asks the parents of vaccine injured children – and even those whose children have died as a result of vaccination – how many dead babies it takes to give them an orgasm. He has asked Ms Dorey who has a vaccine-injured child herself, this very question several times and continued to send her harassing emails long after she asked him to stop.
Yet these are people Senator Di Natale says he is grateful to.
Senator Di Natale claims:
“. To silence critics they [the AVN and Ms Dorey, its ex-President] take out apprehended violence orders.”
The AVN feels that this is a very dangerous statement since it puts the government squarely on the side of those who threaten and harass others and also has the potential to prejudice cases which are currently before the courts. Ms Dorey has endured over 4 years of daily abuse and harassment from the very individuals whom the Senator holds up as paragons of society. In fact, this abuse was so unprecedented, Dr Brian Martin, Professor of Social Sciences at the University of Wollongong, said (in relation to the attacks against the AVN and Ms Dorey):
“In over 30 years studying scientific controversies, I have never come across such a sustained attack on a citizens’ group involved primarily in presenting information to the public.”
His article, Debating Vaccination, is a study of these attacks which Senator Di Natale may find informative were he to take the time to read it.
Ms Dorey filed three AVOs – two of which are yet to be finalised – and one of which has been awarded as stated above. The AVOs were filed at the suggestion of the NSW Police and were a last-ditch attempt by Ms Dorey to gain the protection of the courts against individuals whom she rightly feared.
Senator Di Natale’s statements are not factual
Under the protection of parliamentary privilege, Senator Di Natale makes the following claim:
“Ms Dorey is alleged to have called Chris Kokogei, whose child died of chickenpox, and said that his child died because his child was weak.”
This ‘allegation’ is completely false. Ms Dorey has never contacted any parent who had lost a child as a result of either vaccination or illness and for Senator Di Natale to tell such untruths without any evidence whatsoever, is completely immoral. For over 20 years, Ms Dorey has regularly helped, supported and comforted parents whose children have either died or been permanently injured by vaccines. At all times, she has provided both sympathy and assistance to these families. At no time has she or would she ever have behaved in such a callous manner.
A poor example of a parliamentarian
We invite you now to read the full text of Senator Di Natale’s speech. If you are a member or supporter of the Greens, we invite you to respectfully express your feelings about the Senator to Senator Christine Milne, Greens leader. We also ask you to consider carefully where you will put both your financial support and your vote in the up-coming election. Will you vote for a party that supports human rights or will you vote for a party that appears to oppose this most basic of issues?