The COVID pandemic gave voice to a number of conspiracy theories that sought to offer an explanation about what was “really” happening. Some of the more bizarre, and yet persistent, conspiracies involve an inexplicable plan of global depopulation. Or as it is often labelled, “culling”.
A decade before the pandemic, anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists had accused Bill Gates of using vaccines in his own quest to depopulate the planet. That was an intentional distortion of a TED talk Gates had given in which he notes that improved public health correlated with decreased population growth. Over time it became a particularly robust piece of misinformation, commonly spread with the unfounded claim that vaccines cause infertility. Claims of vaccine induced depopulation and infertility found new ground during the pandemic. As the pandemic continued a host of conspiracy theories about vaccines were entertained by antivaxxers in a bizarre ebb and flow fashion modulated by social media.
Another identity associated with the depopulation conspiracy theory to be dusted off during the pandemic was psychiatrist, Dr. Rima Laibow. Rima was referenced on social media in 2021, January 2022 and most recently in March 2023. Laibow’s attraction was due to her appearance on the 2009 programmeConspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura. Motivated by H1N1 (“Swineflu”), anti-vaccine conspiracy theory rhetoric, Laibow claimed during an interview that the World Health Organisation had been working since 1974 to orchestrate global depopulation. She claimed the WHO assessed the world overpopulated by 90% and was using vaccines to create “permanent sterility”. That the population had grown from 4 billion to just under 7 billion from 1974 to 2009 was seemingly lost on her.
April 2023 Instagram post from a now deleted account
Her 2009 appearance with Jesse Ventura was being shared on social media along with commentary suggesting that Laibow had “nailed it” and foreseen both mandatory vaccination and “the great culling“. In the histrionics of conspiracy theory echo chambers this was proof that the WHO was using COVID-19 vaccines to create permanent sterility, and that Laibow had “cautioned us against COVID-19”. It must be stressed that mandatory vaccination either for H1N1 or COVID-19 never eventuated. There has been ample controversy regarding vaccine mandates in certain workplaces during the COVID-19 pandemic, but in no way have Laibow’s claims been realised.
On 26 April 2022 Health Feedback published a fact check of another of Laibow’s accusations in the video. Namely, the claim that squalene in vaccines caused autoimmune disease and Gulf War Syndrome. Unsurprisingly, the verdict was “inaccurate”. Laibow warned of the horror vaccines would unleash, telling Jesse Ventura, “What that means is a genocidal holocaust. Men and women will sicken and die and those who survive will be infertile”. The YouTube video below contains the circulating clip of Rima Laibow, edited to educate the viewer as to Laibow’s relationship with science, the truth and legislation.
Dr. Rima Laibow
Selling Colloidal Silver
During her interview Laibow dramatically remains on the edge of a tarmac lest she need to suddenly escape from the USA to avoid “compulsory vaccination” for H1N1. She did not feel safe living in the USA and tells Ventura she was leaving as soon as the interview was over. However, it appears she managed to overcome her fear to work as “medical director” and trustee of the company, Natural Solutions Foundation, with a website hosted at drrimatruthreports.com. By 2014 Rima Laibow was selling a “cure” for Ebola. The “cure” was 10 PPM Nano Silver, which was in fact colloidal silver, and packaged as “Dr. Rima Recommends Nano Silver”. In September 2014 the US Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission labelled the company “scammers”. A warning letter to the company informed Laibow and a co-trustee that they were in breach of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA).
The correspondence includes examples of strikingly inaccurate claims made on the Natural Solutions Foundation website in which nano silver is described as “safe and non toxic… able to kill every pathogen worldwide against which it has been tested”. Health authorities were of course hiding the truth of this cure and the absence of “declassified research” supporting colloidal silver was proof it is effective. Packaged with a CBD organic chocolate bar, nano silver constituted part of a “protection pack”. Other claims included:
Conventional Antibiotics won’t do much against genetically engineered or resistant organisms… But safe, gentle and effective nano silver kills disease organisms in a different way… This is powerful natural protection you need for yourself ad [sic] your family. Choose the Personal Protection Pack or the Family Protection Pack…
It kills only the organisms that cause disease… similar to the lamps in hospitals that kill deadly germs… and also interferes with the metabolism of the disease organisms in such a way that they cannot become resistant to it.
Laibow responded by altering claims made on the company website. The scheme was heavily criticised on the7 On Your Side TV programme “Don’t Get Taken By Ebola Scams”, in which Laibow reportedly argued the scam label was “ridiculous”. Ebola scams were common in the USA at the time, taking the form of bogus charities and cures. Ebola cases and deaths had occurred on US soil and scam artists were taking advantage of fear and uncertainty.
By 2020 of course, the pandemic was upon us. Did Rima Laibow actually turn to reminding us that she had warned of the WHO depopulation-by-sterilisation using vaccines? Did she flee the US in fear of mandatory vaccination? Well no, because Natural Solutions Foundation immediately got to work selling the very same Nano Silver concoction as a treatment for COVID-19. At the same time COVID conspiracy theories were peddled via the long standing Dr. Rima Truth Reports, and went as far as calling face masks “mind control devices”.
Ultimately, the FDA filed a suit on 13 November 2020 that alleged Natural Solutions Foundation, and its trustees Rima Laibow and Ralph Fucetola, had “sold and distributed a nano silver product that the defendants claim will cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent COVID-19.” It further alleged that they had sold misbranded drugs, as labelling for use was insufficient. As such they had violated the FDCA, and on 28 December 2021 were ordered by a District court to stop distributing the colloidal silver. This was the same product used in breach of the same Act as in 2014, albeit now in exploitation of COVID-19.
‘Dr. Rima Recommends’ nano silver label
Fortunately, this time the outcome was more enduring. The defendants agreed to settle the suit and be bound by a Consent Decree of Permanent Injunction [PDF]. The court entered an order that enjoins the defendants from violating the FDCA. They were ordered to recall all nano silver products sold from 22 January 2020 to 27 December 2021, and destroy any such products in their possession. Before distribution of any drugs in future they must notify the FDA in advance, comply with remedial measures and permit an FDA inspection of their facility and procedures. On 8 March 2023 the FDA published an urgent product recall from the company for the nano silver product, issued as part of the consent decree.
These days Dr. Rima Laibow and Ralph Fucetola of Natural Solutions appear on Open Source Truth [archive] and present a weekly podcast titled The Unmasked Crusaders. The Natural Solutions Foundation website is unchanged from a decade ago and the Dr. Rima Truth Reports continue. They do not, thankfully, sell colloidal silver.
The anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-science rhetoric however, is undiminished.
It is also well understood that the substance of their case, as presented by affidavit, was dismissed in the Federal Court by Justice Melissa Perry, because the AVN (the Applicant) failed to demonstrate it had legal standing to continue proceedings against the Secretary of the Department of Health, Dr. Brendan Murphy (the Respondent). Essentially, because the COVID-19 vaccination programme affects the public, the AVN must demonstrate they have “special interest” beyond that of any ordinary member of the public. Indeed where the public at large is concerned it is highly likely that the respondent will challenge the applicant’s claim to standing, as happened here. More so, the quality of evidence received significant comment from Justice Perry throughout the ruling. AVN founder Meryl Dorey continues to describe this evidence as “devastating”.
Those familiar with the AVN, and Meryl Dorey, were not surprised to note that aspects of the ruling clearly stressed that claims made by Dorey relating to past political influence and current status of the AVN, along with purported harms caused by vaccines, were not evidentiary in nature, but merely the belief or opinion of Meryl Dorey herself. This same group of observers were equally unsurprised to see that a Notice of Appeal against the ruling and of the order to pay costs, followed on 22 June 2022.
Predictably, the appeal grounds began by arguing Justice Perry erred in applying Section 136 of The Evidence Act 1995, to those opinionated claims made in Dorey’s evidence. Section 136 limits use of evidence that may be “unfairly prejudicial”, or “misleading and confusing”. Particularly, the appeal contended Perry had given insufficient weight to Dorey’s opinion that the AVN was “the peak vaccines organisation in Australia”. Where “standing” was explicitly mentioned in the appeal notice, it is clear that Dorey again felt the AVN should be taken more seriously.
On 24 August 2022, the appeal was found to be incompetent, leave to appeal was refused and all costs were awarded against the AVN. Nonetheless the quest for standing continued. On 21 December 2022, Meryl Dorey penned a media release. It announced that a group of medical experts had filed a case in the High Court of Australia against Brendan Murphy. It alleges mRNA vaccines are “genetically modified organisms”, used in “an acknowledged” Phase III clinical trial and that COVID-19 poses no threat to babies and toddlers. Essentially the strategy was to convince the High Court “to acknowledge that [the medical experts] interest in preserving human life should allow them legal standing”, to challenge the extension of provisional approval for the Moderna Spikevax vaccine for children 6 months to 6 years. It also contended that belief does not disqualify a person from having standing.
As we will see below, this tactic is a revamp of one of the AVN’s initial cases heard by Justice Perry; the Mandamus case. On 16 March this year the High Court ordered that the matter be remitted to the Sydney Registry of the Federal Court of Australia. It has become known as The Babies Case and is listed on the website of participating solicitors, Maat’s Method, as The Australian Babies Case. There are six plaintiffs in total. In addition to the four professional plaintiffs are the Australian Vaccination-risks Network and Mr. Mark Neugebauer. Neugebauer was an applicant alongside the AVN in the original case. Update; The Australian Babies Case was discontinued on 12 April 2023.
Now, I am not a lawyer and have no legal training. Yet the manner in which the AVN advanced their initial case is worth reviewing. I would like to explore evidentiary claims made by Meryl Dorey and her solicitor in the context that they brought nothing novel to the case. Seperate from the legal determinations are very clear indications that the AVN presents itself as something it is not. A cursory look into claims made, reveal a history of deception and disinformation. Any win for the AVN has proven a loss for public health. An April 2014 Public Health Warning from the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission reinforces the role of the AVN in misleading the public about vaccines and vaccination schedules.
As noted in the ruling of Justice Perry, standing must be established before proceeding to determine the merits of their case. On 24 February 2022 the AVN sought to join with another applicant, Mr. Mark Neugebauer via an interlocutory application filed twenty three days after their initial affidavit, and just six days after the Secretary filed a notice of objection to competency. It was via that notice that the Secretary contended that the AVN lacked standing.
By seeking to join with Neugebauer (whose affidavit was filed that same day), the AVN thought they might have an ace up the sleeve, so to speak, with respect to standing. In paragraph  of the ruling, Justice Perry summed it up well:
AVN contended that, whatever the position with respect to its standing to institute the proceeding, Mr Neugebauer separately had standing… […] In this way, AVN and Mr Neugebauer sought to “cure” the lack of jurisdiction in the event that the Court upheld the notice of objection to competency.
It’s a long way to certiorari
As discussed above, the March 2022 proceedings involved more than one case. The Mandamus case targeted provisional registration of the initial three COVID-19 vaccines available to the Australian public, referred to throughout the ruling as the Three Vaccines. The ultimate aim was to secure a writ of mandamus by which the court would order the Secretary to reverse provisional registration of COVID-19 vaccines. The second case was a Judicial Review case and sought to target the provisional approval of Pfizer’s Comirnaty (tozinameran) vaccine permitting use among children 5 to 11 years from 10 January 2022. That approval is referred to throughout the ruling as the Children Decision. The AVN regarded the Children Decision as void, or basically illegal. The AVN and Mark Neugebauer sought certiorari to quash the Children Decision. A writ of certiorari has the power to set aside a decision made contrary to the law.
In his affidavit [p.20], solicitor Peter Fam refers to a 5 January 2022 letter he wrote to Brendan Murphy regarding the Children Decision. He informed Murphy of various errors and told him that his client regarded the decision as void.
