Mistakes, traps, ethics, and integrity
– Greg Beattie
The federal election falls at the end of this week. While the economy, asylum seekers, and education have dominated the airwaves, something else has been brewing…
The Australian Greens don’t want you to know it, but they are spearheading the push for compulsory vaccination in Australia. They believe there should be no parental choice. They argued vigorously in NSW parliament to have all conscientious exemptions and religious exemptions removed. Fortunately they were defeated (read Hansard here). Shortly after that, their health spokesperson, Senator Richard Di Natale, made his now infamous speech in Federal Parliament calling for the disbanding of the AVN. Read the speech here.
Surprised? I think most people are. In fact, disbelief is the reaction from many who have traditionally supported the Greens. But it gets worse. In a bizarre recent move, Di Natale confused things by issuing a statement saying neither he nor the Greens supported compulsory vaccination. Has the party changed its stance? Or is he playing a semantic game with the word ‘compulsory’? We have been trying to find out but despite being pressed, neither he nor party leaders, will answer the question. Click here and here to read Di Natale’s statement and letters we have sent asking for clarification.
Love them or hate them one thing is clear: when it comes to vaccination, the Greens are currently the most vehemently and vocally anti-choice political force in Australia. Ironically, it’s a stance they are unwilling to articulate to voters on the eve of this election.
But first a bit of history for those who have not followed the saga. It has now been more than two months since I last attempted to communicate with Senator Christine Milne, leader of the Greens, concerning Di Natale’s outburst in parliament. Two phone calls and three emails to her and not one breath of response! So I contacted deputy leader Adam Bandt three weeks ago and, again, no response. Click here to read all of the emails.
Obviously the issue is something they don’t want anything to do with. Why might that be?
We all make mistakes. Just over two months ago Di Natale made a pile of them in parliament. Unfortunately, he didn’t check his story before opening his mouth. I won’t go over all the mistakes but I will mention a few.
He said the AVN claims “… the MMR vaccine causes autism, a claim they know has been thoroughly and comprehensively debunked”. The truth is the AVN says that evidence of a link has been published. And that’s a fact. In fact, since the original ‘Wakefield’ report, more than 80 studies have been published supporting this proposition. And numerous court cases for damages have found in favour of it after considering the competing evidence. Clearly it is a mistake to claim it has been “thoroughly and comprehensively debunked”.
There were a few more in relation to the actual vaccine debate, but the really worrying examples were the ones where he attempted to slander at a personal level.
He said “[former president] 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”. The truth is Ms Dorey doesn’t know this man at all and has never had any contact with him whatsoever.
He went further, claiming grieving families have endured “months of harassment from the AVN“. However there is absolutely no evidence of this. The AVN has certainly never harassed any grieving family, and never will.
He also said “To silence critics they take out apprehended violence orders”. Now that’s some imagination. Here’s the truth. Our former president, Ms Dorey, has an AVO against a man because of a series of depraved and threatening phone calls made in the middle of the night to her home. You can read more about this and listen to the calls by clicking here. The calls were traced by police to the man’s home. You may find this difficult to believe, but Di Natale actually named the man and thanked him:
“I am grateful to people like Daniel Raffaele…”
Yes, this all occurred in the same speech. It was obviously a mistake; one of gargantuan proportions. Surely he didn’t mean to do it, but being so ill-informed, he didn’t even know what the AVO was about, and that the man he was thanking was the subject of it. Again you can listen to the phone calls by clicking the link above.
As I said, we all make mistakes. Perhaps we don’t often make this many in one go, and perhaps we rarely let our carelessness extend so deep, especially when speaking from such a prominent platform. But we’re all different. The question is why did he get so much wrong when he had so much time to prepare his speech?
He had obviously been lobbied. It’s no secret there is an organised group (calling itself “Stop the AVN”) that formed for this purpose. Its members regularly use smear tactics in an attempt to turn people against the AVN. They’ve been doing it for years. They lobby whoever will listen. Enter Di Natale, who swallowed the stories, hook, line, and sinker. He then made his first mistake. He neglected to contact us.
But that’s part of what ‘hook, line, and sinker’ means, isn’t it? A person falls so completely for a trap that they make not just one but a succession of mistakes. Would you believe he has never contacted the AVN about these stories ever? Still he decided to give parliament a rundown on the organisation, based entirely on the stories.
So question number one is why did he not seek a response first?
The AVN has been a legally constituted consumer organisation and a registered charity for the past 16 years. We promote discussion and support consumers in their quest for information. We also strive to ensure that their right to make free and informed choices is never taken away. We’re publicly available via mail, email, fax and phone. Contact from members of parliament is always welcome: in fact, encouraged.
A lesson I learnt in childhood was “whenever you make a mess in life, clean it up before moving on”. Isn’t it true that we’re all judged ultimately, not by the mistakes we make, but by the way we clean up? There are always two options: clean up and move on, or just move on and hope no one saw.
When the Greens were made aware of their mistakes (again please read the emails) they had a choice: clean up the mess, or simply ignore and hope no one saw it happen. They took the latter option and that was the biggest mistake of all.
People historically see the party as ethical. Even those who disagree with Greens policies tend to think of its key players as possessing integrity. According to former leader Bob Brown, the party used the guiding principle of placing one’s self in the shoes of a person 100 years from now and asking, “Will this person thank me for my actions today?”
I think the Greens were relevant to many for these reasons, but what about the current crop of players? I can’t comment on them all but Di Natale certainly fell short. He knows by now he left a big mess and, in the process, impugned the character of many decent people. He was careless and used his position of influence in an irresponsible way. But, again, that’s a mistake. The real issue is that when it was brought to his attention, and an invitation was extended, he chose to run from his mess.
Christine Milne knows what happened, and rather than face the problem, and manage the clean up, she chose to ignore it. Her party has, via a monumental error of both fact and judgement by its spokesperson, publicly condemned an organisation of decent caring people. And when approached by the organisation’s president to discuss this, she has shunned the opportunity to manage a clean-up. Deputy Adam Bandt has now joined her. This type of behaviour is inexcusable from any political party, but from the Greens it is particularly disappointing.
Whatever damage has been done to their reputation through this is something for the longer term to address. It’s time to get back to the title of this article. Our federal election takes place at the end of this week. What the Greens need to do now, if they wish to salvage any integrity with pro-choice voters, is clarify where they stand regarding compulsion. And they need to do it quickly.
Do they still want to remove all parental choice, as they made clear in the ‘No jab, no play’ debate in NSW parliament? Or have they changed? Do they now support and respect the right of parents to make choices on this controversial issue, without fear or favour? It’s time to come clean. Voters are waiting…
[This article is a follow-up from earlier posts:]