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In November 2013, the Administrative Decisions Tribunal affirmed that the NSW Office of Fair Trading (OFT) may lawfully order us to change our name. Then, in December, our attempt to process the new name was thwarted when that name was somehow leaked to outside parties. This happened within hours of our payment failing due to an unauthorized access on our credit card. This enabled them to ‘get in first’ and register the name for themselves.

(Note: individuals can register business names immediately, whereas incorporated associations have to wait for OFT to register an official name on their behalf.)

This was not the first time we suspected sensitive information had leaked from OFT. Just one month prior, members of ‘Stop the AVN’ publicised the decision regarding our forced name change (mentioned above) before we ourselves were aware of it. At the time, the only parties with access to this information were OFT and the Tribunal itself. The event in December galvanised our suspicions.

Our contact at the OFT undertook to investigate the alleged leak, but despite this promise, it appears that no investigation has taken place and all communication with our contact has been cut off by the OFT without explanation.

During the past six months, many of our members have asked about the progress of this investigation. Each time, we have had to reply that we were still waiting. To date, we have had no adequate response nor any indication that an investigation has or will take place.

On May 15th of this year (six weeks ago) we issued the Commissioner with a statement of events, and asked for confirmation of its accuracy. We indicated the statement would be used to brief our members about what had occurred thus far.

We have been asked to sit tight ever since while a response could be prepared. And we have, until now. Our final deadline to OFT passed five days ago. The Committee has now decided to go ahead and release the statement.

Below is the letter, complete with the statement and an outline of our concerns. In addition, you will find subsequent correspondence between OFT and AVN.

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May 15, 2014

The Commissioner,
NSW Fair Trading

Ref: Your correspondence of 14/3/2014
by email to commissioner@finance.nsw.gov.au

Dear Commissioner,

Regarding the possible leakage from your office of sensitive information concerning our organisation.

Please read the following document and advise as to whether any of the information in the enclosure or the summary (below) is inaccurate. We request your response in writing no later than the close of business on Thursday, May 29, 2014. Should you require more time to respond, please contact us. In response to queries from our members regarding this issue, we intend to inform them using the information in the summary and full-text letter below. If we do not hear from you within this timeframe, we will presume that you agree with these statements and will proceed accordingly.

In summary:

1- No formal investigation took place. It is clear that sensitive information provided by the AVN, somehow flowed from NSW Fair Trading to third parties. Despite the disturbing nature of this situation, NSW Fair Trading has neglected to conduct an investigation.

2- Ms Lunney, our contact at the department, expressed deep concern about what had occurred. We were surprised then to be told that she was unavailable to speak with us subsequently.

3- It seems that someone within NSW Fair Trading did indeed release information to a third party. However, instead of treating this situation with the seriousness it deserved, a carefully-worded letter was sent to the AVN by Mr Stowe, the Commissioner of Fair Trading, giving us assurances of things we hadn’t alleged whilst avoiding those we had.

Kind regards,
Greg Beattie,
President
Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network Inc

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Is the NSW Office of Fair Trading leaking privileged information?

Members of Stop the AVN have obtained information that was not in the public arena at least twice in recent months.

The first instance occurred on the 25th of November. When the Administrative Decisions Tribunal (ADT) decision was handed down in the case of the AVN against NSW Fair Trading, members of Stop the AVN issued tweets about our loss before we ourselves were informed and before this information was public knowledge. We confirmed with the Registrar at the ADT that the only person who had knowledge of this decision at the time the tweets were issued was the solicitor for NSW Fair Trading.

The second instance occurred in December of 2013.

At 11:36 AM on the 20th of December, Meryl Dorey faxed and emailed a copy of a Form A1 (application to reserve a name) as well as a credit card payment form to the Department of NSW Fair Trading.

Unfortunately, due to an unauthorised access of the AVN’s credit card, the payment was rejected on December 24th.

1- Within hours of the payment failure, members of Stop the AVN had registered the exact same name we had tried to reserve as well as three variations of that name with ASIC.

2- On Boxing Day (December 26th), the AVN’s President, Mr Greg Beattie, received a call from Mr Rick Morton, a journalist with the Australian newspaper, who asked him why our name registration had failed. At this point, we ourselves were unaware of any problem with the payment and Mr Beattie told him as much.

3- On January 2nd, Mr Morton published an article (Appendix A) stating that the AVN had failed to register the name Australian Vaccination-Sceptics Network. The only time that name (including the hyphen) had been written down was on the paperwork the AVN had submitted to the Department on the 20th of December.

4- That same day, January 2nd, the AVN was made aware of a blog post from Mr Dan Buzzard (the text of which was later posted to the AVN’s PO Box in Bangalow). (Appendix B). Mr Buzzard stated that on the 24th of December, his “investigators” notified him that we had attempted to register the name Australian Vaccination-Sceptics Network.