I alerted Dr Murphy that if he did not commence the reconsideration process within 14 days of the date of my letter that my client would seek judicial review remedies in the nature of mandamus, certiorari and urgent interlocutory injunctive relief (and/or other orders including an order for costs) from the Administrative and Constitutional Law and Human Rights Division of the Federal Court of Australia.
As part of the government, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is responsible for the registration of vaccines. However, the Secretary of the Department of Health has certain powers and obligations laid out in the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 (TG Act). The applicants sought to trigger some of these specific responsibilities.
The sections and subsections of the TG Act the AVN highlighted in the mandamus case are 9A(1), 29D, 30(1)(a) and 30(2)(a). The aim was to have the court order the Secretary to “exercise his statutory powers and duties” as listed under these sections, and therefore “suspend or cancel the provisional approval already given” to the Three Vaccines. Section 29D and subsections 30(1)(a) and 30(2)(a) speak to the level of harm that the AVN expected the court to accept COVID-19 vaccines cause, and how to respond. 29D deals with suspension of registration or listing. It reads: “(1) The Secretary may by written notice given to a person… suspend the registration or listing of the goods if:”
(a) the Secretary is satisfied that:
(i) there is a potential risk of death, serious illness or serious injury if the therapeutic goods continue to be included in the Register; and
(ii) it is likely that the person will, within the period of the suspension, be able to take the action necessary to ensure that the therapeutic goods would not cause a potential risk of death, serious illness or serious injury if the therapeutic goods were to continue to be included in the Register;
The advice overlaps with reference to section 30 and the subsections highlighted by the AVN. That section deals with cancellation of registration or listing if:
(a) it appears to the Secretary that failure to cancel the registration or listing would create an imminent risk of death, serious illness or serious injury; […]
(2) it appears to the Secretary that the quality, safety or efficacy of the goods is unacceptable.
There are numerous problems with AVN evidence, including that it is peppered with well known anti-vaccination tropes, which will be examined below. Most significantly however, is that reported adverse events from the TGA Database of Adverse Event Notification, and not proven adverse events from the TGA website, were submitted. Important explanations about the difference available on that, and other sites the applicants sourced data from, were ignored. It’s also clear from the selected sections of the TG Act above that the scale of threat posed by COVID-19 itself has been ignored. One must wonder at the “potential risk of death, serious illness or serious injury” Australians would face if the vaccines were removed from provisional registration. Now, let’s address section 9A(1).
Section 9A(1) reflects a rather administrative duty:
The Secretary is to cause to be maintained a register, to be known as the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods, for the purpose of compiling information in relation to, and providing for evaluation of, therapeutic goods for use in humans.
Well, the AVN were of the mind that the Secretary:
[H]as failed to reasonably obtain, monitor, consider, assess, evaluate and balance data which was or should have been before [the Secretary] about the [Three] Vaccines .
They went further to suggest he should have by that time acted to suspend or cancel the provisional registration of the vaccines, because they pose an imminent risk of death or serious injury. As such the Secretary had breached his duty to “to cause to be maintained” the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG).
Via the Judicial Review case the AVN sought an order quashing the provisional approval by the Secretary, of the Pfizer Comirnaty vaccine for 5-11 year olds. The section of the TG Act that the AVN cited was 22D. This section deals with provisional determinations. This was cited because the AVN also sought an order quashing any determination made by the Secretary pursuant to section 22D, that an indication of the vaccine:
[W]as the treatment, prevention or diagnosis of a life-threatening or seriously debilitating condition for children aged 5 to 11 years of age.
Put simply, they did not accept the determination that COVID-19 vaccination could prevent serious symptoms in 5-11 year olds. Over a number of paragraphs, they outline on page 5 of this submission that their issue is with the safety and efficacy of a therapeutic good (the vaccine). Again they reinforce that the Secretary must “cause to be maintained” the ARTG. This also had me pondering the anti-vaccine mantra that children aren’t made ill by SARS-CoV-2 infection. In any event, with the court not accepting they were a “person aggrieved”, both the AVN and Neugebauer did not have standing to seek certiorari to quash the Children Decision .
AVN evidence was significantly biased toward anti-vaccination rhetoric, false claims and database misrepresentation. There is a large amount of evidence and it is unrealistic to cite every error and irrelevance contained therein. Of eleven affidavits and supplementary affidavits listed on the AVN website, nine are still available. Also available is their submission in response to the Secretary’s notice of objection to competency. Perhaps most surprising with respect to anti-vaccination bias was Meryl Dorey’s affidavit. It contained nothing relevant to Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination programme. Rather, it opens with a subjective hearsay synopsis of Dorey’s purported experience with her son’s supposed reaction to three different vaccines, and similar accounts from other AVN members. Regrettably, the debunked link between MMR and autism is immediately reinforced.
In fact the term “autism” arises twenty-three times throughout the affidavit with the MMR vaccine unceasingly blamed. This is because a great deal of space is given over to AVN-specific material and a 2013 “report” by one Trevor Wilson. Its title is A Profile of the Australian Vaccination Network 2012. Twenty references to “autism” are within this report (pp.34-77). It also contains survey results including random statements blaming vaccines for developmental problems, including ADHD, asthma, dyslexia, chronic fatigue and many more (see p.55). There is praise for Dr. Andrew Wakefield, criticism of the medical profession and praise for Meryl Dorey. Her role in what she told the court is “the peak vaccines organisation in Australia”, is clear. On page 61 we read:
Meryl Dorey spoke to my university naturopathy class about the risks and the lack of scientific evidence to support vaccination. I was devastated. I had never questioned vaccination before and I was very disappointed in myself.
I didn’t know all vaccines were bad, just thought the MMR was. […] I joined the AVN… went to an AVN seminar which is what finally swayed my partner – the rest is history.
Justice Perry agreed to admit Dorey’s evidence only if subject to section 136 of the Evidence Act . Perry’s criticism of specific claims from Dorey is itself lengthy. Yet there are some that demand airing here. As has become widely known Dorey made a number of statements that sought to elevate the importance of the AVN and of herself. For example, Dorey claimed the AVN lobbied federal parliament and was successful in bringing about a conscientious objectors clause amendment to the Child Care Payment Bill 1997. Perry states :
That evidence is objectionable for a number of reasons, including that it is inadmissible opinion evidence and an inadmissible conclusory statement. […] The opinions and conclusory statements otherwise objected to… are received only as statements of Ms Dorey’s belief, in line with my ruling.
For a number of reasons, this strikes me as one of the most crucial aspects of the ruling. It should set the tone for understanding that conclusory statements, and statements of Meryl Dorey’s belief are fraught with misdirection. A review of the facts relating to the AVN’s 1997 lobbying, reveals a campaign of anti-vaccine disinformation designed to motivate rash, emotive decision making, suited not to benefit public health but rather the aims of Meryl Dorey and the AVN. Parts of the Senate Hansard, including debate surrounding amendments to the Bill, read like a riot of anti-vaccination propaganda. Former Greens leader, Senator Bob Brown (a General Practitioner), was furnished with information from the AVN and convinced of its merits. On page 8726 he quotes from “reports from three parents”. He wrongly tells the Senate that vaccines:
Contain many toxic ingredients including formaldehyde, a known cancer-causing substance. There is no safe level in vaccines.
The rubella and chicken pox vaccines are cultured on the cell lines of aborted foetuses.
Vaccines contain many bacteria and viruses other than the ones which they are supposed to immunise against.
The polio vaccine was contaminated with 40 known monkey viruses—one of which, SV-40, is thought to cause cancer and has also been linked with the development of AIDS.
Polio, measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox vaccines can infect the person vaccinated as well as contacts, with the diseases the wild viruses cause.
Vaccines don’t guarantee protection.
The USA pays a fortune in compensation (see what this actually means).
Readers may remember Tasmanian Catholic conservative independent senator, Brian Harradine. Responsible for the veto on the importation of RU486 and the banning of Australian foreign aid being used to fund family planning that involved abortion, his reaction to hearing the false claim about aborted foetal cells was predictable. On page 8729 of the Senate Hansard, Harradine states that before he decided how to vote he wanted to know if the NHMRC sought to recommend compulsory vaccination for chicken pox, because referring to the AVN information, he needed to know if production using aborted foetus cell lines was employed in each state and territory in Australia. Harradine felt it was important for informed consent and as a reason for conscientious objection.
The human diploid cells used in vaccine production are descendant cells and at no time formed part of a foetus. Their use in vaccine production is supported by the Vatican. Nor do any vaccines contain aborted foetal cells. Yet understandably, this wasn’t common knowledge in parliament and Harradine awaited expert advice. He held the balance of power in the Senate and would never abandon his moral high ground with respect to any matter related to abortion. Fortunately he was given appropriate information about the cell lines used (see p. 8792). Nonetheless, the lesson is that anti-vaccine disinformation curated by the AVN influenced one of Australia’s most powerful senators at the time of voting on vaccine-related legislation.
The impact that the AVN had on Bob Brown was clear. He claimed the AVN side of the story was the opposite to “the so-called intelligent people”, contended there “are serious arguments against vaccination” and argued that it was “not valid to say an intelligent parent or responsible person is going to have their child vaccinated”. He was fooled by the AVN’s use of the base rate fallacy with regard to the pertussis vaccine. Advocating for the notion that GP reports of natural immunity should justify foregoing immunisation, he said (p. 8734):
I put it that that natural immunity is much more likely to be protective of the child than the much failed record of artificial immunity coming from vaccination.
The amendments were included in the Act and are best represented here. In July 2013 Bob Brown publicly distanced himself from the AVN in an open letter. In it he wrote:
I do not support AVN’s campaign against public vaccination. […] It is true that in the 1990s I endorsed the right of true conscientious objectors against compulsory vaccination. However, my view then, as now, was that vaccination is in the interests of public health and should be promoted.
The Daily Telegraph reported this was likely related to a campaign by the Greens “to eliminate any suggestion they sympathise with the AVN”. And:
Last month, Greens senator and health spokesman Richard Di Natale introduced a motion calling on the AVN to disband and cease its campaign against vaccines. The motion passed unanimously.
“The claims made by the AVN, and particularly by their founder, Ms Meryl Dorey, beggar belief,” Dr Di Natale declared to the Senate.
“Despite being corrected numerous times by health professionals, scientists and so on, they continue to propagate outright myths about vaccines and their safety.”
Meryl Dorey responded by writing a blog post falsely accusing Di Natalie of supporting compulsory vaccination, and using that allegation as a basis for seeking donations. A 2020 content analysis of that blog analyses persuasive cues employed by the AVN.
On 2 November 2015 the second AVN lobbying attempt had zero impact. Then, the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee was hearing submissions on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (No Jab No Pay) Bill 2015. Immunisation rates had fallen as antivaxxers exploited the conscientious objection clause. The AVN submission is here. As apparent in the Hansard on page 2, the hearing began as expected when notorious anti-vaccine researcher Dr. Lucija Tomljenovic presented for the AVN. Shortly after, Dorey presented her account of her son’s adverse reaction. She then referred to her 1997 experience with Bob Brown, casting him as a supporter, in complete dissonance to his public rejection of the AVN two years earlier. She then likened the current Greens party to George Orwell’s Animal Farm and criticised Senator Richard Di Natale. Shortly after, Di Natale himself was introduced by phone. The hearing quickly descended into farce when AVN members attacked him for asking why they misrepresent themselves.
You can listen to the exchange by using the player to the left, download this mp3 file, or even read along with the full exchange. The angry men are Greg Beattie and Brett Smith. In stark contrast is the evidence presented by Stop The Australian (Anti-) Vaccination Network (SAVN). From pp. 9-11 three members discuss implications of the Bill, reveal flaws in the AVN expert evidence from Dr. Tomljenovic, financial irregularities of the AVN and the real dangers posed by anti-vaccination lobbyists. Still, the AVN had to have the last word and nine days later submitted this disjointed right of reply which in no way advanced their argument against the proposed amendment.
