Please note – there is an action alert at the end of this posting.
Since being vindicated by the NSW Supreme Court on the 24th of February and subsequently having our authority to fundraise reinstated on the 18th of April this year, the AVN has been the subject of no less then four separate government investigations.
1- The Health Care Complaints Commission received a 90-page complaint by Ken McLeod – member of Stop the AVN and a man whose obsession with me seems to border on the psychotic. McLeod filed the original complaint, resulting in a 12-month ‘investigation’ by the HCCC and a public warning – both of which were later deemed to be illegal by the NSW Supreme Court. It appears that McLeod must spend hours every day trying to prove that I am a liar and that the AVN is responsible for global warming, the current financial crisis and the death of every child from infectious disease no matter where in the world it occurs (this is only slightly tongue in cheek). I will be uploading McLeod’s full complaint and the HCCC’s response next week – I am just waiting to receive the last 67 pages which were sent to me by post.To their credit, the HCCC told McLeod that they had no jurisdiction to investigate either myself or the AVN (we were both named as respondents in the paperwork) based upon his evidence – some of which was gleaned by searching the archives of our email discussion list going back as far as 1998!
Despite the HCCC’s rejection, it is obvious that McLeod will continue to try and get me charged with some sort of crime and will not stop trying to shut down the AVN until one of us is imprisoned or he is finally provided with the psychiatric support he seemingly needs.
2- The Department of Fair Trading which originally investigated the AVN back in 2009 due to another complaint from McLeod and others involved with the Australian Skeptics and Stop the AVN, has come back again due to yet another complaint, involving what appears to be dubious technicalities.
(a) Our old website did not include the name Australian Vaccination Network, Inc. It said Australian Vaccination Network and underneath that, the words “AVN, Inc.” appeared. Apparently, because the name of the organisation is legally Australian Vaccination Network, Inc, the word “Inc.” or “Incorporated” must appear on the banner of the page – a requirement we were unaware of. In researching this issue, I did a random search of 15 other incorporated associations in NSW and out of that 15 (some of which are very large and well-funded organisations), 14 of them did not include either “Inc.” or “Incorporated” in their banner or even on their home page! When I brought this to the attention of the investigating officer at the Dept of Fair Trading, I was told that no organisation had previously been cited for this reason and they only cite groups when this lapse is brought to their attention. Thanks Ken – aren’t we special?
(b) The department wants us to provide them with a breakdown of product sales we have made to members as opposed to sales to non-members because they seem to feel that we don’t deserve to be registered as an incorporated association and instead, should be classed as a commercial enterprise. If we are a commercial enterprise, we need to go and write a better business plan because it’s only donations and memberships that have kept us afloat since our inception! In any case, the information they are asking for is not information we are required to keep track of and this has been confirmed by the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing – the government department that administers charities and their requirements.
I have informed the Dept of Fair trading that I cannot break down our income from sales of products to members and non-members because we are not required to keep track of this and therefore, we have not done so. This doesn’t seem to be satisfactory to them and they are continuing to ask me to provide them with this information or they may have to consider their ‘options’ in regards to our registration.
3- The Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing (OLGR) which on the 18th of April reinstated our authority to fundraise without any extra conditions since there was never any valid reason to revoke it in the first place (the sole reason was the illegal warning published by the HCCC), has stated (please see the information at the end of this article on Dr Andrew McDonald, Shadow Minister for Health in NSW and Mr George Souris, Minister for Gaming and Racing) that we will be watched very closely and that it will only be a matter of time – sooner rather than later – that we will again be subject to another audit. I have no problem with this because any errors or technical breaches that were found in the OLGR’’s last audit have been corrected, but honestly, when there are organisations out there suspected of committing fraud, why is so much attention being paid to our small, volunteer-run group? The only reason is that SAVN and the Australian Skeptics continue to file vexatious complaints on an almost daily basis and the government, by their own requirements, are forced to investigate these complaints.
4- Earlier in the week, I received a call from a representative of the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA) Advertising Codes Council who informed me that they had received a complaint about us (gee, I wonder who would have made such a complaint? I just can’t imagine!) and I would be hearing from them in the next few days in regards to a matter I will have to respond to.
I don’t know at this point what the complaint is about, but having several friends in the natural therapies field who have received correspondence from this same department, I think I can guess.
Suppression of information and trade
I’d like to share with you what is going on with natural therapies in Australia. To put things into context, please remember that between 18,000 and 54,000 Australians are dying every year as a result of adverse reactions to properly prescribed medications  and medical error while there are virtually NO deaths from natural therapies which 60% of Australians use on a regular basis. Despite this evidence of safety, the government seems to spend an inordinate amount of time investigating natural therapists and – for all intents and purposes – almost no time investigating the medical profession.
Even when they finally DO investigate something – such as the recent case of doctors negligently giving infants and children a banned flu vaccine, leading to at least one child being placed in intensive care, the government stated that no doctor would be held responsible.
Is it just me or does this smack of a serious double standard?
The friends I know who have been contacted by the TGA’s Advertising Codes Council have been ordered to remove information from their websites.
Why? Because the TGA has the power to treat information as though it were advertising.
How can this be? Basically, if you inform someone of something that touches on health and that might be capable of convincing the reader to take a certain course of action – which might involve buying something at some point somewhere from someone in the future – it’s advertising. Even if the people providing the information weren’t selling anything relating to that information – or linking or referring to anyone who may have been selling it (which they can also rule against) the TGA considers it to be advertising and can order it to removed from the internet.
