As many of you would have seen, the NSW Department of Fair Trading has announced that they want the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) to change its name because of concern from within the community. Yet in their response to the media, the only one who complained was the Australian Medical Association – an industry lobby group who obviously feels threatened by the idea that parents might choose not to vaccinate – costing them money. Is this not anti-competitive behaviour on the part of a government department? Should government bodies really be cooperating so closely with those who hold strong vested interests in opposition to the interests of the public – interests which they are supposedly meant to protect?
The Department’s open cooperation with the AMA is analogous to them responding to complaints by mining companies about Greenpeace’s name. After all, Greenpeace is not green, nor do they go around looking for peace, therefore, would the Department tell them to change their name too? How about the Cancer Council? Couldn’t someone be misled into thinking that they are FOR cancer? And the Department of Health? Don’t get me started! The Department of Ill-Health would be more accurate in my opinion.
The saga started back in August of this year when the Department sent the following letter to the AVN’s office (please click on the image below to view it at full size in your browser)
On September 7th, I sent the following response to Mr Jones at the Department of Fair Trading and, having never received a response from him, I assumed that this government body realised how misguided it was to try to stop our group based solely on our name (which had been registered with them since 1996). It seems however, that I overestimated the maturity of government agencies!
Yesterday, the following letter was hand-delivered to my home by two Department of Fair Trading officials. I was not home to accept the letter since I was attending a conference on bullying at the time – pretty ironic, don’t you think? They had come to our home about 2 hours earlier looking for a different address – and it took them almost 2 hours to find the correct location. This is despite the fact that the Department of Fair Trading has had our physical address on file for many years.
In this letter, the Department is ordering the AVN to change our name or they will deregister us come February 2013, effectively closing our organisation down – apparently a long-time goal of government departments, the Australian Skeptics and Stop the AVN as well as the AMA and the pharmaceutical industry.
What’s in a name?
As I said in my letter of September 7th:
The Australian Vaccination Network has been registered with the Department of Fair Trading since 1996 and at no time until the present has our name been called into question. We represent a group of Australians who discuss the issue of vaccination and we are also a network of like-minded individuals who have banded together for mutual support and for the dissemination of information on the issues surrounding vaccination in Australia. Can you please inform us which of these words – Australian – Vaccination – Network, could possibly be considered to not represent our organisation? Which of these words does the Department consider to be misleading and why? Also, can you please inform us of what name the Department would consider to be appropriate for our organisation?
To date, I have not received an answer to any of my questions nor has the Department acknowledged the AVN’s concerns in any way.
In newspaper articles which have appeared in today’s papers, the Minister for Fair Trading (perhaps they might consider changing that name because at least in the present situation, it is extremely misleading!), Mr Roberts, stated that, ”People do not have the freedom of choice when it comes to endangering others … it’s the equivalent of saying a bloke can speed down the road and endanger others,” So I ask – is Mr Roberts saying that vaccination is not a choice anymore and does he have any evidence to back up the claim that freedom of choice when it comes to vaccination is endangering others? The outbreaks in highly vaccinated communities seems to say otherwise. In addition, it might appear that the Minister is be calling for vaccination to become compulsory in Australia when he states that people “do not have the freedom of choice”. This is an issue that should concern all of us – whether we choose to vaccinate fully, selectively or not at all.
The minister then goes on to state that he, “has warned other states if the AVN tries to register elsewhere.” We regularly hear of scam businesses and dangerous medical doctors who, being shut down in one state, immediately register in other states to continue practicing. Does the Minister for Fair Trading send the same APB out in these cases? Since they do this successfully time and time again, I would think he does not. Why the ‘special treatment’ for the AVN?
Whose pain and suffering are they talking about?
In the same article, it is stated that:
NSW Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts fired a broadside at the AVN, saying the information it provided was a public safety issue of “life and death”.
“This is not a victimless issue, it’s about the ability to stop pain and suffering,” he said.