5- Also on the 2nd of January, the following online comment was posted on the website of the Northern Star newspaper in response to their story about the AVN’s ‘failure’ to register our name.

Sandra_Harvey of Ocean Shores wrote:

“So to reserve a name without paying for it until their hand is forced once again by NSW Fair Trading has backfired. Dan Buzzard registered the name Australian Vaccination Sceptics Network with ASIC. If they had simply paid up like any sane person who wanted to register a name, they would have nothing to complain about”

All of these events took place well before we ourselves were aware of the failure of our payment and at a time when our name reservation should not have been public knowledge.

When ASIC reopened in January, the AVN enquired as to whether any of the above information might have been available to the public on their database. We were informed that name reservations do not appear on the database until they have been registered with the relevant state authorities. In fact, they themselves don’t have access to name reservations from the various states so nobody could have found out about this from them.

On Monday, January 6th, Mr Beattie spoke with Ms Robyne Lunney, our contact at Fair Trading, to inform her of Mr Buzzard’s claims and the article published in the Australian newspaper. Ms Lunney was disturbed by these events and said she would investigate and get back to Mr Beattie. She requested more details which were provided later that day by email. [Appendix C]

On trying to follow up with Ms Lunney, Mr Beattie was twice told by Fair Trading that she was not available and would no longer be available to speak with him.

On the 11th of February, Mr Beattie sent an email to Ms Lunney asking how the investigation was progressing. [Appendix D].

He received a response on the 13th of February, but not from Ms Lunney. Instead, Ms Christine Gowland was the correspondent.
Her only response to Mr Beattie’s question about the ‘investigation’ was:

“A response to the other issues raised in that email and your earlier email regarding events following your name reservation will be provided shortly under separate cover.”

After having no other contact with the Department regarding this matter, Mr Beattie sent the following request to Ms Gowland on March 3rd, 2014:

Dear Ms Gowland

I understand from the last sentence in your email (below) that the matter of sensitive information falling into the hands of a third party is still being investigated by your office. Can you please advise me of the name and contact details of the branch or person conducting this investigation so that [I] may ask further questions directly?

[It is our understanding that proper procedure for such an investigation is that it be conducted by a separate branch and that the party requesting the investigation (in this case, the AVN) be informed of these details.]

Ms Gowland did not respond to Mr Beattie’s request for further details about this investigation. Instead, the next correspondence from her was received by the AVN on the 12th of March 2014. It was a letter informing him that the AVN had 5 days in which to comply with the order to ensure that our name was changed on all documents and on our website.

On March 13th, Mr Beattie wrote to Ms Gowland acknowledging her advice regarding our name change and reminding her that he had yet to receive a response to his request from the 5th of March for details on the internal investigation.

Ms Gowland responded on the same day as follows:

“A formal response will soon be provided to you regarding issues raised in regards to information surrounding the new name.”

On March 14th, Mr Beattie sent the following email to Ms Gowland:

Dear Ms Gowland

Thank you for your email. I must ask why you have neglected to identify the party conducting the investigation. Surely we are entitled to make enquiries to this party regarding time-frames and other issues. Is it a formal investigation? I ask because these are the questions being asked of me by our members.

I look forward to your response.

Kind regards
Greg Beattie
President
Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network Inc.

On the 21st of March, the AVN received a letter by postal mail from Mr Rod Stowe, Commissioner of NSW Fair Trading. This letter [Appendix E], was signed on March 14th but not posted until March 19th. The letter simply stated that Mr Stowe assured the AVN that NSW Fair Trading had not disclosed any details regarding the name Australian Vaccination-Sceptics Network to the media or in any public forum.

The use of this language is interesting. Whilst members of the media were clearly privy to this information, the AVN has never alleged that NSW Fair Trading had released it directly to them. Why then did Mr Stowe use these words? The fact is that information which was not in the public domain and was sent by us to NSW Fair Trading under current privacy legislation, somehow made it to these parties. The question is – how did this happen?

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From: <commissioner@finance.nsw.gov.au>
Date: Wed, May 21, 2014 at 5:02 PM
Subject: Re: Correspondence from Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network     Inc.

Dear Mr Beattie

Thank you for your further correspondence on this issue, which is currently being considered. A formal reply will be forthcoming following careful consideration of the points raised.

I will shortly provide you with an updated reference number for this matter.

Regards,
XXXXXXXX
Office of the Commissioner | NSW Fair Trading

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From: <commissioner@finance.nsw.gov.au>
Date: Mon, May 26, 2014 at 10:05 AM
Subject: Ref: FTMIN14/1376 – Correspondence from Australian     Vaccination-skeptics Network Inc.

Dear Mr Beattie

I write again to further acknowledge your latest correspondence.

The reference number for this matter is FTMIN14/1376.

Unfortunately, the Commissioner will not be able to meet your stated deadline for a response to the issues raised, especially due to the fact he has only just today returned from overseas leave. However, please be assured the matter is under consideration and a response will be forthcoming as soon as possible.

