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.
It seems longer, but it has been only two and a half months, since we dropped in on Monica Smit and her self-appointed government-in-waiting, absurdly named Reignite Democracy Australia (RDA).
The occasion was their attendance during COVID-19 lockdown at a meal held at Moda Kitchen and Bar in Seddon, in breach of the Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008. It was all a bit of a chuckle, given that the group effectively outed themselves and the restaurant by boasting about it on social media. The amusement was short lived for Moda however. On 6 August they announced their imminent closure on Instagram and Facebook. Their last meal was 14 August, just 11 weeks after hosting RDA. A representative told Star Weekly that the closure was unrelated to that event.
The representative claimed that mask-wearing mandates and lockdowns had not effected the business, insisting, “To be honest, we’ve never been so busy”. Although the attitude of the establishment to public health regulations was echoed in the observation:
Running a business is hard work and with or without the unlawful restrictions we were ready for a change.
Speaking of unlawful, it should be noted that Moda Kitchen and Bar had made the RDA business listing. The listing provides details of businesses, prepared to exploit loopholes in public health regulations that keep us safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most specifically, this relates to mask-wearing and QR code check-in. There are exemptions to the requirement to wear a face mask. These include breathing difficulties, facial skins problems, intellectual disability, mental illness and having experienced trauma. The Privacy Act 1998, The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and The Equal Opportunity Act ensure that no-one, should they not be wearing a mask, can be asked to provide evidence of such a disability unless their prior consent has been given.
It is thus quite easy for the dishonest to venture out without a mask. This is something we’ve seen as mask-less RDA disciples with phone cameras taunt police. The business listing idea is fluffed up through RDA concern that businesses might not be aware of the risks of discriminating. When it comes to QR code compliance, a business may simply trust patrons to do the right thing. Or perhaps trust them to do what Monica advises; choose to check in with pen and paper and be trusted to leave genuine details. If you happen to be a business that regard essential public health initiatives as “unlawful restrictions”, as Moda did, your RDA business listing is this.
RDA business listing – Moda Kitchen and Bar
ABC Radio Nth QLD
Monica Smit offers unregulated “advice” about public health and wellbeing mandates. On 12 August 2021, Monica was interviewed by Adam Stephens during the Drive programme on ABC North Queensland. The reason for this was RDA “You Can Say No” pamphlet-dropping in Cairns. Dave, a small business owner, was interviewed prior to Smit. He wasn’t impressed and wasn’t fooled.
The flyer tactic backfired, as the only change in his behaviour was to place a sign outside his shop, reinforcing that no mask or no QR code check-in, meant no entry. That Drive programme is archived and Dave and Adam begin their chat at the 45:00 min mark. Next comes Monica Smit, introduced by Adam as Monica Schmitt. Text messages, read out after a news break, were unanimously negative. If you’d prefer the highlights package, grab this mp3 here or listen below.
Cairns resident objects to RDA flyers, Monica Smit (4min), Adam reads text messages (9:40)
RDA recently made the Daily Telegraph’s top ten list of COVID misinformation spreaders in Australia. You may thus wonder why the ABC would give them air time. I would rush to add that the Daily Telegraph (DT) is not equivalent to the US based Centre for Countering Digital Hate. The latter spent significant time and resources, collating information on those they ultimately termed the disinformation dozen. Nonetheless, the central thesis remains intact. Despite clearly fallacious claims that place the community at risk, well-financed groups and individuals manipulate Facebook to their advantage. The DT reported that RDA subscribe to the belief no COVID-19 vaccine has been properly tested, and in fact weaken the immune system.
They also allow their name to back the conspiracy theorist standard that the vaccines are “manufactured by people who openly want population control”. Professor Mary-Louise McLaws specialises in infection prevention and control. She rightly observed those claims were “completely fallacious” and “wickedly inaccurate”. In a welcome development since the DT piece on 6 August, RDA had their page, and shortly after their backup page, unpublished from Facebook. That came on the heels of their aggressive campaign to boycott SPC, after the fruit packing giant mandated COVID-19 vaccination for employees. The boycott campaign resulted in product tampering and threats that presently continue.
Adam Stephens did give his reasons for interviewing Smit. He observed that it’s interesting that there are people that hold this view. That there are people in regional QLD who are active members of RDA, as evidenced by pamphlet distribution in Cairns. He continued;
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.
I’m aware that listeners took the trouble to contact the ABC to voice concern. Before we examine Monica Smit’s claims, let’s consider the following. Smit was not introduced with sufficient context to advise listeners that they may be misled. It was not stressed that Monica Smit and RDA are not medical or pandemic specialists or that they are not advised by medical experts. It was not explained that their website provides no reputable or evidence-based information. Indeed, it was not stressed that the group has no relevant qualifications specific to the management of COVID-19, or any illness, at all. Finally, there was no public health representative on hand to address the claims made by Smit.
One might then ask, were ABC standards for editorial accuracy satisfactorily met? Granted, a context of sorts was laid down during Stephens’ chat with business owner Dave. Whether this was enough to reinforce that Smit and RDA act in dissonance to both government guidelines and evidence-based health policy, is not merely unclear, but unlikely. Monica Smit brings a firm, if utterly misguided, confidence to her stints behind any microphone. It came to the fore as she insisted that masks were not only useless and causing harm but there is, “so much science out there” to support this.
“Because it’s the truth”
When asked why she is informing people that they don’t have to follow mask mandates or QR code check-ins if they choose, Smit replied, “Well because it’s the truth”. With QR codes she advises to manually sign-in or shop somewhere else.