The point to this diversion is to reinforce that the AVN and Meryl Dorey’s frequent claims of lobbyist activity is peacock terminology for calculated deception and meddling in the process of public health legislation. In 1997 it was made clear that rates of vaccination were insufficient and the AVN interfered. In 2015 it was again made clear rates of vaccination were insufficient and again the AVN interfered. Meryl Dorey refused to answer Di Natale when he asked:
I have asked a specific question. I am keen to get an answer. It is actually quite a serious issue because a ruling has been made and I am concerned that this organisation is representing itself in a capacity in which they are not able to do so. I think it is important that we understand the rationale for them representing themselves as a group, which they are not entitled to do. That is where I would like to start.
Richard Di Natale’s observation that the AVN falsely represents itself, has more relevance to the Federal Court case. In attempting to establish standing the AVN argued it had similar objectives to the TG Act. Clause 43 of the AVN constitution outlines the objectives [p. 29], . They submitted [p. 7]:
The objectives of the AVN are consistent with the objectives of the TG Act in that both sets of objectives are concerned with among other things the safety and efficacy of the [Three] Vaccines used in Australia.
The AVN has currently about 2000 members and it is recognised as the peak national association concerned with providing information which evaluates the balance between safety and efficacy of vaccines in Australia.
The AVN also argued that the Australian public expects such a group will exist. Justice Perry deals with these and other claims of importance put forward by the AVN in a splendid paragraph :
However, the evidence rises no higher than to establish that it is Ms Dorey’s view that AVN is the peak vaccines organisation in Australia. There is no evidence, for example, that AVN is regarded as such by government, whether acknowledged in funding from government sources or otherwise […]. Nor is there any evidence that AVN is regarded as a peak body by recognised or established peak organisations or in the public eye. Moreover, there is no evidence that AVN is a body representing the views of persons recognised as experts in the field of immunology and vaccines. To the contrary, membership is open to any natural person who supports AVN’s objectives and whose application has been approved by the committee (see above at ). Further, the evidence that the Australian community expects that there will be a body such as AVN to concern itself with issues such as those raised in the present case does not rise above the status of bare assertion by Ms Dorey.
Justice Perry’s words are reinforced by this audio grab from Dorey’s vodcast last month [mp3]. Dorey labels the COVID-19 vaccine “an experimental gene modification injection” and blames it for deaths in children following meningitis, streptococcus and influenza infections. “Healthy children do not die from these things”, Dorey falsely declares. The AVN advise against all childhood vaccination.
How Meryl Dorey views herself and the AVN, manifest in the ultimatum and demands sent to Health Minister Greg Hunt in June 2021. This approach was repeated in correspondence to the Secretary. In court, Mr. Robinson SC, for the AVN, referred to these as “letters of demand” . On page 1 of their submission, the AVN refer to the respondent receiving an “alarming number of reports of deaths and adverse events”, due to COVID-19 vaccines.
Despite the fact these are coincidental events, this is ignored and they again argue that because the Secretary has failed to cancel the provisional registrations of the vaccines, he has also failed in his duty to “cause to be maintained the ARTG”.
In court the Secretary objected to the evidence with “an extensive list of objections”. The bulk of which observed:
[T]he evidence was conclusory in nature, inadmissible opinion evidence, and/or hearsay in nature if the evidence was being adduced to prove the truth of the representations asserted.
In other words; opinions of the AVN aren’t fact, so should not justify legal action. The Secretary accepted the evidence could be admitted if subject to section 136 of the Evidence Act, within this scope :
Evidence of deponent’s understanding or belief only.
Where evidence is based on previous representation(s) made by others, it is not admitted to prove the truth of those representations.
Where evidence contains opinion, it is not admitted to prove the existence of facts about which the opinion was expressed.
The restrictions placed on AVN evidence were most fortunate. Dorey’s affidavit is curated to present a misleading image of the AVN as an organisation offering something positive to public health, when the opposite is true. It brings to mind examples of aggressive anti-vaccine rhetoric, and studiously avoids Meryl Dorey’s role in promoting conspiracy theories about the pandemic and vaccine injuries.
It should have no place in a court of law. The legal fraternity in Australia could learn from the media in Australia. The latter, after being exploited and misled by Dorey (pictured), now refuse to engage with her. Unless of course they are anti-vaccine.
Leaving Dorey aside, there were also notable problems with the supporting affidavits of solicitor Peter Fam. His initial affidavit includes fifty-five references. These include titles of a number of papers cited by the applicant (the AVN) in correspondence to the Department of Health, Greg Hunt and Dr. Brendan Murphy, along with other scientific papers and references to correspondence. Some are papers that may question the safety or necessity of COVID-19 vaccines, but none present evidence that isn’t already addressed by health authorities; such as waning immunity or cardiac inflammation. Certain articles are immediately recognisable by those who combat anti-vaccination disinformation and rhetoric, either by author, content or associated institutions. For example on page 15, Fam cites Electronic Support for Public Health-Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Inc. This is also widely known as the Lazarus report, after the name of the principle investigator. I discuss its use by antivaxxers exploiting VAERS here under VAERS Underreporting.
Use of this report is an example of decontextualisation. Raw VAERS data which are themselves decontextualised, are presented with the aim of convincing one’s audience that vaccine induced fatalities are high. A snippet from the Lazarus report is then cited: “fewer than 1% of vaccine adverse events are reported”. That most adverse reactions are minor, transient irritations such as itch, rash, swelling and redness at injection site, along with headaches, arm pain, nausea, vomiting or fever, is omitted. This 2014 report notes only 11% of reported reactions are serious. More so, the data accessed by Lazarus et al, from December 2007 to September 2010, are unrelated to COVID-19 vaccines. Indeed in the USA, persons vaccinated against COVID-19 are given literature on how to report side effects and encouraged to do so. The V-Safe program follows up with text messages asking about any symptoms or changes to health.
On page 10 is listed a May 2021 paper, by Jessica Rose that also focuses on VAERS data and is published in Science, Public Health Policy and the Law. This publication is run by the Institute for Pure and Applied Knowledge (IPAK). IPAK in turn is operated by well known anti-vaccination activist James Lyons-Weiler. In February 2019, the AVN donated $5,000 USD to Lyons-Weiler to help fund a study of vaccinated vs non-vaccinated children. The resulting 2020 paper was heavily criticised for methodological flaws and ultimately retracted from publication.
James Lyons-Weiler speaks of Australian vaccine conspiracy theorist and AVN supporter Judy Wilyman, in glowing terms, claiming she, “has done a great service to humanity” and “deserves a table at the head of academia”. He was also the reviewing editor of a November 2020 paper Wilyman had published in the IPAK journal. Misapplication of the Precautionary Principle has Misplaced the Burden of Proof of Vaccine Safety, rehashes a number of dubious claims Wilyman made in her original thesis, and further alleges vaccines are unsafe because “governments” have not applied the precautionary principle. Peter Fam includes statements from the Jessica Rose paper that contend people should be warned of serious unconfirmed adverse events before being vaccinated as this is proper application of the precautionary principle. This is a popular anti-vaccination sentiment because the precautionary principle is supposed to be applied where scientific knowledge is absent.
It’s not surprising we find these references to the precautionary principle. As noted by Justice Perry , Meryl Dorey’s initial letter to Minister Greg Hunt, included this very belief, via their:
…demand, based on the precautionary principle, that the current mRNA and viral vector vaccination experimental trial be immediately halted until independent scientific safety and efficacy evaluations can be unequivocally established.
The next paper cited by Fam suggests there was insufficient animal testing prior to clinical testing of COVID-19 vaccines. This is incorrect. Other papers cited, advance the fact children and young people have a lower death rate from COVID-19 than older people and thus, do not need vaccinating. On pp. 13-14 Fam quotes from a withdrawn paper, observing that “the journal does not state why the paper was withdrawn”. Yet a visit to the paper’s URL provides clear access to the journals withdrawal policy which lists reasons such as errors or “infringements of professional ethical codes”. Fam makes reference to the UK Yellow Card reporting system and comments made by Dr. Tess Lawrie in May 2021 are quoted. Regarding Lawrie, the BBC reported in part in October 2021:
Dr Tess Lawrie – a medical doctor who specialises in pregnancy and childbirth – founded the British Ivermectin Recommendation Development (Bird) Group.
She has called for a pause to the Covid-19 vaccination programme and has made unsubstantiated claims implying the Covid vaccine had led to a large number of deaths based on a common misreading of safety data.
The UK Yellow Card passive reporting system collates data in the same way as the US VAERS system. Raw data have not been assessed. A summary of Yellow Card reporting was updated on 8 March 2023 on the government website:
For all COVID-19 vaccines, the overwhelming majority of reports relate to injection-site reactions (sore arm for example) and generalised symptoms such as ‘flu-like’ illness, headache, chills, fatigue (tiredness), nausea (feeling sick), fever, dizziness, weakness, aching muscles, and rapid heartbeat. Generally, these happen shortly after the vaccination and are not associated with more serious or lasting illness.
Peter Fam’s affidavit includes Genuine Steps and Scientific Papers referred to within on p.15. This opens with an account of Dorey’s letters to Greg Hunt. The first was 24 May 2021 and it received a response on 8 June 2021. Both Peter Fam and Meryl Dorey felt the concerns went unaddressed. Next was an 18 June 2021 letter to Greg Hunt which you can read here. This outlined Dorey’s demand for the government to “immediately cease its obviously harmful and deadly campaign using experimental COVID injections on unsuspecting men, women and now, children”. Hunt was given seven days to respond or face legal action. A day before the 25 June 2021 deadline, Dorey devoted about three minutes at the end of a Facebook live video to priming her viewers. Download the mp3 here, or hit the play button below.
Three hundred had died from “the jab”, viewers were told, and “tyranny and communism had descended on Australia”. I’ve written about this before, unconvinced it was different to the 2016 misappropriation of donations. As it turned out, it was another five months before solicitors were sighted and genuine terms and conditions were drafted. Nonetheless, Hunt did not reply. Next was the 26 November 2021 correspondence to Dr. Brendan Murphy, which referenced “unprecedented levels of death and permanent injuries occurring following the administration”, of COVID-19 vaccines. Again a response within seven days was demanded.
If you’re trying to recall that stage of the pandemic, I can help. Two months earlier we had learnt that less than two percent of people admitted to intensive care in NSW at the beginning of the most recent outbreak were fully vaccinated. Two weeks earlier, ninety-two percent of those in ICU in Victoria were not fully vaccinated. It was the same in the USA and the UK. There were indeed “unprecedented levels of death and permanent injuries”, but not from vaccination. Unsurprisingly, Brendan Murphy did not reply. On 16 December 2021 as the unvaccinated continued to die, the AVN sent another letter insisting:
[That] the provisional approvals ought to be suspended or cancelled on the non-exhaustive basis that there is information and evidence that each of the Registrations have caused historically unprecedented adverse events including deaths, illnesses and injuries… and that insufficient weight has been placed on that information.
Dr. Murphy was given until Christmas Eve to respond before the applicant would seek the court’s intervention. Yes, they wanted Brendan Murphy to spend his last exhausted week before Christmas, removing access to the vaccines that were irrefutably saving lives across Australia and the developed world. Mr. Fam included nineteen “scientific papers” presented by the AVN in his affidavit including seventeen cited within the final letter to Brendan Murphy. They include peer reviewed letters, preprints and peer reviewed papers. On examination these do not scientifically support cessation of the vaccination programme. As with papers cited by Peter Fam himself, there was undue focus on waning immunity, the impact of variants of concern, that vaccination does not guarantee prevention of transmission, natural immunity, breakthrough infection and reports of vaccine-induced myocarditis and pericarditis in adults and children.