It’s great that Mr Roberts wants to stop pain and suffering, but where is his concern for those children and adults who have suffered as a result of vaccination? And is his Department really supposed to make their decisions based on medical information or simply based on whether or not our name is considered to be misleading in some way by some unknown and unstated measure? If they based their decision on medical information, what was the source of this data and did they seek a range of opinions?
Rights? What are these rights of which you speak?
Most frightening of all – to anyone who is interested in issues of human rights and freedom of speech, is the fact that the Assistant Commissioner for Fair Trading is actually proposing changes to the legislation based solely on their desire to be given more power to force organisations like the AVN to change their names:
Mr Vellar said the NSW Government was working on changing definitions in the Associations Act to include group names that were in conflict with the group’s charter.
Two very important points to make here:
1- This is the second government body which has proposed changes to government legislation in order to better attack the AVN. The HCCC, who we bested in the Supreme Court earlier this year, is trying to change the legislation which allowed us to win against them. Astoundingly, they want complaints to be valid no matter who files them – and the person complained about would not have to be a practitioner or to have treated or advised the complainant – they simply would need to have made a statement which ‘affected’ the complainant in some way. Such legislation would be so open for abuse it would leave every Australian at risk of being the victim of one of these complaints. The only exception proposed to this legislation would be medical practitioners. So the government body which was set up to protect Australians from dangerous practitioners seems to instead want to protect practitioners from Australians!
2- Mr Vellar says that our name is in conflict with our charter, but I believe that Mr Vellar has never even read our charter (I am assuming he means our publicly posted constitution and code of ethics since we don’t actually have a document called a charter) because if he had, he would see that our name is absolutely representative of what we stand for. Here is a link to our constitution and here is our code of ethics.
The letter from the Department was handed to my daughter at approximately 11:45 AM and the first article appeared in the Australian media approximately 10 hours ago. But Skeptic blogs started to announce this information approximately one hour before the media did. How do you think they came by this information? I really do wonder. Is there a direct line of communication between the Australian Skeptics, Stop the AVN (SAVN) and government departments? There is a long and open history of collusion between media outlets and various ‘skeptics’ so it is not impossible that they heard about this letter before the AVN had even received it. Is this collusion one of the reasons why these departments have been ‘putting the boot’ into us for the last 4 years at an apparent cost of millions of dollars to the taxpayer? Is the fact that many SAVN members are actually employed by government departments – and use their government email addresses when writing about the AVN and wanting to close us down – cause for concern? I will leave those questions with you to ponder.
Abuse of process
According to Section 11 of the Associations Incorporation Act 2009, the Director General must specify why a name is unacceptable in order to force an organisation to change it. As far as I have been able to determine, he has not done so in this case. In addition, despite our asking what name or names the Department would consider to be acceptable, we have been left in the dark. We have also never been told what part of the words “Australian Vaccination Network” are considered to be misleading. This puts the AVN and our 2,000 members in a difficult – even impossible position – in regards to complying or negotiating with the Department.
In addition, the Director General has not responded to the AVN’s submission of September 7th regarding the reasons why we believe that our name should not be changed. Not allowing us to communicate with them on this matter is, we believe, an abuse of process and evidence of procedural unfairness.
It’s not about health or fairness
This struggle has never been about something as ridiculous as our name. Instead, it concerns the right for an organisation to provide information to the public that government has neglected or refused to do. Why won’t the government exercise its duty of care and fully inform Australians about both the benefits and the risks of this medical procedure? And when will this policy of information suppression and suppression of dissent change? If the AVN is fully dismantled, access to full information and support for families whose children are vaccine injured is even less likely or possible. But does the government truly think that shutting down the AVN will stop parents from questioning? Questioning vaccination has been going on for over 200 years – closing down one small group will not change that. And surely the parents of Australia deserve better than that from their government departments!
Since winning our case in the NSW Supreme Court in April of this year, the AVN has been targeted on more than 10 different occasions by 7 separate government departments. It is hard to see how this can be anything but a blatant attempt by these departments – working closely with industry groups – to suppress dissent on a health issue. Forcing the AVN to close or change its name is not in the public interest – it is only in the interest of pharmaceutical companies, government policy and mainstream medical organisations.