In effect this would mean finding a shop that has adopted Smit’s loophole advice. As we’ve come to expect from RDA on evading mask wearing, she mentions PTSD, anxiety, depression – the “huge list of exemptions”.
She blames, “the coercion and the scare tactics of the police and the government”, for forcing those with legitimate reasons for exemption, into wearing masks. At no time did Smit offer a legitimate reason as to why Australians without a health condition can refuse mask wearing. Unless of course, you are willing to feign one (I’m not suggesting she advised this). She followed on by claiming long term mask wearing is “really dangerous”.
That word brings to mind the long debunked claim that oxygen is restricted and CO2 intake rises to poisonous levels. Smit gushes that “People have, you know, passed out at work”. A fan of Tucker Carlsen, Smit is likely influenced by the research letter pushed by him about six weeks ago, and now retracted from JAMA Pediatrics. Smit goes one better, claiming there is, “[A] lot of science to say that they cause cognitive issues with teenage children as well, and they’re wearing them eight hours a day”.
Smit might get that notion from an isolated German survey, looking at “complaints from adolescents and children caused by wearing a mask”. This is not “a lot of science”, and comes with an editorial note stressing the absence of a causal link. There is also the genuine concern related to the importance of non verbal facial cues, to children who are learning. These are minimised by face masks. Particularly in the classroom. As fate would have it, or rather, as science would have it, this has been studied pre-pandemic and during the pandemic. CNN published a handy summary here. If you land on the conservative City Journal, you will find arguably emotive material to support Smit’s contention.
Adam Stephens questioned Smit on whether she really did have substantial supporting science, given the evidence-based source material that advises government policy. Smit was glad he asked because in March and April of last year the media, “were saying that a healthy person wearing a mask is an absolute waste of a mask”. She wondered “why the narrative has changed”. In fact that was because of a WHO-funded systematic review and meta-analysis, published in June of 2020 in The Lancet. More so this was clearly conveyed in “the narrative” presented by the media. Consider this non-ambiguous heading in The Guardian: Victorians may be now be told to wear face masks to halt COVID-19 – what’s changed? Then Smit confidently offered another disingenuous and factually wrong line.
The ‘Brett Sutton’ lie
I know that Brett Sutton, he’s the Victorian CHO (Chief Health Officer) here, he actually did a full study paper on how useless masks are to stop the spread of disease. So basically the narrative has just changed but the science has not changed and that is that masks are dangerous.
A “full study paper”? Sounds impressive. Also, I happen to agree with Monica here. The science has not changed. Nor has the old tactic of cherry picking and manipulating facts to support disinformation. What we find on checking Sutton’s authorship of research, is a 2001 literature review in Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, that he co-authored. At the time Sutton was based at North West Regional Hospital in Burnie, Tasmania. Both he and his co-author worked in the Department of Anaesthesia. The title of the literature review was Do Anaesthetists Need to Wear Surgical Masks in the Operating Theatre? A Literature Review with Evidence-Based Recommendations.
The review text could not be more clear. It was undertaken due to the absence of published data on the unmasking of the anaesthetist alone. In the modern operating theatre, exactly how this would impact post operative wound infection, if at all, needed elucidation. It was noted that surgical masks offer incomplete protection from bacteria and viruses. More so, plastic face shields provide better protection from infection for the anaesthetist. Three compelling studies, led the authors to conclude in part;
These studies provide sound scientifically-based evidence that, in the setting of a modern operating theatre with laminar flow/steriflow systems, surgical masks should no longer be considered mandatory for anaesthetists and non-scrub staff during most surgical procedures.
There is a reason for the extra detail on this review. This claim about Brett Sutton’s past authorship is not just misinformation, already tossed about like a Frisbee at a church picnic. This is hot-off-the-tongue disinformation. A nice fresh lie still in its packaging, delivered over the airwaves for the gullible to snatch up, unwrap and distribute. It has the added connotation that Victoria’s CHO is not only aware that masks are ineffective, but had produced “a full study paper” to this effect. Listeners may wrongly assume this is both recent, and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Smit studiously avoids admitting the paper is nineteen years old, and that it examines only anaesthetists and non-scrub staff, in operating theatres. Whilst cherry picking, she missed the one that suggested plastic face shields offer better protection.
In July 2020 Brett Sutton presented advice on wearing face masks, in areas experiencing stage three restrictions. At the same time the reasons for the mandating of mask wearing were being thoroughly discussed in mainstream media. It was impossible to miss. To suggest there was just a sudden change in “narrative” is wrong. Adam Stephen put it to Smit that her advice could place people at risk of COVID-19.
Without drawing breath, she responds;
Well I just totally disagree with that because, um, you know I think the government is putting people at risk of serious problems ah, with lockdowns and things like that so, it’s proven around the world that lockdowns don’t work. Australia has the worst lockdowns actually, I think, in the world. We’re being laughed at overseas because of how harsh our lockdowns are. Some, some, some countries have hundreds of thousands of cases daily and they’re still living about their lives, and we get one case and we close borders.
So ah, I would say the government is being a lot more dangerous than we are, and we’re actually empowering people to have critical thinking, which the government doesn’t want. They don’t… the government’s not giving people all the information. And that’s… and we get censored. I just got taken off Facebook. I had sixty six thousand followers and I get censored because my science is apparently not true, but I can back it up. But a lot of the science that’s said on mainstream media can’t be backed up but there’s no censorship for them so it’s really difficult.