I have another friend who was selling a product which stated that it was ‘paraben-free’. The product linked through to an unrelated website in the USA where there were scientific studies listing the potential problems caused by paraben exposure. The TGA, responding to a complaint from a pharmaceutical company which sold a competing product that just happened to contain paraben, came in and told this person that she had to remove the words ‘paraben-free’ from her website, change the packaging of her product and remove the links between her website and the website in the US. The thought police strike again! Not only are we not allowed to give out information on health issues – we aren’t allowed to link to other people who are giving out information on health issues – even if those other people are outside of Australia.
Skeptic fraud costs precious resources
You can’t blame the TGA completely however.They are stuck between a rock and a hard place because once a complaint has been filed, they are required to investigate it. They probably don’t like doing it any more than the person or business being investigated – but they have no choice.
The real villains here are those members of the Australian Skeptics and Stop the AVN who – though they themselves have not been harmed by any of these products, by any of this information or by any of these remedies – intentionally waste the public’s time, money and expertise by pursuing vexatious and absolutely ridiculous complaints. The Skeptics have worked out a way to rort the system by using current legislation to victimise those who they disagree with. And the ones who lose out when this sort of fraud is perpetrated by a group that opposes freedom of choice and speech are the Australian taxpayers.
How much does this government persecution cost?
Two months – four investigations. How much have the last three years worth of AVN persecution cost the government? I don’t know yet, but I wouldn’t think there would be much change out of a couple of million dollars – especially since the HCCC has had to pay their own court costs as well as our own. How much money has the government spent over this period on testing the safety and effectiveness of vaccinations? From what I can tell – absolutely nothing. Perhaps they need a lesson in priorities?
The latest event
Last night, I was contacted by a journalist who informed me that Dr Andrew McDonald, the NSW Shadow Minister for Health, would be calling on the Minister for Gaming and Racing, Mr George Souris, to act to revoke the fundraising license of the Australian Vaccination Network and investigate our operations.
McDonald said our organisation was not a charity (despite being licensed as one since 1996) but a lobby group and it should not be allowed to continue to enjoy the kind of tax breaks that ‘real charities’ which undertake work for the public enjoy.
This demonstrates the almost unbelievable ignorance of Dr McDonald. Does he really believe that being a charity gives a group tax breaks? Does he not understand the difference between a charity and a deductible gift recipient? Is he completely unaware of the fact that being a charity does not give a group tax breaks – it simply entitles them to do fund-raising and sell raffle tickets?
Being a charity can be considered fairly onerous because charities need to be audited at great cost (thousands of dollars a year) and have other strict regulatory requirements whilst other groups that do not ‘pursue a charitable purpose’ – groups such as the Australian Skeptics and Stop the AVN – have none of these requirements and none of this oversight.
We would have gotten rid of the charity authority if we were able to. In fact, we tried before simply because we could not afford it. Unfortunately, the OLGR says that according to our constitution and the work we do, it is obvious that we do indeed ‘pursue a charitable purpose’ and therefore, we are a ‘charity’.
Without the written authority from the OLGR, we would have the worst of both worlds (as we’ve had for the last 18 months from the time of our revocation to our reinstatement) – the cost of accountability combined with the inability to take on new members (strangely, new memberships are classed as fundraising while renewals and donations from current members are not) or donations from the general public. So we were happy to have our charity authority reinstated – especially with the notification that the only reason it had been revoked was the illegal public warning issued by the HCCC.
Perhaps Dr McDonald might do better to learn a bit about these issues before making public statements about them?
In any case, despite the fact that Dr McDonald has not yet asked his question in Parliament, Mr Souris has issued a response to the journalist who contacted me:
I have been advised by my department that it received legal advice that the revocation of the Australian Vaccination Network’s charitable fundraising authority under the former government could not be sustained.
The revocation was based substantially on a public warning issued by the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC), however, the Supreme Court has since ruled the Commission’s actions invalid.
I have been advised by the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing that it has considered a fresh application on its merits from the AVN and that it met all legal requirements for a new charitable fundraising authority.
OLGR has assured me that it will continue to monitor AVN’s compliance with charity laws and if breaches are detected appropriate action will be taken.
Any charity committing serious breaches of the law could face revocation of its licence and if this is the case then my department can make a recommendation to me for this to occur.
As I said before, the continued monitoring – the singling out of our organization for no other reason than that we are critical of a medical procedure supported by the government, seems to hint at discrimination, persecution and bastardry, but we will do our best to ensure that we strictly adhere to all government requirements. In the meantime, we will deal with all future and present complaints as they arise and keep our membership and the Australian public advised of any new complaints as well in the interest of transparency and fairness.
I sincerely hope that the government will find a way to prevent themselves from continuing to be used by SAVN and the Australian Skeptics as if they were their own personal tools for a vendetta against the vaccine injured children of Australia and their families.
Please take action
If you have an opinion on this issue to share with Dr McDonald and Mr Souris, please feel free to email them by clicking on their names. You can copy the same letter to both and if possible, send a copy to me as well at email@example.com.
If you can include the following information in your letter, that would be great:
1- The AVN’s charity status does not give it any special tax advantages. Those advantages are only available to deductible gift recipients.
2- Even while our charity authority had been revoked, the OLGR said that we pursued a charitable purpose. Many charities lobby on behalf of their membership. It’s part of what we do and does not preclude our charitable purpose.
3- The NSW government is being used by members of a lobby group whose stated aim is to force our organisation to close in any way they can. They have publicly said that they intend to use these constant complaints to prevent us from doing our job through the time required in responding to issues with government departments. The cost for the assessment, investigation and responses to these vexatious complaints and the ensuing harassment are being borne by the taxpayers of NSW.
Of course, put in any of your own information as well and be sure to let the Minister and Shadow Minister know if you feel you have been helped in some way by the AVN or if your child has been affected by vaccines.