Regrettably, included was the heavily criticised October 2020 feature in the British Medical Journal by vaccine critic Peter Doshi. That article created uncertainty around clinical trials, by arguing they weren’t designed to determine if vaccines would reduce hospital and ICU admissions, or death. At the time it was the most cited article by anti-vaccine groups. Also cited was a preprint that today remains unpublished. It discusses “clinically trained reviewers” who found inconclusive VAERS data, were supposedly conclusive after all. Lead author Scott McLachlan, entertains a number of COVID conspiracy theories. He has alleged COVID-19 is a scam, linked Bill Gates to eugenics and is a member of the vaccine-critical group HART.
Also cited was, Increases in Covid-19 are unrelated to levels of vaccination across 68 countries and 2947 counties in the United States, by Subramanian and Kumar. Five days before Dorey wrote her final letter, these findings were shown by Andreas Backhaus, to be significantly limited. Another paper involved postmortem evaluations which “possibly” linked deaths to COVID-19 vaccines. Another preprint analyses reinfection with variants of concern, and found those vaccinated were more susceptible than those with natural immunity. This paper is now published, but with disease and death possible side effects of infection, natural immunity is not a realistic alternative to vaccination.
A number of the papers dealt with the reality that vaccination did not absolutely prevent transmission, and that as vaccination rates rise so does the number of COVID-19 cases in vaccinated persons. Due to the base rate fallacy, this can create the illusion that vaccines are ineffective; the same tactic used on Bob Brown twenty-five years earlier. This is especially pertinent to Australia with a high rate of COVID-19 vaccination. Within the findings of some papers were recommendations for mask wearing and concerns about the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. This is inconsistent, given that Meryl Dorey contends the pandemic is a scam and advocates rejection of all precautions. It is pointless to continue with explanations. In the main, the research reflects issues that Australian health authorities are well aware of. Alone or together, these papers don’t present cause to overturn a non-mandatory vaccination programme.
One supplementary affidavit consisted of seventy-seven pages from the TGA’s DAEN, listing 382 reports of adverse events in children aged 5-11 years, who had received the Pfizer vaccine between 10 – 31 January 2022. Again, it must be stressed these are suspected, and not confirmed, adverse events. The TGA make this plain with an information box at the top of search results. In a six point prelude explaining his review of DAEN Peter Fam fails to report the unreliability of these data. As such the affidavit contains decontextualised information and would mislead the court.
It’s impossible to visit the DAEN page and not understand this. Below is a screenshot of the advice visitors view before accessing the database itself.
DAEN Information splash screen on TGA website
Another lengthy supplementary affidavit of Peter Fam includes a full copy of Cumulative Analyses of Post-authorization Adverse Event Reports, for the BioNTech Pfizer vaccine (BNT162b2) prepared by Worldwide Safety, Pfizer. Dated 28 February 2021, it is a comprehensive, confidential proprietary document, listing adverse reactions from around the world. It is indeed the sort of document the TGA rely upon. The Summary and Conclusion read:
Review of the available data for this cumulative PM experience, confirms a favorable benefit: risk balance for BNT162b2.
Pfizer will continue routine pharmacovigilance activities on behalf of BioNTech according to the Pharmacovigilance Agreement in place, in order to assure patient safety and will inform the Agency if an evaluation of the safety data yields significant new information for BNT162b2.
The same affidavit includes a 28 November 2021 WHO report on Omicron which was designated a variant of concern two days earlier. Discussing severity of Omicron, the report includes:
All variants of COVID-19, including the Delta variant that is dominant worldwide, can cause severe disease or death, in particular for the most vulnerable people, and thus prevention is always key.
Under “Effectiveness of vaccines” the authors conclude:
Vaccines remain critical to reducing severe disease and death, including against the dominant circulating variant, Delta. Current vaccines remain effective against severe disease and death.
This affidavit provides detailed insight into the monitoring of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine and the seriousness with which variants of concern are regarded by world health authorities. Since that time Pfizer has modified vaccine production to accomodate SARS-CoV-2 mutations. Ultimately, this affidavit supports the fact that vaccination remains an important preventative option.
Another affidavit is an expert report from one Lisa Mitchell. Dated 29 June 2022, it appears to be an updated version of her January affidavit, likely in preparation for the appeal. Lisa has impressive qualifications with a CV and career to match. Describing herself as an “expert” she is also a qualified statistician. Yet Mitchell has no medical, epidemiological or pharmacovigilance training. This becomes clear as she presents page after page of raw DAEN data without qualifying the unreliability of such data. On page 14 complete with bar graph, is a synopsis comparing non-COVID-19 vaccine to COVID-19 vaccine adverse reaction reports. Respectively they are 1 per 10,000 doses and 23 per 10,000 doses as at 31 January 2022. Indeed by 5 June 2022 the rate has slightly fallen to 21.87 reports per 10,000 doses.
Despite the fact her graph clearly states “Adverse Events reported per 10,000 doses”, Ms. Mitchell states in paragraph; “the likelihood of someone having an adverse event as the result of a Covid-19 vaccine was 23 Adverse Events per 10,000 doses”. And:
Using the TGA’s more up to date data, the likelihood now of someone having an adverse event as the result of a Covid-19 vaccine as at 5 June 2022 is 21.87 Adverse Events per 10,000 doses. This 20 times worse than Non-covid (sic) times…
However, this is incorrect. These data do not show an increase in adverse events, rather an increase in reporting of adverse events. An increase in reporting of this magnitude is to be expected when the entire adult population is being vaccinated. I’ve already established that the bulk of established adverse events are minor, so the reports that may eventually be established as genuine adverse events are unlikely to be of serious events.
I do not know Lisa Mitchell and cannot comment on her motivation. I can however conclude that her report is fraught with decontextualisation in the tradition of OpenVAERS. It has the potential to misinform and dissuade people from vaccination. It should not be presented as evidence in a court of law.
Matters relied on by the AVN in support of its case for standing 
In order to have a case heard by a court one must demonstrate that one has a right to be heard and that the court has legal jurisdiction to make a decision. In this case it was up to the applicants to prove to the court they had a legal right, called standing, to have the court order the Secretary of the Department of Health to stop the COVID-19 vaccination programme. Under federal law this is a complicated business.
The AVN argued it had standing under section 39B of the Judiciary Act 1903, and were also a “persons aggrieved” under section 5(1) and section 7(1) of the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 (ADJR). Looking at the ten points relied on by the AVN in pursuit of standing, a general theme is clear. Namely, the AVN regards itself as a pre-eminent arbitrator of vaccine policy with respect to public health and that information it presents should be taken as fact and acted upon as they instruct.
The Secretary begged to differ. As Justice Perry observed :
However, by a notice of objection to competency filed on 18 February 2022 the Secretary contended that AVN lacked standing to seek the relief sought in the Mandamus Case and Judicial Review Case and that there was therefore no “matter” in the constitutional sense. The Secretary also contended that AVN was not a “person aggrieved” for the purposes of ss 5 and 7 of the ADJR Act, and that the proceedings were therefore not competent insofar as those provisions were relied upon to engage the jurisdiction of the Court.
As outlined in paragraph eight above, the AVN sought leave to join with Mark Neugebauer, who separately argued he had standing and was a “person aggrieved” under the ADJR Act. Given the volume of evidence filed by the AVN and the potential cost to the Secretary in refuting this at trial, Justice Perry agreed with the Secretary that it was appropriate to determine standing before trial. She ruled that neither individually nor cumulatively did the matters relied on (screenshot above) demonstrate that the AVN had special interest above an ordinary member of the public. The AVN had itself stressed that its objectives involved informing the public about vaccine safety, choice and alternative views. Thus, as will come as no surprise to AVN observers, it is axiomatic that the AVN is not concerned with enforcing the TG Act.
More so, Justice Perry observed registration of the three COVID-19 vaccines under the TG Act does not mandate their administration. Nor would there be deprivation of choice about taking the vaccine. Where vaccine mandates did occur, they were the result of workplace policies or enactment of legislation, and not an automatic outcome of registration of the Three Vaccines under the TG Act . Nothing about the registration of vaccines impacts on the ability of the AVN to pursue their objectives. Indeed this author would note that the registration of the Three Vaccines has enabled unprecedented expansion of the organisation, both in the real world and online, increased financial profit and accelerated pursuit of their objectives. Thus, when one reads that “the AVN has suffered psychological and emotional harm and injury due to or in connection with the Three Vaccines”, seperate from adverse events, one remains dubious. Citing Right to Life Association (NSW) Inc v Secretary, Department of Human Services and Health [ruling], Perry observed:
[T]he fact that a body such as AVN may, in the exercise of free speech, seek to influence public opinion and government views in pursuit of its objects, does not translate into a right of standing to pursue proceedings in a court of law.
Nonetheless, the claim that Meryl Dorey and members of the AVN suffered psychological and emotional harm and injury because of the Three Vaccines, and children of members suffered adverse effects from other vaccines was accepted by Justice Perry. She accepted that Dorey is emotionally impacted by harm caused to her son by vaccines. However, no expert or supporting evidence was presented to confirm the claims of harm and injury. As such the claims were inadmissible evidence and hearsay and accepted only as subject to section 136 of the Evidence Act. They have the same weight as Ms. Dorey’s personal beliefs and do not constitute “special interest”. Even if it could be established that an individual member had suffered harm and acquired standing, this does not by extension give the AVN standing.
Justice Perry rejected the AVN’s claim that its “objectives are consistent with the objectives of the TG Act”, and that this supports their claim to standing. In defining the role of the TG Act with respect to safety, efficacy, quality and availability of therapeutic goods, she observed, “central to which is the conduct by experts in the field”. Fortunately the AVN’s claim that it lobbies governments and writes submissions to parliamentary committees, in conjunction with the demands sent to Dr. Brendan Murphy did not strengthen its case for standing. As noted above, actual submissions are rare. In reality the bulk of AVN-directed lobbying is in the form of retributory mass emailing campaigns directed at those who dare disagree.
The AVN submitted they were pursuing the mandamus case to test the validity of the decisions. If it was accepted that the AVN had standing, then any member of the public with the same grievance would also have standing. Thus the AVN’s legal position doesn’t extend beyond an ordinary member of the public. Ultimately, the same ruling was made for the mandamus case which sought to overturn provisional registration of all COVID-19 vaccines and the judicial review case which sought to overturn provisional approval of Pfizer’s vaccine for 5-11 year olds. Both cases were designed to use the Therapeutic Goods Act to compel the Secretary to act. To support its contention that it was a “person aggrieved” the AVN relied upon the same factors as it did to establish standing. Perry goes into detail as to why the applicants aren’t “persons aggrieved” for the purposes of the ADJR Act. There is no real point to examine that discussion. Unable to demonstrate grievance, or that they would be adversely affected, the AVN is not a “person aggrieved”.
c) by reason of the ground identified in paragraph (b) above, the Application does not involve a real justiciable controversy as to some immediate right, duty or liability between the applicant and the respondent such as to constitute a “matter” in respect of which the Court has jurisdiction vested in it in accordance with Chapter III of the Constitution.
In examining the affidavits submitted by Mark Neugebauer, one notes his personal circumstances would have been better served if he had challenged his specific grievances in South Australian courts. Unsurprisingly the court ruled he does not have standing. In order to join as a second applicant (the joinder applicant) Neugebauer needed to demonstrate a special interest, which he was unable to do. Neugebauer sought relief through the mandamus case because in refusing to be vaccinated in accordance with the Emergency Management Act 2004 (SA), he had lost his job as a disability support worker. He also sought relief via the judicial review case. Mark Neugebauer is a foster parent and the Department of Child Protection (DCP) have legal guardianship over his foster child. In April 2017 a DCP supervisor signed consent for the foster child “to be provided with any vaccinations required” .