It has not been “proven around the world” that lockdowns are ineffective. They remain one of the most effective non-pharmaceutical interventions. Healthy discussion continues about how this effects economies and communities. What is doubly strange about Smit’s approach here is that if masks are as useless as she claims, there is one clear alternative. The very lockdowns she also insists are useless. I doubt she is aware of this. Her approach is to attack all options, and encourage us to abandon them. She has no alternative to offer Victoria.
Stephens raises the question of people who accept the claims on the You Can Say No flyer, being fined. Smit comes back with a prompt that all the resources are on the website, and that;
If you get the flyer you really need to take that extra step to actually do the research because if, you know… know the law and you know your rights, then actually that fine is null and void and it’s actually um… it won’t mean anything.
Adam lets Monica know they’ll leave it there. Smit responds with an eager “No worries!”. Those familiar with Monica Smit might have noticed the big grin-tone in her final words. She had reason to feel smug, as Australians have every right to expect better from our national broadcaster. Smit usually only gets this much air time on Sky News. The reaction on Telegram, the favoured social media platform of COVID conspiracy theorists, was predictable. Discussion was kicked off thirty minutes later by RDA on their Telegram channel, with an announcement headed by a customised graphic.
The first post I wrote on Monica Smit and RDA, opened with Monica Smit loves being the centre of attention. That entire topic requires a post on its own. Suffice it to say however, that certain personalities only take. They surround themselves with givers, and ruthlessly ban, delete and expunge those who challenge their bogus view of reality. The result is the unfettered pseudo-worship you see in the small sample above.
Note the suggestion from one, to “destroy those imbeciles”, in reference to Dave the shop keeper. It’s further worth noting RDA didn’t provide Adam Stephens’ interview with Dave, or the dissenting text messages. All that was known is that a shop owner was “appalled” by the flyer. Sophie, who unwittingly outed herself as a Cairns local, and likely a distributer of the flyers, decided that was enough for the destruction of “those imbeciles”.
Still no evidence
The bulk of RDA members on social media, continue to behave as if enjoying a sustained muck up day. This, however, gives an inaccurate view of the groups resources. Their recent advertising truck, growing range of merchandise, and increasingly slick video production suggests donations remain healthy. This has enabled the group to curate their campaign of alienation through misinformation. Their message is for those who prefer to be told what to think, rather than make their own conclusions. Yet this group is convinced they have discovered a unique truth that “sheeple” cannot see.
Although Smit talks of access to science that confirms the RDA position, there is none on their site. The well examined Danish study on mask wearing and transmission of SARS-CoV-2, can be accessed in favourable format. Rather than finding masks do not prevent transmission, the study failed to find, “at least a 50% protection against a SARS-CoV-2 infection given by mask wearing”, as it was designed to do. Fact Check also addressed this nine months ago. In targeting COVID-19 vaccine safety and efficacy, RDA direct readers to the tired example of the estimated study completion date, for the AstraZeneca vaccine. The actual study completion date was 5 March 2021.
Other material is presented in misleading context. Despite Smit’s claim of enabling critical thinking, visitors to the site are shown bias. There are no opportunities to compare contentious information in a critical fashion. The elephant in the room here is that all reputable evidence is against the position held by RDA. The use of “critical thinking” as a buzz term, has become almost commonplace in conspiracy theory circles. It is seemingly confused with contrariness. This is underscored by the fact that constant cries of suppressed freedom, and the exploitation of loopholes, is possible only because of our democratic rights and the legislation that protects them.
There’s little point rambling on much more dear reader. I’m certain the RDA site would be worthy of content analysis. A work similar to the excellent approach employed by Thomas Aechtner, in assessing the Australian Vaccination-risks Network, would be welcome.
Monica Smit is more than just dishonest. In taking advantage of a global pandemic to raise her profile and profits she has proven to be a malignant influencer. What has been demonstrated above, is that everything Monica Smit said during the interview with Adam Stephens, is demonstrably false. More to the point it has long been clear what she stands for.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation needs to be out in front of such people.
The Lancet VOLUME 395, ISSUE 10242, P1973-1987, JUNE 27, 2020. Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
A recent email to members the Australian Vaccination-risks Network included a bizarre letter to the Australian Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, demanding immediate cessation of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.
It is a bizarre demand for a number of reasons, foremost being that evidence supports continuation, not cessation of the vaccine rollout. In addition is a fundamental misunderstanding of how scientific and regulatory advice ensures the most effective ministerial and government decision making. Next come the reasons for justifying these demands. All have been refuted with evidence or debunked as conspiracy theory thinking. Finally the extensive demands themselves are impossible and meaningless in scale and intent.
One claim I will address however. An AVN favourite is that the vaccine rollout is an ongoing experiment that Greg Hunt himself called the world’s largest clinical trial. Back in March we dealt with the antivax trope that the COVID-19 vaccination rollout is an uninsurable experiment set to wind up in 2023. It is demonstrable disinformation that manipulates the fact data are continually collected on drugs and vaccines after approval for use. The scale of post-approval data related to COVID-19 vaccination is vast. Enter Minister Hunt’s comments.
During an Insiders interview on 21 March this year David Speers asked a question about herd immunity and longer term goals. Greg Hunt told Speers in part;
The world is engaged in the largest clinical trial, the largest global vaccination trial ever, and we will have enormous amounts of data.
Minister, when we have vaccinated the majority of the population, what does the new normal look like? Do we still have to worry about social distancing and hand sanitising with this vaccine?
