Has the OLGR “verified” the HCCC Warning was “sole basis” for revocation of AVN fundraising authority?

I am not a lawyer…

One constant theme that Meryl Dorey has kept up since the OLGR revoked the AVN fund raising authority (the decision is under appeal) is that it was entirely due to the, now removed, HCCC warning.

On February 24th the NSW Supreme Court upheld the Australian Vaccination Network appeal against the HCCC. Justice Christine Adamson found that the HCCC acted ultra vires in conducting an investigation, publishing a public warning and ordering the AVN to post warning notices online alerting consumers that they are antivaccination.

In this case ultra vires, meaning beyond powers, was a technicality of acting outside jurisdiction. The HCCC was deemed to have done so under Section 7 of the HCC Act: What can a complaint be made about? It had not been sufficiently demonstrated to the court that Section 7(1)(b) – a health service which affects the clinical management or care of an individual client, applied to the AVN. Simply, the HCCC needed actual information that Joe or Jane Bloggs had not vaccinated because of the AVN, before it – the HCCC – could act.

So, how does this relate to the OLGR appeal?

The AVN wanted certiorari granted in relation to all HCCC findings. This would have rendered the HCCC findings null and void and legally the findings would be considered quashed. This is quite different to having been found to have acted outside jurisdiction as a result of those findings.

Dorey also submitted that the Minister for OLGR was obliged to take into account the Public Warning as part of his duty under the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991.

Juctice Adamson found on page 21 of the ruling [bold mine]:

The plaintiff argued that the Public Warning was, as a matter of practical reality, a matter that the Minister for Gaming was obliged to (and in fact did) take into account in determining whether to revoke the plaintiff’s authority to raise funds under the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991. When asked to identify the discernible legal right which was affected, counsel for the plaintiff said:

“The damage to its reputation by being labelled a public risk to health and safety.”

[The AVN] submitted that its rights were not only directly affected, but also altered, by the HCCC’s decision to issue the Public Warning and that certiorari is accordingly available. It argued that the decision directly exposed it to a new hazard of an adverse exercise of public power (having its fundraising capacity revoked).

However, the plaintiff could not point to any provision in the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991 that made the Public Warning a mandatory relevant consideration in the Minister’s decision whether to revoke the authority.

Accordingly there is no basis on which I could find that the Minister for Gaming is legally obliged to take into account the Public Warning. For these reasons, certiorari does not lie.

If certiorari does not lie the findings remain. The HCCC conclusions are not incorrect. The AVN has not been found to be acting in the public interest. The complaints have not been found to be without foundation. What happened was that the HCCC did not convince the court it could act further in exercising it’s powers based on the initial findings.

More so, implicit in the above wording, is the failure of the AVN to show that the HCCC Public Warning was taken into account by the Minister for Gaming on legal grounds. Nor is there any provision in the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991 to support the AVN contention that the Minister was obliged to take the Warning into account when revoking authority.

So in the case of AVN vs HCCC the Supreme Court made no order at all affecting the OLGR’s revocation of the licence to raise funds.

At this point the Public Warning carries no weight. The HCCC findings have not been quashed. Justice Adamson has rejected the AVN submission that the OLGR revoked the AVN’s authority to raise funds because of the Public Warning or their claim of an obligation to the Public Warning. Nonetheless the next day Meryl Dorey wrote on Facebook [bold mine]:

For those who have been asking about our chariity (sic) status, hopefully, I will have more information on that early next week. The HCCC decision did not automatically give us back the authority, but I am hopeful that we will get it back since the OLGR relied completely on the HCCC warning to revoke the authority. Therefore, since the warning was invalid, the revocation may be too. Anyway, I will let you know as soon as I have the information myself.

Yesterday writing in her Living Wisdom email of April 8th Meryl noted that whilst they would be reimbursed for expenses against the HCCC they would not be reimbursed for expenses against the OLGR [bold mine]:

… but hopefully, we will soon have our authority to fundraise reinstated since the OLGR have verified that the HCCC’s warning was the sole basis of that revocation. Now that the warning is no more (the HCCC removed it from their website the same day the decision was handed down), we should be granted a charity authority again.

Interesting. There was a Directions Hearing for the appeal on March 27th. I can’t be sure but it strikes me as unlikely the OLGR would “verify” that a defunct warning was the sole basis of the licence revocation at a Directions Hearing. What else has the OLGR said?

On their website they announced the revocation in 2010:

Minister for Gaming and Racing, the Hon Kevin Greene MP, has revoked the fundraising authority formerly held by the Australian Vaccination Network Inc (AVN).

An investigation by the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, a division of Communities NSW, found that AVN had breached charitable fundraising laws and potentially misled the public. […]

The OLGR investigation also took into account the findings of the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) which established that the website operated by AVN provided information that was solely anti-vaccination as well as information that was incorrect and misleading.

The HCCC has published a public warning stating that AVN’s failure to post a disclaimer on its website may result in members of the public making improperly informed decisions about whether or not to vaccinate posing a potential risk to public health and safety.

This fairly clearly states that the OLGR investigation found the AVN breached charitable fundraising laws and also took into account the HCCC findings. These findings have not been quashed. They note the HCCC public warning and the risk to public health and safety.

