AVN not off the hook

The NSW Supreme Court has ruled today that the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) had no justification in accepting and processing complaints against the Australian Vaccination Network.

While it is possible that the AVN will tout this as vindication of its position as Australia’s leading source of ‘information’ on vaccination, Australian Skeptics president, Eran Segev, says that the reality is that Australia’s leading anti-vaccination group was not found innocent of misleading or dangerous conduct as the HCCC had earlier found.

In 2009, the HCCC received two serious complaints against the AVN. Following investigations, it found that the AVN’s website:
• provided information that was solely anti-vaccination
• contained information that was incorrect and misleading
• quoted selectively from research to suggest that vaccination may be dangerous.

The Court found that the HCCC should not have accepted and processed the original complaints, because they did not allege that anyone had actually acted on the advice of the AVN.

But the Court made no ruling on the HCCC’s findings, and there was no criticism of how the HCCC came to its decision.

The Judge found that the HCCC was not permitted to process a complaint that misleading information from the AVN generally caused lower vaccination rates.

In other words, the Court’s ruling is based on a technicality of the right of the Commission to investigate the AVN, not on its findings of misconduct.

The finding does confirm that the AVN is within the jurisdiction of the HCCC.

We expect that commentators will regard Justice Adamson’s interpretation as unhelpfully narrow. There may be an appeal.

For as long as the AVN continues to use misinformation to put out its anti-vaccination message, Segev says, Australian Skeptics will continue to object to its activities. Those activities are also potentially dangerous to those who might follow its advice not to vaccinate their children, a decision which can have extremely serious impacts not only on those directly involved but on the population as a whole.