Hunt replied that COVID-safe practices will be with us for a long while. Longevity of antibodies must be considered. That this is something the world will learn. And that;
We’re engaged in the world’s largest ever vaccination rollout and, at the same time, effectively, clinical trial. We will learn more; we’re already learning more.
Viewed in the context of questions he was answering it’s clear that Hunt was talking about how the vaccine will effect social activity. Not a trial of efficacy and safety as antivaxxers allege. Never has he used the word “experiment” either. Referring to Hunt in a live chat with Meryl Dorey two nights ago (Monday 28 June) anti-science crusader Senator Malcolm Roberts mentioned the Insiders episode then falsely claimed, “He himself said it’s a trial, it’s an experiment” [4min 35 mark]. In fact COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers published Phase III trial protocols more than six months before Hunt made those comments.
It is thus absurd that the AVN and others continually make this claim. It is also a predictable straw man as it provides a basis for their objection to COVID-19 vaccines. Meryl Dorey and the AVN gave Hunt seven days in which to reply. The demand states in part;
If you do not respond or if your response once again does not address our concerns, we would feel that we have no option but to consider legal action against you yourself, Minister Hunt, in the form of a private prosecution and against the Government to seek injunctive relief to immediately stop this current experiment on the Australian population…
If it looks like a scam…
Given the absurdity of the demands made upon Greg Hunt there is no chance of a favourable response. And this is exactly what Meryl Dorey wants. This makes way for her to announce that legal action will be pursued. Legal action that needs to be funded by AVN supporters. Financial donations to an organisation with no charitable fundraising authority are essentially free from accountability if not deemed for a charitable purpose. More so, the likelihood of successful legal action is zero. The private prosecution of a federal health minister who did not acquiesce to anti-vaccination demands is a calculated impossibility.
The chances of securing a court ordered injunction against the federal government to stop the vaccination of a nation against COVID-19 are (need I say it?) also zero. The party seeking the injunction must demonstrate they are at risk if vaccination is not prevented. As the vaccine is not mandatory and the plaintiffs have clearly stated their opposition to receiving it no risk can be demonstrated. So the AVN will claim to be defenders of Australians. They will need to demonstrate the nation is at risk if the vaccine rollout is not stopped. Again, the vaccine is not mandatory so clear evidence that the public are “guinea pigs” is lacking. If found to be in the wrong the AVN must pay the government’s damages. All this and more must be absolute before the case can go ahead.
This is without a doubt a scam to make money from pledges and donations.
The reaction from those familiar with Meryl Dorey’s money-making scams is proving prescient. Next would come an appeal for money to fund the legal action. After a time Dorey will announce that the action has no chance of succeeding after a rational (and expensive) legal team has reviewed it. The money will be kept and all too swiftly the AVN will return to the day to day business of processing membership fees and “sponsorships”.
On cue Meryl Dorey primed her audience on the morning of Thursday 24 June. The final minutes of a Facebook live video were dedicated to the announcement that the time was almost upon Minister Hunt. The AVN will need all the financial support they can get and a page will be set up for that purpose if, “our solicitors and lawyers and barristers say we are going to proceed”. It’s a performance of deception which you can access via mp3 here or listen to on the player below.
Her viewers were told over 300 Australians have died and over 30,000 have had serious reactions because of the vaccine. Dorey is doing this for you, for the Australian people who, “have a very dark future ahead”. We’re told, “tyranny and communism have descended on Australia”. Dorey twice slips up saying, “when this happens… when this goes ahead”. She knows it’s not a case of if. Thus if the AVN announce the case is going ahead, supporters must be presented with written evidence of legal advice confirming a chance of success. For as we know, Meryl Dorey has form in dangling the prospect of a legal victory in front of AVN supporters.
Previous ‘legal challenge’ fundraising scam
In 2016 the AVN, then known as the Australian Vaccination-sceptics Network, launched a similar scheme using the promise of a High Court challenge to No Jab No Pay legislation. This social services legislation amendment introduced an initiative to withhold state payments from families where children were not fully immunised. The year began with the AVN asking supporters to pledge money to fund a High Court challenge. By late March it was announced the challenge would proceed. Funding requests continued with so-called updates yet donors were kept in the dark.
Concerned donors soon suggested the AVN were being secretive as no legal team or strategy had been revealed and not one invoice for legal fees had been sighted. The AVN responded by email on 8 September 2016 saying they couldn’t show their hand because, “both the government and the pharmaceutical lobby would love to know what we are planning”. The AVN promised to reveal all when the time was right. They announced the total raised by that time was $160,000 and that double this was needed.
Three weeks later Meryl Dorey, AVN president at that time Tasha David, and another member were in the USA meeting with Del Bigtree and the Vaxxed team and protesting at a CDC rally. This trip wold have been months in the planning and was not the first for David. Two months later on Christmas day, contrary to months of published updates, donors and supporters were informed by email that the High Court case had no chance of success. Donations had continued for fifteen weeks since the $160,000 total was announced. Yet now the AVN were claiming only $152,203 was raised and $72,526 was spent on legal advice. The irregularity continued the following day when an identically worded post from Tasha David on the AVN website claimed just $50,371 was spent on legal advice.
For now, let’s work with the figures the AVN published. The pressing question is thus, will the AVN be using any of the money left over from the supposed 2016 attempted High Court challenge to fund this latest venture? Using the lower reported figure of funds raised and the highest of expenses, the least that could have been left turns out to be $79,677. That’s provided we take Meryl on her word that they actually did spend money on legal fees. The next logical question is, was any of that money later spent on antivax campaigns? It turns out that we can draw some conclusions regarding what was promised that Christmas day in 2016 and what later transpired.