Since early 2021 when the Pfizer vaccine was provisionally approved, Neugebauer had “regularly corresponded” with the DCP to stress that he did “not wish my foster child to receive such a vaccine, even if provisionally approved for his age group.” On 14 February 2022 Mr. Neugebauer was informed the DCP’s position was that all eligible children should receive the vaccine, and he was to make an appointment. The following day he replied:
1. My wife and I do not support our foster child receiving the provisionally approved Pfizer vaccine; and
2. That as a foster parent, I am a mandated notifier at law, and that I am required by law to notify the DCP if I suspect on reasonable grounds that a child or young person is, or may be, at risk of harm, and that I believed that the DCP’s intention to vaccinate my foster child puts [the child] at risk of harm.
In correspondence with a social worker organising his foster child’s vaccination appointment, it is mentioned that Mr. Neugebauer had requested holding off until the Moderna vaccine is approved for 5-11 year olds [p.56]. However, this doesn’t fit with Neugebauer’s position in rejecting vaccination for himself [pp. 24-37], which highlight anti-vaccination avoidance tactics of the time. Nor does it resonate with the strategy of the Babies Case in which Neugebauer is a plaintiff. Evidence prepared in that December 2022 affidavit contends that Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are“genetically modified organisms” [para. 48], and the plaintiffs interest is in “preserving human life”.
In dismissing Neugebauer’s right to standing Justice Perry made some salient observations. Seeking to overturn registration of the three COVID-19 vaccines as a means to rectify termination of his employment, is incompetent. The applicants argued that had the registration been cancelled the Order to be vaccinated, “would have ceased to have been effective and Mr Neugebauer would today remain employed in the disability sector” . The fact is that regardless of the Secretary’s hoped for actions in suspending or cancelling registration of COVID-19 vaccines, these decisions only operate prospectively. This can’t change the fact that when his employment was terminated, the vaccines were registered and Neugebauer had not complied with a valid order from his employer on the direction of the SA government. Thus he was not a “person aggrieved” with respect to the mandamus case. Indeed, as he argued via his own affidavits that his very complaint was termination of employment.
Similarly, in seeking to join the judicial review case the applicants submitted that because he is a foster parent, Neugebauer’s personal interests are adversely affected by the Children Decision and determinations under section 22D of the TG Act. The genuine care, love and family life afforded his foster child are not in question, nor is the fact that Neugebauer holds genuine fears for his foster child’s safety. Yet evidence submitted was enveloped in anti-vaccination sentiment and as it is subject to the limitations of section 136 of the Evidence Act, the subjective opinions he held could not be accepted as “expert evidence establishing the truth of these opinions” . Neugebauer contended he had standing to seek certiorari to quash the provisional approval of vaccines for children because he himself was suffering distress, “by the looming risk of his [foster child] experiencing an adverse event” , and was thus a “person aggrieved”. Yet the reason his foster child had to be vaccinated was due to the DCP decision in accordance with State law. Neugebauer did not seek to challenge the validity of that decision.
Mark Neugebauer continues to lobby strongly against COVID-19 vaccines for children. He recently referred to the above court case on Twitter:
Funding and legal teams
Funding for the case was was via donations raised on the US Christian crowdfunding website GiveSendGo and the lobbying of AVN members by newsletter, website and social media. The legal team consisted of solicitor Mr. Peter Fam of Maat’s Method, Barrister; Mr. Jeremy L Harrison of Wentworth Chambers, Senior Counsel; Mr. Mark Robinson of Maurice Byers Chambers and consultant; former barrister, Julian Gillespie.
Solicitor for the appeal was Mr. Peter John O’Brien of PJ O’Brien & Associates. Funding for the appeal continued on GiveSendGo which is still functioning. It today reveals a current total of $650,179. There was also lobbying of AVN members via newsletter (30/06/2022), and social media.
Funding of $82,222 for the December 2022 Babies Case was via a separate GiveSendGo donation site (now pausedunpublished) and direct lobbying of donors. The legal team includes Mr. Peter Fam of Maat’s Method, Katie Ashby-Koppens; solicitor, Mr. Mark Robinson S.C. and Dr. Jason Donnelly of Latham Chambers.
In January 2022 the Australian Vaccination-risks Network sought to overturn provisional approval and registration of COVID-19 vaccines in Australia by seeking legal recourse against the Secretary of the Department of Health in the Federal court. The AVN were deemed unable to establish legal standing to bring the case to trial. Ten detailed matters submitted by the AVN and its founder Meryl Dorey as evidence to support standing were rejected by the presiding judge. As subjective opinions and “belief”, they did not establish “special interest”. Examination and deconstruction of evidence submitted via affidavit reveals no justification for legal action as proposed. Rather, it reveals a concise reflection of AVN anti-vaccine propaganda. Supporting affidavits offered decontextualised information and as such were misleading documents.
The AVN rejected the findings of the federal court and appealed. The appeal placed great emphasis on beliefs, opinions and judgements of Meryl Dorey and was ultimately found to be incompetent. In continuance of its pursuit for standing the AVN joined with five other plaintiffs in the filing of an application for writ with the High Court of Australia. Focusing on the provisional approval of a COVID-19 vaccine for children 6 months to six years, it argues that grounds for “special interest” are debatable and that “belief” does not disqualify one from standing. They wanted the High Court to “fix the law on standing” and establish a new category of standing that would recognise that these applicants, “seek to preserve human life”. On 16 March 2023 the High Court ordered the matter return to the Federal court.
This article is lengthy and has examined the real life activity behind some of the claims made by the AVN within and around the federal court case. But it still falls short. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Meryl Dorey has adopted a convoluted suite of COVID-19 conspiracy theories and aggressively promoted her AVN persona as an anti-medicine crusader. She contends the pandemic is a scam, that SARS-CoV-2 does’t exist, and believes one cannot be infected with a virus unless injected with it. She urged her online followers to discard face masks, ignore social distancing and hand washing and to join large lockdown protests as infections surged. Dorey profits from the donations of anxious and vulnerable supporters.
Meryl Dorey and the AVN can never be trusted to contribute to the welfare of the community. Legitimising their conduct in any court of law would only lend strength to a warped ideology. They should be regarded as disingenuous witnesses in all law courts of Australia.
At the end of June this year I posted on a dubious-looking legal fundraising campaign announced by the Australian Vaccination-risks Network. They were, apparently, proposing private action against Australia’s federal health minister, Greg Hunt, and injunctive relief against the federal government.
It was not surprising to learn they were claiming the COVID-19 vaccine rollout was an experiment and must be stopped. The full 18 June letter to Hunt and Mark Butler MP is here. They had given Greg Hunt seven days to respond, and in the post I included part of their demands:
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…
Hunt, of course, did not respond. Meryl Dorey announced on the eve of day seven that, absent his response, a page would be set up for donations and legal action would proceed. Or rather it would if “our solicitors and lawyers and barristers say we are going to proceed”. What followed was… well, nothing. Or rather, nothing from deep in the AVN bunker. One suspects that this is because other actors, planning legal action against COVID public health initiatives, were drawing significant funds from motivated donors.
The AVN is an anti-vaccine pressure group with a history of dubious legal fundraising schemes. Last year all roads led to funding their Vaxxed bus tour. This has long since ground to a halt, as Meryl Dorey struggles to reinvent herself, yet again, to sell the unsuspecting the same decades old packages of vaccine disinformation. Dorey attracts reasonable numbers to her Facebook videos but this isn’t an income stream. One suspects the AVN is keen for an injection (pun intended) of donor dollars.
Recent failed COVID legal challenges
In June 2020, COVID conspiracy lawyer Nathan Buckley’s popularity grew when he advised Victorians to ignore lockdown directives. Eleven long months before AVN thought to raise money for COVID related legal challenges, Buckley had already suggested up to $10 million would be needed for a High Court challenge against Australia’s lockdowns. He further used the AVN playbook to propose action against flu vaccine legislation and No Jab No Play laws in South Australia. At the end of July 2021 he was still attracting attention in mainstream media.
Nathan Buckley reportedly raised over $575,000 via crowdfunding, to challenge vaccine mandates and public health orders related to COVID-19. An October report suggested he had raised $700,000. Both lawsuits brought before the NSW Supreme Court, targetting NSW health minister Brad Hazzard were dismissed by Justice Robert Beech-Jones on Friday 15 October. Buckley’s bizarre social media posts attacking Justice Beech-Jones and misrepresenting his findings, contributed to his suspension from the NSW Law Society. For the AVN, this meant Buckley’s generous donors were potentially available.
The efforts of Tony Nikolic and Matthew Hopkins of AFL Solicitors have also attracted a great deal of attention and donor dollars. Nikolic targeted Brad Hazzard and Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant. At one point antivaxxers contributed by publishing misrepresentations of evidence given by Kristine Macartney, the director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance. The NCIRS published a statement addressing each item in the falsified court transcript. AFL solicitors, who had brought one of the suits, were moved to reject those antivax claims on Telegram.
After these cases had all failed, AFL and G&B joined forces in an attempt to force Australia’s Prime Minister to apologise outside the Polish embassy for “deceiving” Australians. The chosen location for the apology was based on COVID conspiracy theorists belief that “Polish government officials” had protested outside the Australian embassy in Warsaw. In fact the protest was not by government officials but members of a far-right political party, with a history of spreading COVID-19 misinformation and conspiracies. In another case challenging the human rights of vaccine mandates, Marcus Clarke QC representing plaintiffs, unsuccessfully called on Justice Melinda Richards to excuse herself from the trial.
Serene Teffaha of Advocate Me, reportedly raised over $654,000 before her practising certificate was cancelled in April this year. Even after this, her efforts continued to divert funds for vague and futile legal efforts, away from the AVN. Finally, Maatouks Law Group raised close to $100,000 for a NSW class action. At the beginning of September, Cam Wilson’s article in Crikey listed the main players crowdsourcing funds for eventually hopeless legal gambles. He rightly noted it’s not illegal to test the authority of public health restrictions. The text of his article captures the absence of transparency available to donors regarding the quality and integrity of expenditure decisions. There are many other examples, and appeals are still being heard.
This organised, well funded action based upon disinformation and rampant conspiracy theories, stewing on encrypted social media, overly seasoned with offensive personal attacks on anyone who dare think differently, is common. That’s high praise indeed as to free democracy in Australia. A fact that does not resonate with Meryl Dorey’s 20 November opening line to the AVN’s latest legal fundraising blurb. On the pages of Christian fundraising site GiveSendGo [Archive], we read:
Australia is in a tailspin – descending almost inexorably into tyranny.
Orphaned donors an opportunity for the AVN
“Tyranny” has been a well worn word for COVID conspirators during the pandemic. The AVN has given “Medical Tyranny” and “fascism” ample airing, as Dorey urged followers to donate in support of the fight for freedom, and as a reason to attend illegal protests during lockdown. The AVN had frequently promoted the efforts of Buckley, Teffaha, Nikolic and Hopkins. Nikolic had cited AVN antivax material in a long letter to Brad Hazzard. The AVN has watched these fraught legal efforts with scrutiny. Is it cynical to suspect that as legal challenges fell to “fascist medical tyranny”, eyes in the AVN bunker also noticed increasing numbers of ‘orphan’ donors had lost their cause for donation?
The fundraising blurb continues:
We are not able to travel from State to State or overseas, work in our normal jobs – even when those jobs are part of our own business, go out to eat, drink, to the cinema, dance, sing, or do just about anything else without agreeing to take an experimental jab that has already killed hundreds of our countrymen and women and injured over 80,000.
It is obvious to anyone who has observed what’s been happening over the last 22 months that our governments – State and Federal – are determined to remove every right our parents and grandparents fought for in many wars over the last 100 years or so.
