NSW Parliament 135 – Meryl Dorey 0

The game’s almost up. Both Houses of the NSW Parliament are unanimous in their denunciation of Meryl Dorey and her deceptively named anti-vaccination organisation, the Australian Vaccination Network.

This is Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts speaking in the Lower House, yesterday:


The Minister was speaking in relation to the name change which has been ordered on the AVN. That’s one part of the AVN’s parliamentary troubles.

Here is the second part. The day before, in the Upper House, the Health Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 passed. It will be sent back to the Lower House for amendments, then, sent off for Royal Assent, to become law, which will be enacted 28 days after the Governor’s signature. You will remember that Meryl Dorey, herself, had ensured that all dubious health practitioners will now be held to greater scrutiny, due to her magnificent health freedom work. I think we all owe Dorey a debt of gratitude. Three cheers for Meryl.

What was particularly cockle-warming was the outpouring of contained rage against deceitful anti-vaccinationists. The feelings towards them are clear. The AVN and its honchos are rightfully perceived to be a threat to public health, and now it’s all on Hansard. Take extra note of comments from members who have received communications from AVN supporters, and the deserved derision they receive. There is so much to include, it makes me sad to leave so much out…


This addresses a disappointing situation concerning an organisation known as the Australian Vaccination Network, which is a Bangalow-based organisation that is opposed to childhood immunisation that has successfully undermined many parents’ confidence in the benefits of immunisation. The Australian Vaccination Network’s former director and founder, Meryl Dorey, has undertaken extensive media interviews across Australia using free national media, radio and print to promote her claims that vaccines are toxic and harmful to children…

Ms Dorey insists that highly infectious childhood illnesses such as measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox are benign. There are many good reasons to spare our children the illness and scarring that can result from these diseases…

The Australian Vaccination Network’s campaign has been rampant in my community of Northern Rivers, and childhood immunisation rates have fallen below 70 per cent compared with 90 per cent for the rest of Australia. In the Byron shire, which is home to the community of Bangalow, the rate has fallen below 50 per cent…

In 2009 tragedy struck in my community of Lennox Head when four-week old Dana Elizabeth McCaffery died of whooping cough. By all accounts, this newborn baby fought bravely, but in the words of my local paper, the Northern Star, she never had a chance…

Following Dana’s death responsible and qualified members of the medical and scientific communities formed an organisation called “Stop the AVN”…

I have pursued the problem of the Australian Vaccination Network as a member of the Joint Committee on the Health Care Complaints Commission, and I know that others have also pursued the issue. I am surprised that the commission and NSW Health have not acted more promptly to make these amendments, although I am delighted to see them before the House today. They will close the loopholes that allowed the Australian Vaccination Network to continue issuing its misleading and deceptive information. Countering the dissemination of dangerous information by any non-health care provider is the highest priority…

I call on the Health Care Complaints Commission immediately to stop the Australian Vaccination Network spreading misleading information and I ask the media as a whole not to facilitate the dissemination of such dangerous messages to vulnerable parents who are already bombarded with confusing information and who somehow believe that the network’s role in the immunisation debate is evenly balanced. It is not.



I note that at least in part the amendments to the Health Care Complaints Act 1993 arose out of a Health Care Complaints Commission investigation into the Australian Vaccination Network in 2009 and 2010. I am sure a number of members of this place, indeed I suspect all, have received various emails from persons who seek to advance the interests of the Australian Vaccination Network.

The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps:



I note the contribution of the Government Whip. The Australian Vaccination Network publishes a website that could be described as highly sceptical, indeed far more than that.

The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps:

I think “insane” is the word you are looking for. 


One could say it is dismissive of the benefits of vaccination. Two separate complaints were made that alleged the Australian Vaccination Network engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct in attempting to persuade people not to vaccinate their children. We know that this is not a mere esoteric exercise and that the complainants had grounds upon which to found their complaints…

Returning to the issue of the complaints, following the investigation the Health Care Complaints Commission recommended that the Australian Vaccination Network—a true tautology one might say, or a truly misleading description of what they are engaged in—recommended that the network publish a disclaimer on its website…

Let us be plain about this: we know that they disseminated material into the community that discourages parents from vaccinating their children. Indeed, we know from what has occurred with the drop in levels of immunisation amongst children, particularly in areas such as the North Coast, that they were in a sense so profoundly disreputable that they were prepared to say that they did not affect an individual client…

This is not a mere technicality; it is not a mere matter of definition; it is not a mere matter of people’s lifestyle choices. We are talking about the lives of our children.