Astonishingly lofty suggestions were made regarding the remaining funds. Pursue individuals in the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration), ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation) or PBAC (Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee) with the tort of misfeasance in public office for “the harm they cause”. Then, that it’s far better to lobby local representatives for a possible Royal Commission into Vaccination. The purchase of advertising perhaps. Begin the process of bringing people together to conduct the much sought after vaccinated vs unvaccinated study was another suggestion. A watered down version of this last option was followed up in 2019.
On 28 February 2019 an email went out to members outlining how the AVN had donated $5,000 USD ($6,590 AU) to Dr. James Lyons-Weiler, a long standing US anti-vaccination activist. He is the CEO and president of the Institute for Pure and Applied Knowledge (IPAK) and a vocal supporter of Judy Wilyman. AVN supporters were directed to a GoFundMe page which unsurprisingly still exists today. The resulting “vaxxed vs unvaxxed” paper was significantly biased and had pronounced methodological flaws. The sort of thing you need your own institute to produce. You can access the paper and a thorough take-down here.
On 26 March this year another AVN email revealed what the less charitable may refer to as karma. You see dear reader, £4,000 ($7,300 AU) apparently donated by the AVN to Professor Christopher Exley in May 2019, is missing. It was to assist with his research at Keele University into the neurodegenerative effects of aluminium. This Guardian article written at the time helps to assess AVN thinking. Apparently Exley was being investigated for anti-vaccine activity. The Dean of Natural Sciences at Keele Uni had suspended his research and “disabled” his website. Exley explained there were problems “reviewing” donations and those asking for a refund had received inaccurate information from an unreliable source. The AVN are hoping for a full refund.
The two donations to anti-vaccine research total $13,890. We can also identify some advertising. In October 2018 the AVN funded a controversial billboard at Carseldine in QLD displaying the question, “Vaccinated or unvaccinated: Who is healthier?”. An AVN email sent 8 October 2018 includes their objection to a demand from two QLD MPs for it to be removed. It had also drawn the ire of the QLD health minister at the time, Steven Miles. In today’s prices the 6x3m billboard would have cost around $3,500 for the month it was on display and under $1,000 for printing and installation. Let’s say $5,000 for the billboard.
In the spirit of rounding off shall we say the two donations and the billboard cost $20,000 from the leftover High Court challenge float of $80,000 leaving a not too shabby $60,000. If we accept the second account that 2016 legal fees were just over $50,000 the remaining balance becomes $82,000. Indeed $50,371 spent on legal fees is the figure that remains on the AVN website today. Comments under the post are beyond amusing. High praise, highly curated. Donors on social media at the time were scathing. One rejected such expenses existed contending the AVN had significant pro bono support.
Again I stress that these figures are based on AVN publications and thus biased in their favour. Nonetheless no announcements specific to spending the remaining funds from 2016 have been made. Unrealised options suggested at the time focused on legal action. Well, the time has arrived. $60,000 would buy a significant amount of legal advice. So the question is where is that money and will the AVN use it in this campaign? Members have a right to know. A fundraising campaign such as that conducted in 2016 is inappropriate, irregular and unnecessary.
Speaking of questions the most pressing in relation to the 2016 High Court campaign fundraiser also needs to be asked. Did the AVN reveal the necessary information about strategy and expenses to donors as promised? The answer is no. The necessary transparency needed to confirm the AVN did what they claimed never eventuated. Thus in calculating what the available funds for legal action might be, there is in fact no reason to accept any account of the AVN. There is no evidence that any legal team existed or that a minimum of $50,000 was spent on legal fees.
The hard fact is Meryl Dorey and her team saw no reason to provide this evidence or honour the promise that all would be revealed at the right time. If there is a reason for this strange lack of transparency they have never commented on it. They were keen to explain why secrecy was needed when donations were incoming, yet silent once they put an end to the campaign. At the last the AVN claim to have raised $152,204 months after announcing $160,000 had been raised. This means after raising an average of $50,000 per month for three months they expect donors to accept they raised just over $2,000 in total over the last six months of the campaign. Despite all this it is imperative that one not fall prey to conspiracy theory thinking and conclude absolutely. Suffice it to say that what took place cannot be what the AVN reported. In an upcoming post we’ll look closer at the scale and audacity of this scam.
NSW Fair Trading Investigation
Almost certainly the reason fundraising ceased is because the AVN were advised of an upcoming NSW Fair Trading investigation into the campaign. This was reported in The Australian two days after the AVN announced an end to fundraising. Fair Trading investigations however, only consider if the campaign was a fundraising appeal for the purposes of the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991. The Inquiry Report from September 2017 states that the view of the inquiry was that it was not (see p.3) and no action was taken. However all details are far from clear in that heavily redacted document. We learn more from an August 2018 letter to AVN president Tasha David from Stephen French, Investigations Manager in the Department of Finances, Services & Innovation.
The Inquiry has found AVsN’s representations as to the money solicited on its website, and received by it, include a charitable purpose in that it purports to be for the promotion of education and learning. A copy of s. 9 of the Act is attached.
The AVsN website includes the following content that must be removed immediately. • Lobbying Federal Parliament for changes to legislation, to educate them on this issue and to combat draconian new vaccine laws that are being brought in to Australia.