We at the Australian Vaccination-risks Network (AVN) have watched this with great dismay, as we know many of you have done as well. We have participated in protests, made submissions, written letters and for the most part, though these actions have put the government and their bureaucracy on notice, their course seems to have been set and unchanged through it all.
Court cases have arisen and been lost – and others are ongoing – we wish them all well. Though we have informed people of these cases and done everything we can to offer whatever assistance we can to the organisers, the AVN has not personally gotten behind any of them.
We recently met with a legal team that has rendered a legal advice that has been reviewed by two eminent Australian and English legal minds, (a former Justice and a current QC), that the case has merit and, if it wins (there is never a guarantee) .. of completely turning the current situation on its head!
The AVN claim to feel so strongly they have donated $20,000 into the “AVN Judicial Review Fund of our instructing solicitors Irish Bentley”. That might sound generous and is intended to motivate donors. Yet we must remember the AVN 2016 High Court challenge against “tyrannical ‘No Jab, No Pay’ federal legislation”. According to their own emails and website, this ultimately left them holding a minimum of $80,000 and possibly close to $110,000. These figures vary because their own published totals of raised funds and apparent legal expenditure both varied significantly. Was $160,000 raised or $152,000? Was expenditure around $70,000 or was it $50,000? This disparity remains online and has never been explained.
Money from this remaining kitty that the AVN might claim was spent on antivax pursuits, distills into two efforts. In February 2019 the AVN advised members they had donated $5,000 USD to ecologist James Lyons-Weiler, to help fund his crowdsourced “Vaxxed vs unvaxxed” study. Published in the International Journal of Research and Public Health, it was quickly demolished  by critics of the new and dubious methodology. The study was retracted in August this year. In March this year the AVN advised that £4,000 was apparently donated to Professor Christopher Exley of Keele University in the UK. This was to assist his work into linking aluminium to neurodegenerative diseases, including the long debunked “vaccine-autism” trope. That money supposedly vanished in the midst of controversy that saw Exley leave Keele University in August this year.
The fundraising blurb attempts to justify their position in defending all Australians, whether vaccinated or not. It’s about freedom and slavery, no less.
Now is the time for ALL freedom-loving people – those who have taken the jab and those who have not; those who are staring down unemployment and those who are still able to work; those who want to protect their children and grandchildren and those who simply believe that the government’s rights stop at our skin – to pull together as one.
Whether you are able to donate $5 or $5,000, we need you now! And if you have no money to give to this cause, we need you to share this with everyone you possibly can – both here in Australia and overseas.
What we do here and now can have wide-ranging and positive influences on the entire world. There are more of us who believe in freedom than there are those who want to enslave us.
Cleaning Up Their Act
What’s notably different about this fundraising attempt is that the AVN have provided terms and conditions. They actually name real solicitors and refer to a trust account. It’s now clear to those who read the terms that the AVN is not a charity. That last point is a hard learned lesson that previously cost them significant funds. The 2016 High Court challenge ceased abruptly and the reason, is something the AVN has tried to keep secret. After announcing $160,000 had been raised, and that double that was needed, the AVN suddenly went silent. Three and a half months later, on Christmas day, they quietly revealed by email that, “counsel has advised us not to proceed due to the poor chance of success and the high costs of a High Court challenge”.
That was not accurate. What had actually happened was the AVN (then ‘Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network’) were advised of an upcoming NSW Fair Trading investigation into the fundraiser. The Australian reported the facts two days after the AVN had formally ceased fundraising. An August 2018 letter from Fair Trading, eventually advised then-AVN president Tasha David of the outcome. Essentially, the High Court fundraiser had indeed broken the law, but the AVN would not be prosecuted.
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. […]
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.
NSW Fair Trading investigations are bound by the limits of the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991. In simple terms that means they can act if non charities, such as the AVN, appear to be raising funds for a charitable purpose. By stating now that they are not a charity, the AVN hope to avoid accusations of unlawful fundraising and the promised “enforcement action”. Naming their solicitors, as opposed to previously alluding to anonymous representation, is something they had to do. For almost two years now, proposed crowdsourced legal action against public health directives and COVID-19 vaccination, has had names and faces. The AVN pre-COVID claim of needing secrecy to avoid revealing their strategy to the government and “the pharmaceutical lobby”, will no longer work.
I suspect that now having actual solicitors whose professional reputation is involved, means that a trust account has been strongly recommended. Legally, as the AVN is not a charity, the Charitable Trusts Act 1993 does not apply. In 2016 donors were asked to identify payments with the initials “NJNP”. All routes of deposit led to a long standing Westpac “AVN Community Solutions” account. There simply was no dedicated bank account, and if donors did not initial cheques, money orders or PayPal donations, the AVN advised, the money would be assumed to be not for the High court challenge and used as they saw fit. It may not be essential to provide a dedicated account for funds raised, but it is sound practice and the AVN have learned not only from their own mistakes and critics, but quite likely from recent critics of Serene Teffaha.
The Terms and conditions are as follows:
The goal is $300,000. Total to date since 20 November, is $123,040. Two realities have emerged with respect to recent legal challenges of this nature. The chance of success is unlikely in the extreme. The chance of significant profit is high. Item 10 in the terms and conditions allows the AVN to spend donor monies on what they may deem related administrative costs. Item 11 states that only donors who contribute over $500 “may elect” to receive a pro rata return from surplus funds, if over $5,000 is left.
If at the completion or cessation (for whatever reason) of the proceedings (which may include appellate proceedings) there are monies exceeding AU$5,000 remaining in the AVN Judicial Review Fund (i.e. surplus funds), donors who have contributed an amount greater than $500 may elect to receive a pro rata return from the surplus funds (i.e. their total donation as a proportion of the total funds raised). Any funds remaining after such pro rata return will be paid to AVN.
Following a complaint to the ABC in the wake of a 12 August interview with the founder of Reignite Democracy Australia, Monica Smit, Audience and Consumer Affairs concluded that it was a “serious editorial misjudgement”.
They found that ABC Far North Drive breached the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy, harm and offence. A correction has been published and, after the finding is reported to the ABC board, it will be published under upheld complaints.
A post here on 18 August, examined in depth a series of bogus claims made by Smit (pictured), and touched on the importance of editorial accuracy. On 13 August I’d submitted a complaint to the ABC summarising the most significant points made in that post.
As mentioned in the post under Editorial Standards?, after the interview, presenter Adam Stephens did clearly outline his reasons for having Smit on. He thought it is interesting people hold such views and that, as evidenced by RDA pamphlet drops, some residents around Cairns had been swayed by Smit.
He also added:
Whether you wanted to hear from Monica or not there are people that are listening to her message, and sometimes it’s… I think worthwhile in actually learning about the motivations of some of these groups in our community, and some of the people that feel strongly enough to actually join groups like this and distribute their information.
This sounds reasonable, but the problem is that Smit is a skilled manipulator. She is well versed in faux justifications for anti-vaccine, anti-mask and anti-lockdown claims. The RDA site leaves no doubt that they present harmful and divisive claims backed up by legal loopholes and the misrepresentation of studies. At the time, Smit had already incited a number of illegal protests. It was clear she had no regard for community safety. It is a factor that ABC management should have proactively made clear to programme producers across the country.
In an ideal world, disinformation would be refuted on the spot. In reality, because Smit (and others like her) cover such a range of topics, and use obscure details, this is impossible. The answer is to never provide air time. A decade ago, anti-vaccination activist Meryl Dorey was given ABC air time to discuss an immunisation incentive. She used both opportunities to spread disinformation. Complaints were upheld and Dorey hasn’t been on the ABC since. Let’s hope a similar fate awaits Smit.
ABC Far North: On 12 August, ABC Local Radio Far North Drive interviewed a member of anti-lockdown and COVID-19 conspiracy group Reignite Democracy Australia (RDA). The program failed to explain that the interviewee had no medical or pandemic expertise; and that the group is anti-lockdown, anti-vaccination and encourages illegal lockdown protests. This context was material to the audience’s understanding of the issues to hand. During the interview it was stated that mask wearing is dangerous; this is inaccurate. The interviewee made repeated erroneous claims about important public health matters which were not adequately contextualised or corrected by the presenter. The program failed to take the opportunity after the interview to directly correct and debunk the claims made.
ABC’s editorial standards are covered in the Code of Practice. Ultimately, Audience and Consumer Affairs found that the interview breached the ABC standards for accuracy 2.1 and 2.2, and for harm and offence 7.1 and 7.6. The full email response from Audience and Consumer Affairs is below (with permission of ABC).
Dear Mr Gallagher
Thank you for your email regarding the 12 August edition of ABC Far North’s Drive with Adam Stephen, which featured an interview with Monica Smit of Reignite Democracy Australia (RDA). I apologise for the delay in responding.
Your complaint has been considered by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of content making areas within the ABC. Our role is to review and, where appropriate, investigate complaints alleging that ABC content has breached the ABC’s editorial standards, which are explained in our Code of Practice. We have carefully considered your complaint, sought information from ABC Regional management and assessed the content against the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy and harm and offence.
Drive has explained that local Cairns businesses had received flyers from RDA, and that they broadcast an interview with a business owner who expressed his frustration with the “irresponsible” behaviour of this group which would “put everyone else in danger”. Following this, the editorial decision was made to interview Monica Smit from RDA.
Audience and Consumer Affairs have concluded that within the context presented, this interview was a serious editorial misjudgement. Our findings are set out below against the relevant editorial standards.
2.1 Make reasonable efforts to ensure that material facts are accurate and presented in context.
2.2 Do not present factual content in a way that will materially mislead the audience. In some cases, this may require appropriate labels or other explanatory information.
As you explain, at no point was it made clear that Monica Smit and RDA have no medical or pandemic expertise, nor are they advised by medical experts. It was not made clear that their flyer and website provides no reputable or evidence-based information. Further, it was not explained that RDA is an anti-lockdown, anti-vaccination activist group which attends, supports and encourages illegal lockdown protests and other activities. This context was material to the audience’s understanding of the issues to hand and in particular to the credibility of the claims made by Monica Smit.
As you point out, Monica Smit made numerous inaccurate and unsupported statements in this interview which were not corrected or adequately challenged by the presenter. The claims made by Monica Smit regarding mask wearing and lockdowns were both alarming and erroneous. The interviewee was allowed to make repeated inaccurate claims about important public health matters which were not adequately contextualised or corrected. Further, the program failed to take the opportunity after the interview to directly correct and debunk the claims made.
Audience and Consumer Affairs have concluded that Drive breached the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy 2.1 and 2.2.
Harm and offence
7.1 Content that is likely to cause harm or offence must be justified by the editorial context.
7.6 Where there is editorial justification for content which may lead to dangerous imitation or exacerbate serious threats to individual or public health, safety or welfare, take appropriate steps to mitigate those risks, particularly by taking care with how content is expressed or presented.
Audience and Consumer Affairs observe that reliance by listeners on the information provided by Monica Smit during this interview about public health orders was likely to cause harm. This includes the inaccurate information about mask wearing, lock downs and comments made by the interviewee on how to breach / avoid health orders.
The likely harm was not justified by the editorial context. Issues around groups like RDA are newsworthy to a degree, usually because of the threat or harm they present to the wider community and their illegal activities. An interview with a fringe activist with no medical expertise talking about public health matters requires very solid context and rigorous debunking; that did not happen on this occasion.
The material propagated by Monica Smit in this interview put RDA followers and the people around them at risk, and the editorial context did not justify the likely harm. The program did not take adequate care with how this content was expressed or presented, particularly in relation to accuracy.
Audience and Consumer Affairs have concluded that Drive breached the ABC’s editorial standards for harm and offence7.1 and 7.6.