If they also took the HCCC findings into account then there would be other factors at play. Indeed their findings included breaches of the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991 that are of no business to the HCCC:

Under Section 31 of The Charitable Fundraising Act 1991 the reasons for revocation can be found. In fairness to Meryl we should consider what may be the reason for her insistence that the HCCC Warning influenced the revocation. On October 14th 2010 Meryl published this via email to members:

Approximately 2 hours ago, I received a notification from the OLGR that they would, effective Wednesday, October 20th, be revoking the AVN’s charitable status. They have sent me a letter listing the reasons for this revocation (those reasons are reproduced below) and also the announcement that is being Gazetted today.

(a) that any fundraising appeal conducted by the holder of the authority has not been conducted in good faith for charitable purposes

The Organisation has failed to publish a disclaimer on its website as recommended by the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC). This has resulted in an unacceptable risk of potential donors to the Organisation being misled when making a decision whether or not to make a donation, which has led to appeals not being conducted in good faith.

(c) that any fundraising appeal conducted by virtue of the authority has been improperly administered

The Organisation’s website is misleading in that it may lead people making donations to believe that they are donating to a cause which promotes vaccination whereas the Organisation adopts an anti-vaccination position. When requested by the HCCC to publish a disclaimer on its website the Organisation failed to do so.

(f) in the public interest, the authority should be revoked.

The failure of the Organisation to comply with the HCCC recommendation resulted in the Commission publishing a Public Warning on 26 July 2010 advising that this failure “poses a risk to public health and safety”. In this circumstance it is in the public interest to not permit the Organisation to conduct fund raising appeals under the Act.

This is an accurate account of the OLGR correspondence as reproduced elsewhere.

I can understand concerns about section (f) which, worded that way, appears to rely only on the HCCC Public Warning. Section (c) appears quite valid when stripped of reference to the HCCC. Furthermore the OLGR cited HCCC findings in conducting their investigation, and these findings have not been quashed. Thus Section (a) and (f) derived from HCCC findings, not recommendations, would potentially still stand.

Nonetheless, in terms of the revocation (and only the revocation) these are the reasons listed by the OLGR. And they do carry an item by item reference to the HCCC, which in turn apparently gives credence to Ms. Dorey’s repeated claim. Given the number and type of breaches of the Act, the OLGR could seemingly have cited other aspects of Section 31.

Certainly when the matter reaches court the defence of Sections (a), (c) and (f) will become far more complex. To this we should add the judgement of Justice Christine Adamson as noted above. An attempt to set a precedent that the licence to raise funds was revoked only due to the HCCC Public Warning was rejected on interpretation of The Charitable Fundraising Act 1991.

All considered it’s a likely simplification to claim the revocation is based entirely on the HCCC Warning. We should remember the OLGR stated it “also” looked at HCCC findings in it’s statement of revocation. Although on examination I can understand Ms. Dorey’s penchant for doing so. After all it drives attention away from other aspects of the OLGR investigation.

The following is from an OLGR letter to Mr. Ken McLeod, October 18th, 2010:

During the course of the inquiry evidence of possible breaches of the Charitable Trusts Act 1993 was detected in relation to the following specific purpose appeals conducted by AVN. :

1. Fighting Fund – to support a homeless family, allegedly seeking to avoid a court order to immunise a child with legal and living expenses. The appeal ran for a short time in 2008 and raised $11,810. None of the funds were spent on this purpose.

2. Advertising Appeal – initially this was an appeal for the specific purpose of raising funds for an advertisement in the Australian commencing in March 2009 and concluding July 2009. The specific purpose was changed during the course of the appeal to fund advertisements in Child magazine. This appeal raised $11,910. None of the funds were applied to the specific purposes. It is noted that AVN did spend some $15,000 during the period December 2009 to July 2010 on various forms of advertising.

3. Bounty Bag Program and Vaccination Testing – for a number of years AVN has solicited for donations generally in a manner where, despite it not being AVN’s intention, one specific purpose was created in that donations could only be spent on one or more of four purposes, including funding the provision of AVN material in the Bounty Bag program and testing of vaccines. No funds raised have been spent on these two purposes.

There is evidence that funds donated for the above specific purposes have been applied to other purposes including the running costs of AVN. Accordingly these matters have been referred to the Department of Justice and Attorney General, the Department that administers and regulates the Charitable Trusts Act 1993

In answer to that question I do not know if the OLGR did base it’s revocation entirely on the HCCC recommendations, nor whether or not it has verified anything of late. I do know one Supreme Court judge has rejected this notion on legal terms and I conclude there are many more valid reasons as to why the AVN should never be allowed to raise funds as a charity.

For an excellent and well laid out article I recommend visiting reasonablehank‘s consideration of exactly the same question.

I do hope however that when this matter gets to court the OLGR brings forth the bulk of their findings and uses them to prevent the revocation being overturned.

The AVN is anything but a charity.

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About @advodiaboli
I'm not really a cast iron flying pig.

One Response to Has the OLGR “verified” the HCCC Warning was “sole basis” for revocation of AVN fundraising authority?

  1. Pingback: P is for Paranoid, Persecutory Delusion « Losing In The Lucky Country

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