On this occasion NSW Fair Trading does not intend to initiate legal proceedings. However, AVsN must immediately cease the conducting of unlawful fundraising. If AVsN fails to comply, a further investigation may be conducted. If a future investigation finds that AVsN is continuing to conduct fundraising unlawfully, Fair Trading will consider appropriate enforcement action.
This is yet another example of how Australia’s regulatory acronyms let down the public. The inquiry report also fails to mention what later correspondence clearly states. The AVN High Court fundraising campaign was in breach of the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991 but NSW Fair Trading decided against legal action. Specifically, the AVN was in breach of section 9 of the Act because their website confirmed donations would be used “to educate” members of parliament with respect to legislation regarding vaccination. Instructing the AVN to remove the offending text substantially reduces the chance that future fundraising campaigns will be in breach of this Act.
It seems we have our reasons as to why the AVN never mentioned the campaign again. It is frustrating that NSW Fair Trading have no mandate to investigate the honesty of the campaign nor report on the fate of funds raised. This was justifiably never within the scope of the inquiry. An inquiry that was in hindsight very literal and linear in action. The ACCC should have been notified but instead the AVN received a helpful warning. For those of us who value the application of legislation where scams are concerned it is a sterling example of losing in the lucky country. For AVN founder Meryl Dorey however, it was another financial win.
Meryl Dorey claims to make ‘absolutely nothing’
Perhaps now is an ideal time to revisit Ms. Dorey’s recent claim that she makes “absolutely nothing” through the AVN. In February this year Jane Hansen presented the documentary Big Shots: Anti-Vaxxers Exposed and in doing so revealed a number of disturbing truths about anti-vaccination activists in Australia. This included the AVN and Meryl. Believe it or not the High Court caper wasn’t mentioned. Shortly after, Dorey scrambled to publish a “response” which was in fact a collection of falsehoods presented as answers to leading questions posed by anti-medicine fanatic Tom Barnett. His opening question was about income. You can grab the mp3 here or listen on the player below.
The chance of the AVN winning legal action against Greg Hunt or the Australian government as a means to stop the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is zero. In 2016 fundraising for a similar, failed legal pursuit was conducted in a highly irregular manner. The AVN refused to reveal key information about strategy and expense. This and the failure to refund monies was reported as having “divided the anti-vaccination community”. However the increase in traffic to anti-vaccination social media since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic has provided AVN founder Meryl Dorey with fresh targets to fleece.
If the AVN and supporters wish to make a statement by being publicly seen to pursue possible legal action that’s all well and jolly. Tyranny and communism may be descending but democratic freedoms are alive and well in Australia. Sadly the AVN is supported by many who believe such a case is viable. But a fundraiser is not necessary. The aim should be to discern if legal action is viable. The AVN should have remaining funds for this purpose. They also receive constant donations and sponsorships for the stated purpose of fighting for “the health rights” of Australians. Should the AVN proceed they must provide potential donors with written evidence of legal advice stating the likelihood of success.
This is about disregarding legislation and profiting from the donations of vulnerable supporters. NSW Fair Trading launched an inquiry into the 2016 fundraising campaign. In a judicious application of the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991, information on the AVN website was demonstrated to render the fundraising campaign in breach of that Act. Regrettably no action was taken. A warning with the promise to act against future unlawful fundraisers was issued. This has effectively educated Meryl Dorey in how to avoid the reach of Fair Trading. In addition to the fact there was no investigation into the misappropriation of funds Dorey’s confidence has likely risen.
Despite claiming to make “absolutely nothing” from the AVN, Meryl Dorey makes very good money. She is confident and capable in doing so by dubious means. We in turn can be confident this latest venture is a scam. As with all AVN fundraising campaigns the truth will be obfuscated and the goal will not be reached. Dorey will profit, questions will be suppressed and something else new and shiny will be promoted.
You and I dear reader, should consider reporting all scams to the ACCC. One eagerly awaits developments from the AVN bunker.
In a unique social media twist senior members of COVID conspiracy group, Reignite Democracy Australia ‘dobbed in’ the restaurant that hosted them for an illegal dinner.
It just so happens that Victoria’s current lockdown coincided with the long planned Australia-wide Millions March Against Mandatory COVID Vaccinations organised by Health Rights Alliance. The vaccine is not mandatory. So anti-vaxxers seize on the possibility of a COVID “vaccine passport” and the health workers who may be asked to have the vaccine. Thus a perfect storm for prancing protestors was afoot. On Saturday far from any actual risk and always mere steps from the safety of her car Monica Smit was role playing political dissident/freedom fighter (more on that below). Three hours later she was sipping wine with around 15 RDA friends dining illegally at Moda Kitchen and Bar in Seddon. We know this because one of the group posted a photo with a timestamp and details*.
Fi Reilly wrote;
Moda restaurant in Seddon. Getting on with business. Great hanging out with fellow freedom fighters.
How could this happen? How could Australia’s self-appointed government-in-waiting be so careless? More so, how could our brave freedom fighters end up so safe and cosy and warm whilst the people they encourage had so successfully antagonised police only to ultimately find the inside of an ambulance? More on that dastardly disparity below also. First let’s review some points.
A march during lockdown
In Victoria the venue for the Millions March was Flagstaff Gardens. The last such march in Melbourne saw the crowd gather in the Botanic Gardens on February 20th. Back then our frenetic COVID conspiracy theorist and wannabe political saviour Monica Smit seized the opportunity to promise that she and RDA “are coming” for the jobs of government. Since that time Smit has continued to push thoroughly debunked theories about COVID-19 and to urge civil disobedience in her followers. QR codes, face masks, social distancing, vaccination, temperature readings are all attacks on rights say RDA. Laws protect those who refuse to comply states their disinformation narrative.