ABC Regional apologise for this serious lapse in editorial standards. This matter has been discussed with the program team and a correction published here. In keeping with Audience and Consumer Affairs’ usual processes, this finding will be reported to the ABC Board and a summary published here.
Thank you again for bringing your concerns to the attention of the ABC. Once again I apologise for the delay in responding. Should you be dissatisfied with this response, you may be able to pursue your complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (www.acma.gov.au).
Yours sincerely (redacted) Investigations Manager Audience and Consumer Affairs
Fundamentalist chiropractor and career anti-vaccination activist Simon Floreani, was last week suspended from practice for six months, from 18 October 2021.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) handed down the ruling [Archived] after Floreani was referred by the Chiropractic Board of Australia (the Board) in March 2019, for professional misconduct. In November 2016 Floreani featured in a video podcast interview titled Nazi Vaccination Regime in Australia. In December 2016 Floreani facilitated the screening of Andrew Wakefield’s anti-vaccine film Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe at his chiropractic clinic. Not surprisingly the film’s thoroughly debunked theme and content are, “contrary to the Chiropractic Board of Australia’s codes and statements”.
Floreani was initially suspended on 27 September 2017, after an Immediate Action Committee (IAC) was convened. The transcript informs [item 5]:
The IAC made that decision on the basis it formed the reasonable belief that action was necessary because Dr Floreani posed a serious risk to persons and it was necessary for it to take immediate action to protect public health and safety.
That suspension lasted around six weeks as it was stayed by the VCAT. Conditions were imposed in March 2018 [item 142], and have applied since then. The Tribunal accepts Floreani has complied with them. The matter had returned to the Tribunal, “because the Board decided it was appropriate to refer Dr Floreani so the Tribunal could consider making disciplinary determinations.” [item 8].
The conditions, designed to limit Floreani’s anti-vaccination influence when he returns to practise, will be in place for twelve months. These include a ban on anti-vaccination signage, materials, advice to practice clientele, and “public comment discouraging vaccination”. If asked about vaccination by a client, Floreani must refer them to an appropriate practitioner. These are an effective continuation of conditions imposed by VCAT in 2018 and “there is no dispute Dr Floreani has complied with them in full at all times”. There is another pre-existing condition (noted item 178) that will also continue. Floreani must display the following sign in all waiting areas.
Please be advised Dr Simon Floreani does not provide any patient with advice regarding vaccination. Any patient requesting such advice will be referred to an appropriately qualified medical practitioner
He must permit the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) access to waiting areas during business hours, to monitor compliance with signage. Floreani must also submit to practice inspections during which AHPRA may access appointment diaries, booking schedules and any social media accounts used in conducting his business. AHPRA will provide a minimum of 24 hours notice before these inspections, and not conduct them more frequently than once per calendar month. Despite this, they are referred to as “random practice inspections”.
The respondent must bear his own costs of complying with the above conditions.
The videoed interview Nazi Vaccination Regime in Australia was with US based anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist and chiropractor Billy DeMoss. During the 3 November 2016 interview Floreani suggested that “they” are trying to silence screening of Vaxxed in Victoria and because people “have to have secret screenings”, it was “a nanny state”. He went on to make some extraordinary statements such as:
…we could not find one shred of evidence to show the efficacy of childhood vaccination […]
I’m, under my regulation and registration requirements, not allowed to talk about vaccination. But under the laws of this country I have to do what’s right… I have to tell people the truth, as a health practitioner, as a leader, as a father, as a community member […]
…parents are trusting their gut and saying, “I don’t want to do this. I can’t inject this poison in my baby’s body and be okay with that” […]
…the evidence is not there to suggest that people are safe and our kids are safe
Prior to 10 December 2016, Floreani was contacted by then president of the anti-vaccine pressure group, Australian Vaccination-risks Network (AVN)*, Tasha David. She requested he screen the film Vaxxed at his clinic. Floreani and his wife, anti-vaccine author and chiropractor, Jennifer Barham-Floreani are past professional members of the AVN. The screening at his clinic was one of a number the AVN had organised at the time. The event was covered in depth, including a video of the entire evening, by reasonable hank. Glaringly obvious, but important from a legal standpoint, the Tribunal has observed that prior to the screening, “Floreani was aware of the content of the film”. Indeed.
Both allegations, which are detailed in the ruling transcript, are that Floreani engaged in professional misconduct and unprofessional conduct. Both allegations note that he:
(i) failed to promote the health of the community through disease prevention and/or control; and/or
(ii) failed to provide balanced, unbiased and evidence-based information to the public; and/or
(iii) promoted and/or provided materials, information or advice that was anti-vaccination in nature and/or made public comments discouraging vaccination.
That sounds like the Simon Floreani I’m familiar with. His transgressions in the above regard range far further afield than those covered in the Tribunal ruling. This is reflected in item 197 of the transcript:
The Board submitted the admitted conduct represented ‘repeated brazen departures from the standards expected of a registered chiropractor’.
This may be a statement about Simon Floreani. However, in that it describes his stance on vaccination, it confirms that similar views held by a large number of practicing chiropractors are therefore well removed from “standards expected of a registered chiropractor”. The problem is one inherent in chiropractic, although I rush to add it is not absolute in chiropractic nor exclusive to chiropractic. The re-emergence of vitalism in chiropractic has led to an influx of practitioners who almost certainly began the study of chiropractic with an established aversion to evidence-based medicine. Once qualified, they see themselves as representatives of a viable alternative to the medical profession if not a replacement for it. This is a problem of staggering proportions and one that the Chiropractic Board of Australia is seemingly ill equipped to address.
A unique example emerges when considering the transcript of the VCAT hearing. As noted there’s no dispute about Floreani’s compliance with conditions initially imposed in November 2017 [item 144]. As we read in item 150 the Board considered another notification about Floreani in 2019. It was received by the Board in 2017, and concerned conduct from 2016. The Board decided to investigate in May 2017, concluding on 26 July 2019. The professional conduct issue related to items published by Floreani on Facebook and his business website. He made claims about the effectiveness of chiropractic for conditions and circumstances, in the absence of any evidence. Namely [item 151]:
(a) Chiropractic care for childhood illness, colic, ADHD, autism, cerebral palsy and asthma;
(b) Chiropractic care to treat infants who are having trouble sleeping or have persistent ear infections or reflux;
(c) Suggesting homeopathy could be used in lieu of traditional vaccines; and
(d) Suggesting that conventional medicine was ‘poorly performing’.
The transcript tells us the investigation lasted twenty six months. Twenty one months in, on 20 February 2019, Floreani appeared onA Current Affair defending the actions of AndrewArnold who was filmed the previous August performing a series of non-evidence based adjustments on a two week old infant. Floreani told ACA:
I’ve been doing this 20 years, and the proportion of paediatric patients has gone from one in 10 to three or four in 10.
The next day Arnold was put on an undertaking by the Chiropractic Board, published on his website, that he would not treat children from birth to twelve years or provide any material in support of such treatment on any internet platform. It’s inconceivable that Floreani was not aware of the Board’s ongoing investigation into his advertising. He chose to publicly defend Arnold despite the highly controversial and widely reported circumstances.
Ultimately the Board found that his 2016 performance was unsatisfactory and below the expected standard. He failed to work “within the limits of his competence and scope” and failed to comply with the Board’s Statement on Advertising. After AHPRA requested removal of the material it was removed in full. The transcript observed that this was said to demonstrate, “some level of insight and compliance by Dr Floreani in relation to his advertising”. Floreani had already been cautioned in 2014 for provision of anti-vaccine material (see below). In response to the evidence-free claims above, which are anything but unique in chiropractic advertising, the Board cautioned:
The practitioner is cautioned in relation to the publishing of advertising and other material in relation to chiropractic care that is not supported by sufficient evidence.
One should acknowledge that this is seperate from the career antivaccinationist activity Simon Floreani is known for. Perhaps the record of compliance with conditions and the evidence he gave does support him having turned a corner. Perhaps. We can get an idea of his prior and current vaccination beliefs by revisiting his comments about his wife’s book, Well Adjusted Babies, both during the DeMoss interview and when giving evidence. Item 65 contains longer responses of Floreani’s from the DeMoss interview. During these he clearly relies on the book as a source of “evidence” and “research”. He talks about working with the regulator to show them “evidence”. He tells DeMoss his wife had been snowed under and produced:
18 reams of paper worth of evidence and research around every single question they asked […]
…and you give these people what they want. When they want evidence, you know, there is – we could not find one shred of evidence to show the efficacy of childhood vaccination.
This is only twenty eight months after the Board had cautioned Floreani for providing Australian Vaccination-risks Network booklets in his waiting room. It was submitted to Tribunal by Marion Isobel, counsel for the Board, that he had done so despite being aware that the Board had that year, “released a communique requesting practitioners to remove all anti-vaccination material from their websites and clinics” [item 202]. On 22 July 2014 the Board advised of the caution. It was as follows [item 148]:
The Chiropractic Board of Australia cautions Dr Floreani that in the future he ensures that he is familiar with and complies with the Board’s guidelines for the advertising of regulated health services.
Returning to Floreani’s chat with DeMoss, the transcript includes:
And, you know, really the evidence is not there to suggest that people are safe and our kids are safe, and it’s a really – you know, my wife, God bless her, has worked tirelessly to bring the evidence together, and her next book will be – you know, we’ve got this multimedia platform where we can share the research as it becomes available, in layman’s terms, to help people actually hear the truth, not through the media but through multimedia platforms. We can share around the world exactly what the truth is, exactly what the research says and let people make informed decisions…
This confirms the level of disinformation Floreani and his wife were content to disseminate through various media. Indeed VCAT and the Chiropractic Board of Australia are limited to Floreani’s conduct as a chiropractor, or activity demonstrated to be in a professional capacity. Well Adjusted Babies was published through the group Well Adjusted Pty Ltd. Floreani and his wife are the shareholders and Floreani’s son is the director [item 64].
In evidence, Floreani confirmed he had been active in the company as a “research assistant” and currently has no role. He maintained he does not promote the book Well Adjusted Babies. Dr. Ann Koehler [item 41] gave expert evidence to the Tribunal, including the risks associated with statements made in the book’s chapter on vaccination; chapter 15. She quoted the preface to this chapter [item 70]:
Laying aside the very real possibility that various vaccines are contaminated with animal viruses and may cause serious illness later in life (multiple sclerosis, cancer, leukaemia, ‘Mad Cow’s’ disease, etc) we must consider whether the vaccines really work for the intended purpose.
Regarding his role in development of the book Floreani said he, “helped distil information into lay terms” [item 187]. Perhaps the above paragraph reflects his prior, and not his current stance on vaccination. Or, perhaps not. Giving evidence, Floreani was asked if he stood by the content of chapter 15. He referred to the book as “an evidence-based document”. Dr. Koehler stated that the content was “inaccurate, misleading and alarmist”. Floreani disagreed. In fact it wasn’t something he wanted to discuss because the Tribunal was not “workshopping the book”. Asked how he would describe the content of chapter 15:
He said again it was an evidence-based document which was ‘up for discussion’ as was all research information. He said he was not in that arena and did not deal with that kind of material and was not prepared to ‘walk down that path’.
When asked if he still held the same views on vaccination but had agreed to not make public statements, Floreani replied that he was “a researcher at heart and a critical thinker” [item 189].
He said he would appraise any information and he was not fixed in his views. He said he was ‘very prepared to take [his] medicine’. He then stated that he understood that, in the whole area of vaccination, there were ‘diverse opinions’.
In addition, Floreani’s current curriculum vitae lists him as a “contributor” to Well Adjusted Babies 2005, Well Adjusted Babies Revised Edition 2006, Well Adjusted Babies 2nd Edition 2009 Vitality Productions and Well Adjusted Babies Practitioner Guide 2009 Vitality Productions [item 166]. The antivaccinationist in Simon Floreani is an ingrained part of his identity. His C.V. reflects that he is not only happy to be seen as having promoted anti-vaccination views but is proud of it.