Regards,
XXXXXXXX
Office of the Commissioner | NSW Fair Trading

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From: Greg Beattie
Date: Fri, Jun 13, 2014 at 2:00 PM
Subject: Re: Ref: FTMIN14/1376 – Correspondence from Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network Inc.
To: commissioner@finance.nsw.gov.au

Dear XXXXXXXX

Your ref: FTMIN14/1376

Please be advised that our committee intends to commence preparing the information for our members after close of business next week (June 20). We request that the Commissioner notify us before that date if he feels that any of the information in the timeline we sent him is inaccurate or otherwise not in order. We presume the Commissioner is familiar with the issue, having previosly considered the allegations. If any substantial inaccuracies can be identified before the time mentioned above, we will be happy to delay informing our members to allow further time for investigation.

Please ensure a copy of this email is forwarded to the Commissioner.

Kind regards

Greg Beattie
President
Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network Inc.

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From: <commissioner@finance.nsw.gov.au>
Date: Mon, Jun 16, 2014 at 11:38 AM
Subject: Re: FTMIN14/1376 – Correspondence from Australian     Vaccination-skeptics Network Inc.

Dear Mr Beattie

Thank you for this latest e-mail, which will be considered in the preparation of the Commissioner’s response to your previous correspondence on this issue (FTMIN14/1376).

Regards,
Office of the Commissioner | NSW Fair Trading

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Date: Fri, Jun 20, 2014 at 7:17 AM
Subject: Re: FTMIN14/1376 – Correspondence from Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network Inc.
To: commissioner@finance.nsw.gov.au

Dear XXXXXXX,
Thank you for your email. It has now been more than five months since this matter was raised. Despite its concerning nature (something clearly acknowledged by your own representative) we still have not had an adequate response. I reiterate that our committee intends to prepare the information for members after close of business today (June 20, 2014). We will also consider whether further action is warranted.
Please ensure the Commissioner receives this email.
Thank you for your assistance.
Yours sincerely
Greg Beattie
President
Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network Inc.

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From: <commissioner@finance.nsw.gov.au>
Date: Fri, Jun 20, 2014 at 2:35 PM
Subject: Re: FTMIN14/1376 – Correspondence from Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network Inc.

Dear Mr Beattie

I acknowledge your email and have made the Commissioner aware of it.
We are expediting the Commissioner’s response and hope to send it to you today.
Regards,
XXXXXXXX
Office of the Commissioner | NSW Fair Trading

11 Comments

  1. Why am I not surprised? Government departments don’t have the time or the inclination to sort out something unless it is in their interest. If they are anything like to HCCC, then they are controlled by sad little cretins from the SAVN.

  2. Thank you Greg for keeping members updated on this very serious matter. We anxiously await the commissioner’s thorough investigation and explanation of this serious breach of his privacy laws and assault to our democratic way of life. We also hope appropriate punishment and public exposure of all the culprits will be shortly forthcoming (as one should expect in democracies like ours).
    Why doesn’t the ABC and Media Watch raise this issue istead of frequently protraying the AVN as the ones who have no right to an opinion and no right to excercise their choices relating to that opinion. Keep up the amazing job you are doing, it saves more children from the dangers of poorly tested, often needles, potentially dangerous and ineffective vaccines.

  3. If any other business had this happen I reckon the ACCC would be involved. Why aren’t they now? It is criminal behaviour. Maybe because it has roots in another Government Department?

  4. Pathetic response from the OFT, against the law you would think. Seems like they are the only ones who are allowed to break the law and get away with it in this instance? The AVN has acted within the boundaries at all times whilst the OFT has acted like “dodgy brothers” scared of being found out. They underestimate the members.

  5. This is disgusting behaviour by DFT -they clearly have zero integrity – I think they should change their name to Dept of Unfair Trading

  6. Dear Greg & Meryl, To say this is a disgusting state of affairs is the understatement of the year / century ! I am assuming that you have exhausted all avenues of justice IE The Ombudsmen,ICAC,Current affairs ,Today tonight etc etc . ? You clearly have them cold and trapped and it is a good time to get some form of media to promote this absurd story . Anything I can do ? cheers Tony Stoddart

  7. It is certainly obvious that the Office of “Fair?” Trading DID leak private information. Those involved should be held accountable and anybody complicit in this underhanded action should be sacked.

  8. Dear Greg, So how does one proceed when one is getting road-blocked from various dead-ends? I smell fear and when fear raises its ugly head (looks like SAVN) challenges and gauntlets are thrown down. So where to now?
    Proud to be a part of this challenge, one of many for our times.

  9. Gotta share this wisdom

    As Gandhi said:
    first they laugh,
    then they ignore,
    when they fight,
    that’s when you win!

  10. I hope you all reading this are leaving messages like I have for the Commissioner.What a cheek?We are there wage- payers and they treat everyone with utter contempt. Brian and Susan Cook

Comments are closed.