Meanwhile back in reality, at 11:59 pm Thursday 27 May, Victoria went into ‘circuit breaker’ restrictions following a rise in community based COVID-19 cases. Restrictions include wearing a face mask, maintaining social distancing and travelling within 5 km of home unless meeting requirements to exceed that distance. In short a lockdown. The reasons scarcely need to be repeated but nonetheless the Department of Health state regarding stay at home directions:
The purpose of these directions is to address the serious public health risk posed to the State of Victoria by the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
It’s worth noting that the organisers of the Millions March posted a cancellation, of sorts, on Facebook just before 11am;
HRA wishes to advise that the official broadcast of the MMAMCV event has been cancelled due to vital team members pulling out. This was not the outcome lead organisers wished for, but it has been taken out of their hands. […]
For those still attending the gathering, some HRA members will be there alongside you, but have had to pull out in an official manner.To all that still attend, it is your event now – rock on!
Described by the Herald Sun as a “protest inciter” Smit herself was keeping well away from any protest. Exactly one hour after the ‘official’ cancellation was posted by HRA a mask-less Smit was warning of a police checkpoint at Victoria and Peel Streets Melbourne. Her real aim was for the sole purpose of being seen breaching regulations. To enjoy the attention that Monica loves so much. In a performance that’s almost as sad as it is funny, Smit offers;
And by the way, police monitoring this channel (it’s actually a Facebook Live video) I have a single friend who lives ’bout five hundred metres from Flagstaff Gardens. So I’m here as support, so you can go jump.
Yeah that’s right.
I shudder to imagine that huge police Monica-monitoring unit, a large wall screen displaying satellite data, row after row of computer monitors streaming code, and the small army of headpiece-wearing keyboard crunching surveillance experts who wince in fear when told to “go jump”. No doubt they even have a code name for her. The Bored Identity perhaps? Yes. Let’s go with that.
Having counted “three or four hundred cops”, and perhaps thinking of old spy or war movies when someone ‘reconnoitres the perimeter’, The Bored Identity tells viewers;
So, I’ve done a parameter of the park.
The Bored Identity then meets an admirer named Layla. A stranger we learn. They gush praise at each other sharing promises of fighting for their rights no less and the rights of Layla’s dog. So brave is The Bored Identity she admits on the monitored “channel” that she earlier drove past police, and then;
I yelled out the window, I said ‘Go catch some real criminals’, I go ‘Go do ya job for goodness sakes’.
Gosh!… I’ve got my single friend here – she needs my support. Actually ya know what I’m really doing?
[Whispers to the admirer who is suitably impressed. She ‘loves it’ in fact]
That’s my support for the day. All right Layla. Ga’Luck!
[Bored Identity walks off]
Uurgh! Gosh! Well, yeah. It’s gunna be interesting guys.
Clearly The Bored Identity is a highly trained operative. Masquerading as an attention seeking dimwit who provides video evidence on a self-described monitored “channel” that she is indeed in breach of stay at home restrictions is surely a clever ruse. The police based Monica-monitoring unit stood no chance.
On a more serious note police had earlier urged Victorians to respect efforts to combat the pandemic. On Saturday The Herald Sun later reported;
Victoria Police urged people to obey the current CHO directives.
“We are confident the overwhelming majority of Victorians will be doing the right thing and adhere to restrictions so we can all return to normality as soon as possible,” the force said in a statement.
“Those who choose to blatantly disregard the CHOs directions can expect to be held accountable and fined.”
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission added, “Any protest activity should comply with the public health directions in place at any given time.”
It is difficult to track all movements of The Bored Identity from this point until the restaurant. There was another ‘channel’ – what you might still call a Facebook Live video – which was a laneway-based recap of the day’s protest. This was a little strange as RDA didn’t appear anywhere near the protest. For reasons unknown that video has been deleted. But fortune has smiled upon us as a screenshot with a comment survives;
This commenter writes;
So once again you have “avoided” being arrested and later posted photo’s (sic) of yourself sitting in a restaurant with others who seem to always avoid arrest Hmmm. You commenced the day by telling people where the police were gathering but didn’t make any video from the actual park. Hmm. You later made a video from a laneway afterwards, boasting the protest was a big success. If I was cynical, I would say you and your crew are in cahoots with the police – of course you COULD just be teflon coated.
These points are inescapable. I mentioned in my last post on RDA that Monica Smit is likely deceiving her followers. But rather than being in league with police I’d argue she will always have a safe way out and is highly adverse to any genuine discomfort. The strange new blend of conspiracy theory with biblical fundamentalism that she caters to is growing rapidly and is no doubt quite lucrative. Whatever the case Monica Smit her partner Morgan Jonas and other RDA members chose to spend up at Moda Kitchen and Bar in Seddon.
A person who owns, controls or operates a food and drink facility in the State of Victoria may operate that facility during the restricted activity period only for the purposes of takeaway collection or delivery of pre-ordered goods.
As we’ll see below media reported the owner of the restaurant denied knowledge of the diners. But again we may thank Fi Reilly;
The relevant part of this screenshot is;
And loved having lunch with everyone afterwards in Seddon. We were just finishing lunch when the business got a call the police were on the way. People who dob on business is such a low act in my mind. Let’s all continue to support these types of businesses.