Reading the transcript, it’s tempting to accept he is motivated to keep an anti-vaccine image out of his professional life. Yet even this purported change isn’t something that evolved. He has been forced into this position after repeated breaches of the Chiropractic Code and/or Statement. To use his own words he feels he has been “bludgeoned about the head” [item 185].
He was no doubt also motivated to avoid a suspension and, having already been suspended in 2017 by the IAC for the same matter, was aware the Board would seek another. Reading through the transcript it isn’t surprising that the Tribunal agreed one was warranted. Particularly in light of his entrenched views outlined above, which is reflected in item 14:
However we remained concerned that his statements to us showed he has not fully absorbed relevant Code obligations and he appeared to maintain a level of scepticism about vaccination.
Under Dr Floreani’s submissions on determinations, the transcript noted via his counsel, Mr. Shaun Maloney, that Floreani agreed a reprimand was an appropriate order [item 204]. Also, that written submissions “contended that a suspension was wholly unsustainable in this case and was in fact a punishment” [item 205]. It’s further contended that suspensions are reserved for protection of the public and to ensure the practitioner gains insight and ‘the message’. “None of those matters are present here”, it was submitted.
Other noteworthy points from submissions include [item 205]:
Dr Floreani has full insight. […] He is apologetic and has recanted. […] The risk of repetition is non-existent. […] This is a health practitioner who has committed isolated error for which he is truly sorry… […] …the only possible justification for a suspension is as a matter of general deterrence. […] It is illusory to suggest that general deterrence is necessary here… […] …seen in the light of that which it truly is, being an isolated act, made in error through a transitory erroneous opinion… […] Accordingly, any period of suspension is not warranted for protection of the public, either for specific deterrence or for general deterrence.
Clearly the Tribunal did not accept the argument from submissions. I also found the source and content of references for Floreani compelling [item 168]. Not one referee stated a clear purpose for the reference nor indicated they were aware of the VCAT proceedings or Floreani’s involvement with the Board. One name leaps out immediately. That of Canadian chiropractor Elizabeth Anderson-Peacock, who in 2019 lost re-election for her seat on the executive of the College of Chiropractors of Ontario (CCO). The National Postreported this was in the wake of speaking at a conference that also hosted Del Bigtree. Earlier that year she had endorsed Vaxxed – the same movie Floreani now faced disciplinary action for permitting to be screened at his clinic. The reference was dated 22 June 2021.
The Tribunal didn’t refer to this thumbing of the nose at proceedings from Floreani, but did provide a quoted section from Anderson-Peacock’s reference which they were “very concerned by”. It included in part [item 172]:
On occasion that [ensuring clients can make a fully informed decision] sometimes includes inconvenient or alternative viewpoints from mainstream allopathy. Dr Floreani encourages people to do their own research and think.
Another, dated 7 June 2021, referee is Mr Giles A. La Marche, Vice President of University Advancement and Enrolment, Life University Canada. On 13 April 2020 BuzzFeed News publishedChiropractors Are Feeding Their Patients Fake Information About The Coronavirus. A paragraph was devoted to La Marche who, on April 10, had then shared a conspiracy video about Bill Gates’ plan to depopulate the planet with COVID-19 and articles on how Fauci was planning to profit from a COVID-19 vaccine. On 21 May 2021 La Marche featured inThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution after posting a story from the antivax disinformation mill Children’s Health Defense on a purported COVID-19 vaccine death.
More recently on 27 September this year La Marche posted a video on his Facebook page, Canadian doctors destroy the COVID-19 fear narrative. On 7 September he shared “important info” on “jaw dropping mask and vaccine failures”. He’s also just bought Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s book, The Real Anthony Fauci. On 30 August he wished someone a happy birthday. Smiling from the accompanying photo is one Billy DeMoss who hosted the Nazi Vaccination Regime in Australia podcast – the same podcast Floreani now faced disciplinary action for airing his anti-vaccination laundry on.
Eric Russell, past president of the New Zealand college of chiropractic is devoted to the promotion of vitalism in chiropractic and “subluxation-based research”. He has spoken of chiropractors going into the world to help humanity and the chiropractic philosophy. In 2009 he was inducted into Palmer College of Chiropractic’s Great Hall of Philosophers. At last year’s Parker seminar he spoke about chiropractic philosophy and how this shapes Wellness past, present and future.
In an undated reference chiropractor Kimberlie Furness praised Floreani, having been impressed by him almost twenty years ago. He had worked on infants, toddlers and children. The transcript observed [item 174]:
She referred to his practice being evidence-based, combining the ‘best available research evidence with clinical judgement and patient preference’.
The Tribunal observed it’s often inappropriate to present references from clients “given the uneven power dynamic between practitioner and patient” [item 171]. However they did note that Ms. Andrea Pavleka “senior executive, legal practitioner” [item 168], was positive about professional treatment received and personal qualities of Floreani.
Looking at these references it is far from surprising that the Tribunal observed:
Taken as a whole, the references did not show the authors were aware of the content of the Allegations or the nature of the Tribunal proceeding. Some appeared to support chiropractic care which might well fall outside the Code and Statement [item 222].
It’s equally unsurprising that submissions arguing against a suspension included.
His references are excellent. They reveal a respected and trustworthy health practitioner.
The underlying story of the references is a reflection of Floreani’s entire defence. It’s a story of going through the motions, keeping within the lines. Indeed Simon Floreani doesn’t have to think like a health professional, but merely act like one. Ultimately that’s all that is required and it underscores the problem with chiropractic today and the Board’s inability to initiate serious change.
More so, as a chiropractor, Floreani need not be educated as an effective health professional nor maintain and update an evidence-based skill set. Despite his rhetoric, evident in the transcript, of him being a “critical thinker”, referring to “evidence” and “research”, vitalistic chiropractic deals in anything but. Floreani just won’t admit that his disdain for the sciences important to public health, is what keeps leading to disciplinary action. From item 184:
Dr Floreani was asked about his past disciplinary history. He agreed a caution was an important regulatory tool for practitioners who ‘misunderstood’ what they were doing consciously or unconsciously.
As mentioned, Floreani reinforced his anti-vaccination views by defending Well Adjusted Babies. He contended the content was “up for discussion” and thinks it is “research information”. This is what defines Floreani and his wife, Jennifer Barham-Floreani. These problems and others, did not escape the Tribunal as evidenced by item 220. It included:
While the content of that book is not strictly before us, Dr Floreani’s comments raised questions in our mind about whether he has absorbed the fact that the profession of chiropractic does not have adequate training or expertise in the science supporting vaccination. His reference to the ‘political climate’ being a factor in the discussion about the safety of vaccines was worrying.
The Board should be worried. Consider the disparity between assurances Floreani gives to regulators, and his wife’s response to a 2013 crackdown by the Board on anti-vaxxers.
Chiropractors will certainly be working towards making sure that the information that they convey to parents is the latest, up-to-date information that presents both sides of the vaccination debate. I think it would be very rare that there would be chiropractors giving only one side of the argument.
Which brings us back to the problem the Board faces. Whether it’s anti-vaccination beliefs, advertising claims void of evidence (if not plausibility) or the motions carried out on infants and in the name of “maintenance”, pseudoscience is endemic in vitalistic chiropractic. It’s an ideology that is enormously profitable and it exudes a trendy energy that continues to be disturbingly popular with an unsuspecting, cashed-up public. One gets the feeling the horse has bolted in reading item 234, in which the Tribunal comment on discourse arising from Floreani’s support of Vaxxed.
The underlying scepticism towards science continues to be potentially damaging and likely to bring the profession into disrepute.
The Tribunal was aware Floreani presented himself as a leader in his field [item 236]. It didn’t help him. Rather it contributed to the decision to enforce a suspension. It was seen as:
…an aggravating factor because it is inconsistent with the standards of the profession for such a person to promote the anti-vaccination cause and to provide unbalanced, biased and non-evidence-based information to the public.
This is as it should be. Any perceived success of Floreani should add to the suspension’s value in deterring others. Floreani had held a number of influential positions with the Chiropractors’ Association of Australia (CAA), now the Australian Chiropractors’ Association, including president from 2009-2012 [item 162]. Under his direction and authority, pseudoscience gained firm traction. His supporters were delighted when Floreani decided to run for the 2017 CAA presidential election. Then they were crushed when his short suspension (for the same reasons that led to this hearing), threatened his chances. At the time reasonable hank publishedSuspended chiropractor’s supporters liken themselves to Jews and AHPRA to Nazi Germany.
It’s an essential read and very much a case of in their own words. In pleading Floreani’s case they apply the very same offensive allusion to Nazism that has led in part to his suspension. For our purposes note the familiar theme we have come to hear almost daily during the COVID-19 pandemic. Often from chiropractors, one of whom was a referee for Floreani in this very hearing. Namely that when vaccination is attacked, those who defend the high standards of evidence-based health care and the science it relies upon are as the fascists of Nazi Germany. Those who wish to do what they want regardless of the harm it may cause others, are as the persecuted Jews whose very nature was unjustly targeted.
Which for the very last time brings us back to the problems faced by the Chiropractic Board of Australia. Problems that are ingrained in fundamentalist elements in chiropractic, in all countries in which they thrive. Australians have the right to ask how this came about. How can a movement that seemingly regards accepted evidence and regulatory standards as almost anathema, hold the position it does? How can chiropractors, be highly regarded by colleagues and rise to positions of influence, whilst spreading harmful disinformation?
Floreani’s referee Liz Anderson-Peacock was, in fact, one of three senior members of the council of the College of Chiropractors of Ontario to endorse anti-vaccination views. At the time she was vice-president of the CCO, report the National Post. There are similarities to Australia. The CCO is not unlike the CAA under Floreani’s influence. Jonathon Jarry is a science communicator at the Office for Science and Society at Canada’s McGill University. He noted that anti-vaccination views are “innate to a certain persistent strain of chiropractic”. With respect to the three members of the CCO, he had a winning comment:
If a professional regulator is allowed to be so wrong about a basic building block of public health, the public should demand change for its own protection. Swift action is needed to correct this dangerous misfire.
The answer to our questions then, is in appreciating that chiropractic here is often modelled on the already tarnished international movement that resurrected the unscientific beliefs of D.D. Palmer and now passes them off as health care. In fairness to Palmer, who got the idea from a deceased doctor’s ghost, he stated in 1911 that chiropractic should be regarded as a religion and he, its founder. The 126th anniversary of his first “adjustment” was recently observed on Facebook by Floreani’s referee, Gilles La Marche.
By necessity, Australia must at times internalise scientific trends from overseas. This is particularly true for evidence-based medicine. By definition then, we should firmly resist the influence of vitalistic chiropractic. The challenge for the Chiropractic Board of Australia and indeed for AHPRA is to do just that. A proactive regulatory process is needed. It should not be the responsibility of advocates for evidence-based public health to ensure reckless, dangerous actors are brought to account.
Simon Floreani has for years actively promoted disinformation and misinformation related to vaccination whilst attacking evidence-based medicine. He has given no indication that he has changed his views. Were he to have genuinely changed he would be a rarity in fundamentalist chiropractic. More so, he only need refrain from being overtly anti-vaccination in a professional sense. The problem with this, is that he never need be motivated to give sound advice on the topic.
A six month suspension is an undoubtedly insufficient sanction. Yet given the current scope of regulatory power it is an understandably appropriate response. The real problem is that Simon Floreani and other chiropractors like him should never have been practising in the first place.
That is the problem that must be managed.
* The Australian Vaccination-risks Network was at the time the Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network, and before that the Australian Vaccination Network. They are referred to in the ruling transcript as the Anti-Vaccination Network.