The NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal has ordered the Australian Vaccination Network to change its name because “without any information, other than the name, an ordinary member of the public would be likely to be misled into thinking that one of AVN’s objectives is to give a pro-vaccination message or, at least, to provide comprehensive information about vaccination”.
“That is not the case,” affirmed Magistrate N Hennessy, deputy president of the Tribunal.
This means that the original decision of the Director General, Department of Finance & Services, to direct the AVN to adopt a new name has been affirmed.
The Director General had earlier found that AVN’s message is anti-vaccination and that the name does not reflect that message. Two other reasons the Director General relied on were that the name is “undesirable” and that it suggested a connection with the Commonwealth government.
In a submission to the Tribunal, former president of the AVN, Meryl Dorey had said that “she has never thought of herself as being ‘anti-vaccination”.
This is a bold statement, considering Dorey’s consistent negative comments about vaccination. The magistrate agreed, stating that the “AVN’s main object is the dissemination of information and opinions which highlight the risks of vaccinations. It is an organisation which is sceptical about vaccinations.”
He said that any new name “should reflect AVN’s scepticism about vaccinations”.
“Although I do not have to decide this issue [the Director General’s office holds that power], and my opinion is not binding, a name that includes the word ‘risk’ or ‘sceptic’ and vaccine or vaccination would be acceptable. Examples include Vaccination Risk Awareness Association Inc or Vaccine Sceptics Network Inc.”
Australian Skeptics suggests that the magistrate has misused the expression “sceptical about” as if it means “negative about” or “firmly opposed to”. Scepticism involves fair analysis and frank disclosure. The AVN’s approach to vaccination has been unashamedly one-sided, not sceptical.
We also fear that allowing a renamed AVN to use the term “sceptic” could be confusing, and perhaps suggest to some people that the Australian Skeptics organisations are negative about vaccination, which is obviously not the case.”
The AVN can elect to make a further appeal against the ruling but, according to a report by the ABC, Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts has warned the organisation risks a hefty legal bill because the department will seek legal costs.
“The AVN must change its name now,” Roberts said. “We reserve the right to reject any names we consider inappropriate, but again my clear message to the Australian Vaccination Network is be open and up-front about what you stand for.”