Being in cahoots aside, one does wonder why the business would get a call to say police were on the way. Tends to defeat the entire purpose of dealing with an offence. Perhaps it’s really an attempt to convey a composed exit. Nonetheless these images were on Twitter by Saturday evening and not long after the text of them accompanied news reports.
More than a dozen anti-vaxxers, including protest inciters MONICA SMIT and MORGAN JONAS, were photographed at Moda Kitchen and Bar in Seddon on Saturday afternoon despite statewide coronavirus restrictions which have shut restaurant doors and banned public gatherings.
The photograph, posted on encrypted communication app Telegram, was deleted on Sunday as the restaurant faced huge public backlash and threats of customer boycotts.
A Department of Justice and Community Safety spokeswoman said the incident will be investigated by the government’s coronavirus enforcement team.
“This claim has been referred to the Victorian Government’s High-Risk Industry Engagement and Enforcement Operation for investigation – and it will take action as necessary,” the spokeswoman said.
Moda Kitchen and Bar denied opening its doors to the anti-vax group, despite police confirming they were called to the Victoria St restaurant over reports of “a group not wearing masks” about 4.30pm on Saturday.
“We were closed. We went there to clean but we were closed. I don’t know what people are talking about,” the restaurant owner told the Herald Sun.
The Daily Mail UK published an almost identical piece. The restaurant’s Facebook page vanished soon after, likely going private as criticisms filled comments. The Instagram account followed today shortly after Victorians discovered its presence. Another inescapable point to this story is that the vast majority of Aussies really don’t have any respect for social saboteurs like Reignite Democracy Australia or for businesses that would happily breach regulations to accomodate them. Victorians are striving to get through a serious public health challenge. Many businesses doing the right thing are hurting. Thousands of workers and staff are losing income.
With all this talk about rights and freedom-fighting what about the rights of those doing the right thing? RDA and Co. of course have no answer.
The RDA rabbit hole
Their arrogance stems from bizarre claims like this on their Facebook page;
EXPOSING OUR MEDIA’S RECENT VENTILATOR LIE: One Day, One Victorian On a Ventilator, the Next Day, None!
Victoria’s ‘7-day snap-lockdown’ only exists because there was a need to coerce v8ccination.
General jab hesitancy and public disinterest created an urgent government need to counter-market; and thus, this lockdown serves primarily as a marketing drive for an otherwise undesirable Pharma product. There is no “outbreak,” no actual new cases, and certainly no “Indian double mutant strain.”
It was all meticulously preplanned – with every component strategically devised to ensure a successful psychological operation for public manipulation. The unusual media fixation on an “infected case” that was traced to the 3 Monkeys bar on Chapel Street, was the scheming strategists giving an ironic and knowing nod to the film 12 Monkeys (about a killer virus) – and they are laughing at us. […]
The other day, the media delighted in revisiting the idea of the true medieval horror of hooking a human up to a ventilator – intubated, and comatose, as they battle ‘a flu-like virus’ while being fleeced a small fortune for the privilege of being slowly tortured to death… well, it so happens that there are now ZERO people in Melbourne’s ICUs and not a single person on a ventilator, and not a single death since last year. […]
This lockdown is a criminal act perpetrated by a criminal government, pursuing a criminally coercive v8ccine agenda. It is a lie, founded on lies – and it shall all ultimately collapse by the sheer weight of endlessly being propped-up against the opposing gravity of truth.
Let us continue to contribute to that weight.
There’s more like this of course, including the baseless assertion that this “vaccine experiment” is punishable by death under the Nuremberg Code. Or the video of Monica Smit extolling loopholes she has found to get around QR codes. You see, families leave phones at home when going for a cafe brunch because they seek “quality time”. Monica acts as if you’re going to believe that. So they can’t be expected to use the QR code. Wink, wink. Enter dastardly plan to use alternatives to QR codes. Like, pen and paper.
Apart from promoting the DHHS reasons for not wearing a mask visitors are urged to download and print out copies of the following You Can Say No flyers to bother innocent members of the public with.
The Facebook page of our ‘future government’ is packed full of such pointless opposition to barely inconvenient aspects of life during a pandemic. Smit and Jonas seem driven by an out of proportion belief in their own importance and intelligence. All throughout is a concerning number of even more concerning prayers or proclamations relating to God, Jesus/Yeshua and the bible along with the belief that this pandemic was foretold in said bible. Pastor Paul Furlong of The Revival Church tells visitors;
God’s word says we cannot forsake the gathering of the saints, and do so even more it says as the days become more wicked and evil and the return of the Lord Jesus Christ is at hand, I believe we’re right there right now.
There is strong promotion of Peacemakers Australia. This group are like a real life manifestation of the Game of Thrones malignant religious sect the Sparrows. Complete with obsessed, testosterone fuelled thugs and verse quoting bible waving women, they too see their role foretold in Gospel and psalms. Popping up around all this are the regular crackpot COVID trouble makers from Craig Kelly to Matt Lawson.
Ultimately in the three short months since I last wrote about Monica Smit and Reignite Democracy Australia they have become at once more extreme and less in control of those they attract. They are nothing more than attention-seeking, exploitative charlatans and a problem for any democracy. Australia is a long way from anything like the storming of the U.S. Capitol on 6 January 2021 in Washington D.C. But if the belief in the right to do something like that here needs a home, it would find it amongst this awful amalgam of people.
Reignite Democracy Australia still has nothing Australia needs.
– Hat tip to the eagle eye who shared these screenshots.