Dr John Kaye:

And other people’s children.


Indeed. I note Dr John Kaye’s comment, “And other people’s children”. We collectively have an obligation to our society to ensure that all of us are healthy and all our children have a chance to grow up strong and capable of contributing to our society…

Anti-immunisation groups, such as the Australian Vaccination Network, have touted unscientific propaganda such as the discredited link between the measles vaccine and autism. The name of the Australian Vaccination Network is profoundly misleading; it implies that it supports immunisation.

…the Commissioner for Fair Trading, at the encouragement of the Minister, has issued a direction under the Associations Incorporation Act for the Australian Vaccination Network to change its unacceptable, misleading and deceptive name. Parents have a right to know the benefits and risk of immunisation…

Among the many speeches that were made in the other place, the speech made by the member for Cessnock, Mr Clayton Barr, led to emails being sent to many of us by members of the community in which they criticised him for his vocal criticism of the Australian Vaccination Network. I congratulate him on his words and on assisting in the protection of our children in New South Wales…

I congratulate him on having the guts to stand up against an organisation such as the Australian Vaccination Network. I invite members of the community to send emails about my speech. I will happily receive them and respond accordingly.


Much of this came about as a result of a paper produced by Dr Andrew Wakefield, a British researcher, who had an article published in the Lancet in 1988 in which he suggested that there were links between vaccination and autism…

Yes, he was dead wrong. As a result of that notorious paper, measles, mumps and rubella vaccination in United Kingdom plummeted to less than 80 per cent, and that triggered measles outbreaks, including some substantial outbreaks that affected many people and that had a substantial public impact. In 2010—12 years later—the General Medical Council declared Wakefield’s research fraudulent and unethical. It was fraudulent because it was misleading and unethical because it caused children to be subjected to a number of unnecessary and unapproved procedures such as colonoscopies…

I do not wish to vilify any particular parent but I do seek to raise serious alarm, as others have, about the behaviour of the Australian Vaccination Network and those who promote the non-science and nonsense of the risks of vaccination. It is all very well to be trendy and to adopt issues that are published on the web but we are serious. This is about the lives of children. Kids die from whooping cough. I do not know if members have seen a child under the age of three years suffering from whooping cough. It is terrible and something that no child should experience. We should be eradicating whooping cough by ensuring we have a vaccination rate of about 95 per cent. I believe that people such as Meryl Dorey from Australian Vaccination Network are behaving in an entirely immoral way.

The Hon. Trevor Khan:

You will be getting emails now too, John.


I have had plenty of emails, believe me. My Facebook site became a battleground between rationality and irrationality.

The Hon. Trevor Khan:

Good on you.


Yes. I urge people like Meryl Dorey to stop this campaign that is leading to the death of or permanent impairment of children. Meryl Dorey’s campaign is immoral and she ought to stop that happening. She should drop this campaign and understand the damage that she is inflicting on other children. The Hon. Paul Green likened this issue to smoking in public.


Up until a short while ago if one went into a reasonable bookstore around Australia one could have bought an anti-vaccination book aimed specifically at children called Melanie’s Marvellous Measles. That book claimed, despite evidence that measles can kill and cause brain damage, that it is “a good thing” to have measles. On the cover of the book Melanie is happily playing in the garden and showing off a rash on her belly. In the story she is at home with measles and her friend Tina is worried but her mother reassures her, “Firstly, Tina, measles do not run and catch or hurt you; for most children it is a good thing to get measles. Many wise people believe measles make the body stronger and more mature for the future.” Tina then asked if she can go and catch measles form Melanie. Her mother responds, “That sounds like a great idea” and suggests some carrot juice and melon might help Melanie recover.

Dr John Kaye said that he did not seek to vilify anyone; I am not going to be so nice. If someone was to give or read that book to their child they would be a bad parent. They would not be merely stupid; they would be putting their child at risk…

If people want to educate themselves about vaccination they should not be reading Melanie’s Marvellous Measles. Instead, I would encourage them to go to the internet and Google “Penn and Teller vaccination”. Penn and Teller—two of my favourite libertarian speakers, magicians, comedians—present a wonderful debunking of the whole antivaxxers doctrine, and in those three or four minutes they present a more powerful account of why the antivaxxers are not only bad but they are mad.


