by Meryl Dorey
If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.
– John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859
In Australia, we have long had medical policy by majority consensus. The only way to birth is in hospital; the only way to treat cancer is with chemotherapy and radiation; the only way to prevent infectious diseases is with vaccination. While the majority may be right or may be wrong in all of these cases, the fact is that there is a small but growing minority who believes differently and makes different choices on all of these issues. In a democracy, those choices should not only be allowed, but celebrated as a sign of our political maturity and the strength of our nation.
The reality of the situation could not be further from that ideal. When it comes to health issues, those who make choices in opposition to mainstream Western medicine are often vilified, ridiculed or subject to abuse and outrageous restrictions of their liberties. Nowhere are these efforts of suppression more obvious than with the issue of vaccination.
For almost 18 years, the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) has operated on a volunteer basis to support and inform families about the other side of this polarised debate – the side most doctors are either unaware of or won’t discuss. Our membership consists of over 2,500 Australian families and healthcare practitioners – many of whom have first-hand knowledge of what it is like to have a child die or be permanently injured by vaccines.
In all these years, we have worked behind the scenes, helping draft legislation to protect the rights of all Australians to make informed health choices (the Conscientious Objection clause of the Childcare Payments Act) and continuing to lobby for the mandatory reporting of adverse reactions following vaccination. We provide telephone support for those who need it and hands-on assistance for families who are being victimised by the medical system because of their vaccination choices. We have often had opposition from within government and the medical industry, but our strong base of AVN members has been unwavering in their support, and the opposition from medical industry sources and the government has always been manageable.
Over the last 18 months, however, an organisation was set up specifically to force the AVN to close its doors using whatever tactics were at its disposal. During this time period, they have harassed our advertisers and professional members; sent hate mail and death threats to our committee members; and filed dozens of vexatious complaints against us with various government departments who, sensing an opportunity to rid themselves of one of their most vocal critics, were only too happy to be complicit with this group.
This organised campaign of harassment against the AVN started with the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC). This organisation only has jurisdiction over medical practitioners and healthcare educators, yet they bent their own rules to ‘investigate’ the AVN. This investigation consisted of looking at our website and deciding that we were anti-vaccine because we only discuss one side of the vaccination issue and don’t distribute the government’s material. Not surprisingly, the government websites also have only one side of this issue and certainly do not distribute information from the AVN! The HCCC decided after 12 months that we needed to warn people who come to our website that we were ‘anti-vaccination’ – a statement we refused to countenance because we simply believe that people have the right to access all the available information before making their own free choice – this is certainly not anti-vaccine.
Because we refused to bow to the demands of the HCCC, they issued a public warning against our organisation. The same organisation complained to the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing (OLGR) – the government body that administers charities. The OLGR audited the AVN and found some very minor problems which were corrected. These problems, we were told, were the sorts of issues that would be found in any small, volunteer-run group and there was no evidence of fraud or criminality on the part of the AVN or its committee. Despite this clean bill of financial health, the OLGR has now revoked our fund-raising authority using the information from the HCCC decision. They say that people may come to our website, not realise that we are a pro-choice organisation and because of that, they may give us donations which will mean that we are not collecting funds in good faith. Aside from the fact that this gives people very little credit for being able to make decisions or even read, it demonstrates that, no matter what, the OLGR was always going to revoke our charity authority. Since they didn’t find any serious problems with our financials, they had to look a little further to accomplish that goal.
The loss of our ability to fundraise means that we are no longer allowed to ask for donations from anyone who is not an AVN member. Since we are a membership and donation funded organisation, this restriction can have a serious effect on our finances – an effect that the government obviously hopes will lead to us being forced to close our doors.
These complaints to the HCCC and the OLGR are part of an ongoing political campaign that has no real basis in fact. The complainants are not people who have ever donated funds to the AVN nor do any of them have a genuine grievance apart from the fact that they believe that our information should not be available to the general public. They have not been harmed by us in any way nor have we ever misinformed them – in most cases, we have never even had contact with them. These are people who, for reasons of their own, have decided that the AVN has got to go and they will do their best to shut us down.
Though there is a segment of the community that believes it is wrong for parents to be able to access the other side of the vaccination issue, there is also a segment that has relied on our help and support for all this time. Many of these families, like my own, have a child who has either been killed or injured by vaccines and, had the AVN not been there for them, they would have had nowhere to turn for this help.
It is essential that the AVN’s work be allowed to continue. For this reason, I would like to ask those who are reading this article to consider helping us by taking the following actions:
1. Become a member of the AVN. It’s sad to say, but without funds, we will not be able to continue. We are a small group opposing a huge, multi-national pharmaceutical consortium with billions of dollars at their disposal. Your membership of $50 ($75 to get our newsletter in hard copy rather than electronically) will help us to continue supporting and informing Australian families and lobbying for their rights. To find out more, please visit our website – www.avn.org.au.
2. Write a letter. The handling of these complaints smacks of corruption, and an independent inquiry needs to be instituted to investigate this issue. When people contacted the HCCC asking for more information about their warning regarding the AVN, the HCCC referred them to the website of the organisation that had been set up to stop the AVN for further details. If you would like to see the complete correspondence regarding this situation, please visit http://www.scribd.com/document_collections/2548772. Then, write your own letter asking for an independent inquiry to the following people:
The Hon Kevin Greene, MP
Telephone: (02) 9228 5331
Fax: (02) 9228 5549
Level 11, 52 Phillip Street, SYDNEY NSW 2000
The Hon Kristina Kenealy
Phone (02) 9228 5239
Fax (02) 9228 3934
Level 39 Governor Macquarie Tower,
1 Farrer Place
SYDNEY NSW 2000
Leader of the Opposition
Phone (02) 9230 2270
Fax (02) 9221 8208
Mr Barry O’Farrell, MP
27 Redleaf Avenue
WAHROONGA NSW 2076
Hon Jillian Skinner
Shadow Minister for Health
Phone (02) 9909 2594
Fax (02) 9909 2654
40 Yeo Street
NEUTRAL BAY NSW 2089
Hon Carmel Tebbutt
Minister for Health
Phone (02) 9228 4866
Fax (02) 9228 4855
Ms Carmel Tebbutt, MP
Governor Macquarie Tower
1 Farrer Place
SYDNEY NSW 2000
3. Write a letter of support to the AVN. We need to show that our services are required by the Australian community. If you have been helped by the AVN at any time in the past; if you have used our information to help make your vaccination choice; if you have had a child who was injured by a vaccine or you yourself were injured; if you believe in free informed health choices even if you have never availed yourself of our services, please send us a short note to let us know about your experiences. We may use your letter in dealing with the government but, if we do, we will be sure to remove any identifying details unless you have given us permission to pass your name on. Please send your letter (it need only be two to three paragraphs) to:
PO Box 177
Bangalow NSW 2479
Australian Vaccination Network
Investigate before you vaccinate
02 6687 1699, work
02 6687 2032, fax
“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin