Meryl Dorey’s latest ‘legal challenge’ fundraising scam

A recent email to members the Australian Vaccination-risks Network included a bizarre letter to the Australian Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, demanding immediate cessation of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.

It is a bizarre demand for a number of reasons, foremost being that evidence supports continuation, not cessation of the vaccine rollout. In addition is a fundamental misunderstanding of how scientific and regulatory advice ensures the most effective ministerial and government decision making. Next come the reasons for justifying these demands. All have been refuted with evidence or debunked as conspiracy theory thinking. Finally the extensive demands themselves are impossible and meaningless in scale and intent.

One claim I will address however. An AVN favourite is that the vaccine rollout is an ongoing experiment that Greg Hunt himself called the world’s largest clinical trial. Back in March we dealt with the antivax trope that the COVID-19 vaccination rollout is an uninsurable experiment set to wind up in 2023. It is demonstrable disinformation that manipulates the fact data are continually collected on drugs and vaccines after approval for use. The scale of post-approval data related to COVID-19 vaccination is vast. Enter Minister Hunt’s comments.

During an Insiders interview on 21 March this year David Speers asked a question about herd immunity and longer term goals. Greg Hunt told Speers in part;

The world is engaged in the largest clinical trial, the largest global vaccination trial ever, and we will have enormous amounts of data.

The next day during a doorstop interview a journalist asked;

Minister, when we have vaccinated the majority of the population, what does the new normal look like? Do we still have to worry about social distancing and hand sanitising with this vaccine?

Hunt replied that COVID-safe practices will be with us for a long while. Longevity of antibodies must be considered. That this is something the world will learn. And that;

We’re engaged in the world’s largest ever vaccination rollout and, at the same time, effectively, clinical trial. We will learn more; we’re already learning more.

Viewed in the context of questions he was answering it’s clear that Hunt was talking about how the vaccine will effect social activity. Not a trial of efficacy and safety as antivaxxers allege. Never has he used the word “experiment” either. Referring to Hunt in a live chat with Meryl Dorey two nights ago (Monday 28 June) anti-science crusader Senator Malcolm Roberts mentioned the Insiders episode then falsely claimed, “He himself said it’s a trial, it’s an experiment” [4min 35 mark]. In fact COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers published Phase III trial protocols more than six months before Hunt made those comments.

It is thus absurd that the AVN and others continually make this claim. It is also a predictable straw man as it provides a basis for their objection to COVID-19 vaccines. Meryl Dorey and the AVN gave Hunt seven days in which to reply. The demand states in part;

If you do not respond or if your response once again does not address our concerns, we would feel that we have no option but to consider legal action against you yourself, Minister Hunt, in the form of a private prosecution and against the Government to seek injunctive relief to immediately stop this current experiment on the Australian population…

If it looks like a scam…

Given the absurdity of the demands made upon Greg Hunt there is no chance of a favourable response. And this is exactly what Meryl Dorey wants. This makes way for her to announce that legal action will be pursued. Legal action that needs to be funded by AVN supporters. Financial donations to an organisation with no charitable fundraising authority are essentially free from accountability if not deemed for a charitable purpose. More so, the likelihood of successful legal action is zero. The private prosecution of a federal health minister who did not acquiesce to anti-vaccination demands is a calculated impossibility.

The chances of securing a court ordered injunction against the federal government to stop the vaccination of a nation against COVID-19 are (need I say it?) also zero. The party seeking the injunction must demonstrate they are at risk if vaccination is not prevented. As the vaccine is not mandatory and the plaintiffs have clearly stated their opposition to receiving it no risk can be demonstrated. So the AVN will claim to be defenders of Australians. They will need to demonstrate the nation is at risk if the vaccine rollout is not stopped. Again, the vaccine is not mandatory so clear evidence that the public are “guinea pigs” is lacking. If found to be in the wrong the AVN must pay the government’s damages. All this and more must be absolute before the case can go ahead.

This is without a doubt a scam to make money from pledges and donations.

The reaction from those familiar with Meryl Dorey’s money-making scams is proving prescient. Next would come an appeal for money to fund the legal action. After a time Dorey will announce that the action has no chance of succeeding after a rational (and expensive) legal team has reviewed it. The money will be kept and all too swiftly the AVN will return to the day to day business of processing membership fees and “sponsorships”.

On cue Meryl Dorey primed her audience on the morning of Thursday 24 June. The final minutes of a Facebook live video were dedicated to the announcement that the time was almost upon Minister Hunt. The AVN will need all the financial support they can get and a page will be set up for that purpose if, “our solicitors and lawyers and barristers say we are going to proceed”. It’s a performance of deception which you can access via mp3 here or listen to on the player below.

Her viewers were told over 300 Australians have died and over 30,000 have had serious reactions because of the vaccine. Dorey is doing this for you, for the Australian people who, “have a very dark future ahead”. We’re told, “tyranny and communism have descended on Australia”. Dorey twice slips up saying, “when this happens… when this goes ahead”. She knows it’s not a case of if. Thus if the AVN announce the case is going ahead, supporters must be presented with written evidence of legal advice confirming a chance of success. For as we know, Meryl Dorey has form in dangling the prospect of a legal victory in front of AVN supporters.

Previous ‘legal challenge’ fundraising scam

In 2016 the AVN, then known as the Australian Vaccination-sceptics Network, launched a similar scheme using the promise of a High Court challenge to No Jab No Pay legislation. This social services legislation amendment introduced an initiative to withhold state payments from families where children were not fully immunised. The year began with the AVN asking supporters to pledge money to fund a High Court challenge. By late March it was announced the challenge would proceed. Funding requests continued with so-called updates yet donors were kept in the dark.

Concerned donors soon suggested the AVN were being secretive as no legal team or strategy had been revealed and not one invoice for legal fees had been sighted. The AVN responded by email on 8 September 2016 saying they couldn’t show their hand because, “both the government and the pharmaceutical lobby would love to know what we are planning”. The AVN promised to reveal all when the time was right. They announced the total raised by that time was $160,000 and that double this was needed.

Three weeks later Meryl Dorey, AVN president at that time Tasha David, and another member were in the USA meeting with Del Bigtree and the Vaxxed team and protesting at a CDC rally. This trip wold have been months in the planning and was not the first for David. Two months later on Christmas day, contrary to months of published updates, donors and supporters were informed by email that the High Court case had no chance of success. Donations had continued for fifteen weeks since the $160,000 total was announced. Yet now the AVN were claiming only $152,203 was raised and $72,526 was spent on legal advice. The irregularity continued the following day when an identically worded post from Tasha David on the AVN website claimed just $50,371 was spent on legal advice.

For now, let’s work with the figures the AVN published. The pressing question is thus, will the AVN be using any of the money left over from the supposed 2016 attempted High Court challenge to fund this latest venture? Using the lower reported figure of funds raised and the highest of expenses, the least that could have been left turns out to be $79,677. That’s provided we take Meryl on her word that they actually did spend money on legal fees. The next logical question is, was any of that money later spent on antivax campaigns? It turns out that we can draw some conclusions regarding what was promised that Christmas day in 2016 and what later transpired.

Astonishingly lofty suggestions were made regarding the remaining funds. Pursue individuals in the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration), ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation) or PBAC (Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee) with the tort of misfeasance in public office for “the harm they cause”. Then, that it’s far better to lobby local representatives for a possible Royal Commission into Vaccination. The purchase of advertising perhaps. Begin the process of bringing people together to conduct the much sought after vaccinated vs unvaccinated study was another suggestion. A watered down version of this last option was followed up in 2019.

On 28 February 2019 an email went out to members outlining how the AVN had donated $5,000 USD ($6,590 AU) to Dr. James Lyons-Weiler, a long standing US anti-vaccination activist. He is the CEO and president of the Institute for Pure and Applied Knowledge (IPAK) and a vocal supporter of Judy Wilyman. AVN supporters were directed to a GoFundMe page which unsurprisingly still exists today. The resulting “vaxxed vs unvaxxed” paper was significantly biased and had pronounced methodological flaws. The sort of thing you need your own institute to produce. You can access the paper and a thorough take-down here.

On 26 March this year another AVN email revealed what the less charitable may refer to as karma. You see dear reader, £4,000 ($7,300 AU) apparently donated by the AVN to Professor Christopher Exley in May 2019, is missing. It was to assist with his research at Keele University into the neurodegenerative effects of aluminium. This Guardian article written at the time helps to assess AVN thinking. Apparently Exley was being investigated for anti-vaccine activity. The Dean of Natural Sciences at Keele Uni had suspended his research and “disabled” his website. Exley explained there were problems “reviewing” donations and those asking for a refund had received inaccurate information from an unreliable source. The AVN are hoping for a full refund.

The two donations to anti-vaccine research total $13,890. We can also identify some advertising. In October 2018 the AVN funded a controversial billboard at Carseldine in QLD displaying the question, “Vaccinated or unvaccinated: Who is healthier?”. An AVN email sent 8 October 2018 includes their objection to a demand from two QLD MPs for it to be removed. It had also drawn the ire of the QLD health minister at the time, Steven Miles. In today’s prices the 6x3m billboard would have cost around $3,500 for the month it was on display and under $1,000 for printing and installation. Let’s say $5,000 for the billboard.

In the spirit of rounding off shall we say the two donations and the billboard cost $20,000 from the leftover High Court challenge float of $80,000 leaving a not too shabby $60,000. If we accept the second account that 2016 legal fees were just over $50,000 the remaining balance becomes $82,000. Indeed $50,371 spent on legal fees is the figure that remains on the AVN website today. Comments under the post are beyond amusing. High praise, highly curated. Donors on social media at the time were scathing. One rejected such expenses existed contending the AVN had significant pro bono support.

Again I stress that these figures are based on AVN publications and thus biased in their favour. Nonetheless no announcements specific to spending the remaining funds from 2016 have been made. Unrealised options suggested at the time focused on legal action. Well, the time has arrived. $60,000 would buy a significant amount of legal advice. So the question is where is that money and will the AVN use it in this campaign? Members have a right to know. A fundraising campaign such as that conducted in 2016 is inappropriate, irregular and unnecessary.

Speaking of questions the most pressing in relation to the 2016 High Court campaign fundraiser also needs to be asked. Did the AVN reveal the necessary information about strategy and expenses to donors as promised? The answer is no. The necessary transparency needed to confirm the AVN did what they claimed never eventuated. Thus in calculating what the available funds for legal action might be, there is in fact no reason to accept any account of the AVN. There is no evidence that any legal team existed or that a minimum of $50,000 was spent on legal fees.

The hard fact is Meryl Dorey and her team saw no reason to provide this evidence or honour the promise that all would be revealed at the right time. If there is a reason for this strange lack of transparency they have never commented on it. They were keen to explain why secrecy was needed when donations were incoming, yet silent once they put an end to the campaign. At the last the AVN claim to have raised $152,204 months after announcing $160,000 had been raised. This means after raising an average of $50,000 per month for three months they expect donors to accept they raised just over $2,000 in total over the last six months of the campaign. Despite all this it is imperative that one not fall prey to conspiracy theory thinking and conclude absolutely. Suffice it to say that what took place cannot be what the AVN reported. In an upcoming post we’ll look closer at the scale and audacity of this scam.

NSW Fair Trading Investigation

Almost certainly the reason fundraising ceased is because the AVN were advised of an upcoming NSW Fair Trading investigation into the campaign. This was reported in The Australian two days after the AVN announced an end to fundraising. Fair Trading investigations however, only consider if the campaign was a fundraising appeal for the purposes of the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991. The Inquiry Report from September 2017 states that the view of the inquiry was that it was not (see p.3) and no action was taken. However all details are far from clear in that heavily redacted document. We learn more from an August 2018 letter to AVN president Tasha David from Stephen French, Investigations Manager in the Department of Finances, Services & Innovation.

The unambiguous and firmly written letter includes;

The Inquiry has found AVsN’s representations as to the money solicited on its website, and received by it, include a charitable purpose in that it purports to be for the promotion of education and learning. A copy of s. 9 of the Act is attached.

The AVsN website includes the following content that must be removed immediately.
• Lobbying Federal Parliament for changes to legislation, to educate them on this issue and to combat draconian new vaccine laws that are being brought in to Australia.

On this occasion NSW Fair Trading does not intend to initiate legal proceedings. However, AVsN must immediately cease the conducting of unlawful fundraising. If AVsN fails to comply, a further investigation may be conducted. If a future investigation finds that AVsN is continuing to conduct fundraising unlawfully, Fair Trading will consider appropriate enforcement action.

This is yet another example of how Australia’s regulatory acronyms let down the public. The inquiry report also fails to mention what later correspondence clearly states. The AVN High Court fundraising campaign was in breach of the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991 but NSW Fair Trading decided against legal action. Specifically, the AVN was in breach of section 9 of the Act because their website confirmed donations would be used “to educate” members of parliament with respect to legislation regarding vaccination. Instructing the AVN to remove the offending text substantially reduces the chance that future fundraising campaigns will be in breach of this Act.

It seems we have our reasons as to why the AVN never mentioned the campaign again. It is frustrating that NSW Fair Trading have no mandate to investigate the honesty of the campaign nor report on the fate of funds raised. This was justifiably never within the scope of the inquiry. An inquiry that was in hindsight very literal and linear in action. The ACCC should have been notified but instead the AVN received a helpful warning. For those of us who value the application of legislation where scams are concerned it is a sterling example of losing in the lucky country. For AVN founder Meryl Dorey however, it was another financial win.

Meryl Dorey claims to make ‘absolutely nothing’

Perhaps now is an ideal time to revisit Ms. Dorey’s recent claim that she makes “absolutely nothing” through the AVN. In February this year Jane Hansen presented the documentary Big Shots: Anti-Vaxxers Exposed and in doing so revealed a number of disturbing truths about anti-vaccination activists in Australia. This included the AVN and Meryl. Believe it or not the High Court caper wasn’t mentioned. Shortly after, Dorey scrambled to publish a “response” which was in fact a collection of falsehoods presented as answers to leading questions posed by anti-medicine fanatic Tom Barnett. His opening question was about income. You can grab the mp3 here or listen on the player below.

Conclusion

The chance of the AVN winning legal action against Greg Hunt or the Australian government as a means to stop the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is zero. In 2016 fundraising for a similar, failed legal pursuit was conducted in a highly irregular manner. The AVN refused to reveal key information about strategy and expense. This and the failure to refund monies was reported as having “divided the anti-vaccination community”. However the increase in traffic to anti-vaccination social media since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic has provided AVN founder Meryl Dorey with fresh targets to fleece.

If the AVN and supporters wish to make a statement by being publicly seen to pursue possible legal action that’s all well and jolly. Tyranny and communism may be descending but democratic freedoms are alive and well in Australia. Sadly the AVN is supported by many who believe such a case is viable. But a fundraiser is not necessary. The aim should be to discern if legal action is viable. The AVN should have remaining funds for this purpose. They also receive constant donations and sponsorships for the stated purpose of fighting for “the health rights” of Australians. Should the AVN proceed they must provide potential donors with written evidence of legal advice stating the likelihood of success.

This is about disregarding legislation and profiting from the donations of vulnerable supporters. NSW Fair Trading launched an inquiry into the 2016 fundraising campaign. In a judicious application of the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991, information on the AVN website was demonstrated to render the fundraising campaign in breach of that Act. Regrettably no action was taken. A warning with the promise to act against future unlawful fundraisers was issued. This has effectively educated Meryl Dorey in how to avoid the reach of Fair Trading. In addition to the fact there was no investigation into the misappropriation of funds Dorey’s confidence has likely risen.

Despite claiming to make “absolutely nothing” from the AVN, Meryl Dorey makes very good money. She is confident and capable in doing so by dubious means. We in turn can be confident this latest venture is a scam. As with all AVN fundraising campaigns the truth will be obfuscated and the goal will not be reached. Dorey will profit, questions will be suppressed and something else new and shiny will be promoted.

You and I dear reader, should consider reporting all scams to the ACCC. One eagerly awaits developments from the AVN bunker.


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Latest update: 1 July 2021

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