 I am gravely concerned when organisations misrepresent the facts, and the role and intent of their organisation. That could lead to parents—or for that matter any person looking for accurate, evidence-based material or information that relates to their health or the health of their child—believing that the organisation has information and can fulfil that role based on science and peer-reviewed research. When an organisation represents itself as being able to provide information, that is not only reprehensible but it should be a crime because the consequences for our public health are serious. In addition, not only are the consequences for public health serious, the consequences for children are dire. Children die; infants die from whooping cough. They also die from other childhood diseases, the dangers of which we do not understand because of vaccination. Honestly, people do not believe the serious consequences of childhood diseases such as measles, mumps, chicken pox and whooping cough.

It is in the interests of the whole community that we urge all parents to vaccinate their children against these diseases. Like many other people, I vaccinate my children. I am a great advocate for vaccination. I simply do not accept the arguments against vaccination. They simply do not hold up to any evidence, research or inquiry. They have made such a difference to public health in this community. As many members know, I have an adult daughter who is deaf. Because of my involvement with the deaf community I know a number of children who are deaf as a consequence of measles. People do not realise that.

Childhood diseases cause serious disabilities in children, which they then have to live with for the rest of their lives. They affect the quality of their lives and their family. That is the sort of information about vaccination that parents need. They do not need lies, they do not need misinformation and they do not need organisations such as the Australian Vaccination Network putting themselves forward as advocates for vaccination, as informants of scientific evidence based information that has been tested and peer reviewed. They do not have that information, but they put themselves forward to parents as the providers of that information, and that is a reprehensible lie that has serious consequences for the community, for the public and for children.

No-one should have to lose a child through a disease that is easily prevented by vaccination. Most of us here are parents, but even those who are not would believe that there is nothing worse than losing a child. I could not imagine having my baby and losing her at four weeks or six weeks of age to whooping cough.

We must do all that we can to give parents accurate information and let them know that vaccinations are safe. We accept that there are risks, but the risks need to be put into perspective. The risks are miniscule compared to the risks of not vaccinating. I think that is a really important message that all of the community must hear. My greatest concern is that we have organisations such as the one that calls itself the Australian Vaccination Network, and we know that that is an absolute misrepresentation of who and what they are.

The Hon. Trevor Khan:

A lie.


Yes, it is a lie.

The Hon. Sophie Cotsis:

They are anti.


They are the anti-vaccination network. They are anti-vaccination and that has serious public health consequences. In addition, it actually risks the lives of children—infants—and we must all do everything we can to prevent that from happening. No parent should lose a little one because they have not been vaccinated, because it is so readily available in our community and it really can make a difference to children’s lives. That is the main point I wanted to make. So many other parts of this bill are clearly worthy of our support, but for me this is the most important aspect of it. The Government, to its credit, has addressed the issue of the Australian Vaccination Network having the capacity to use a name that misrepresents who they are, and I think that is a really important action that the Government has taken. I commend it for that as well…

I acknowledge the Hon. Trevor Khan’s interjection. I believe there will be bipartisan support for this—in fact, I think there will be multi-partisan support. I think all of us here are community leaders and we know what is in the interests of the community. We do not want to see little children die from childhood diseases that are so easily prevented because of the wonders of medical science that are available to us in developed, wealthy countries such as Australia in 2013. I commend the bill to the House.


It is good to be able to stand here and listen to the cross-party condemnation of the Australian Vaccination Network and the support for the bill. The Australian Vaccination Network website presents a highly sceptical view of vaccination, which could be interpreted as an anti-vaccination message, which it is. But at first glance its name would imply the exact opposite.


I thank honourable members for their support for the bill. I genuinely appreciate the comments and the passion that I witnessed in the Chamber this evening. The Legislative Council is a good place to be tonight and I thank all members for their contributions and the passion with which they were delivered.


Bill read a third time and returned to the Legislative Assembly with a message requesting its concurrence in the amendments.


I wish to express my heartfelt thanks to the NSW Parliament. Due to the lobbying from a bunch of very determined people members were able to act, and fix a loophole which poses a threat to public health. Generations to come will be better off for the work of this Parliament, yet hardly any community members will know of the importance of these amendments. Such is life. That’s okay. We know.

About reasonable hank

I'm reasonable, mostly.
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