During the second and third years of the COVID pandemic, skeptics began to hear more and more of an anti-parasitic drug that had been used frequently for animals and less so for humans.
Ivermectin has been approved by health authorities to treat humans with strongyloidiasis and onchocerciasis (river blindness): conditions that are caused by parasitic worms. Also there are topical ivermectin preparations used to manage skin conditions such as rosacea and external parasites such as head lice. Used as prescribed it is quite safe and has improved the lives of countless individuals in developing nations. Yet we weren’t hearing about ivermectin used in this manner. Thanks to disinformation and irresponsible repetition of dubious claims, ivermectin was being promoted as a means to combat COVID-19.
The anti-vaccination movement embraced ivermectin because it resonated with the “my body, my choice” mantra. Right leaning media identities promoted it in much the same illogical way as they had hydroxychloroquine. It had been used safely for decades, they argued, and thus was clearly a sound choice to combat COVID-19 symptoms. Yet hydroxychloroquine, had a pharmaceutical history as an anti-malarial and an agent to manage symptoms of arthritis and autoimmune disease, not in treating COVID-19. Ivermectin similarly, had no clinically proven background in the treatment of COVID-19. The clinical trials had simply not been done.
For skeptics, the issue was and is quite simple. Look toward reputable sources. Seriously examine the arguments in favour of ivermectin. Review the strength of research being cited. Place the issue in context. Keep an eye out for ideology. Check the profiles and backgrounds of key players, and so on. In short: Seek the evidence.
“It was incredibly hyped,” Dr Rayner said. “I knew it was going to start a fire.” […]
“It’s not the best thing for Australia to become known for in terms of its contribution to the pandemic,” Dr Rayner said. “But that’s what it is, unfortunately. It has promoted vaccine hesitancy and people are dying because they’re taking a veterinary medicine that has not been proven.”
For those looking to grab the ivermectin ball and run with it, the media release was peppered with big names, other nasty diseases and potentially exciting findings. It has since been modified to include an FDA warning and offer clear disclaimers about ivermectin’s effectiveness. What mattered to those who would go on to push ivermectin as a safe cure for COVID-19, came from just a few paragraphs:
A collaborative study led by the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) with the Peter Doherty Institute of Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute), a joint venture of the University of Melbourne and Royal Melbourne Hospital, has shown that an anti-parasitic drug already available around the world kills the virus within 48 hours.
The Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute’s Dr Kylie Wagstaff, who led the study, said the scientists showed that the drug, Ivermectin, stopped the SARS-CoV-2 virus growing in cell culture within 48 hours.
“We found that even a single dose could essentially remove all viral RNA by 48 hours and that even at 24 hours there was a really significant reduction in it,” Dr Wagstaff said.
Ivermectin is an FDA-approved anti-parasitic drug that has also been shown to be effective in vitro against a broad range of viruses including HIV, Dengue, Influenza and Zika virus.
Dr Wagstaff cautioned that the tests conducted in the study were in vitro and that trials needed to be carried out in people.
For those of us even broadly familiar with how drugs are brought to market, it was that final line above that mattered. Early lab results do not equate to clinical trials. Indeed shortly after the announcement, effort and funding across the globe was directed to clinical trials of ivermectin. Yet it would take almost eighteen months before enough studies were done, presenting enough evidence to show that ivermectin does not hold promise as a treatment for COVID-19. Over 2021, the number of news articles heavily critical of the “dubious” apparent “miracle cure” rose steadily such as here, here and here. The BBC published a powerful article on the “false science” backing ivermectin. Flawed data, fake evidence and poorly designed and written research was common.
Australia watched on as Malcolm Roberts, George Christensen, Craig Kelly and Clive Palmer promoted (and still promote) ivermectin. In the absence of evidence ivermectin could not be prescribed for COVID-19. This led to proponents sourcing and ingesting veterinary-grade ivermectin. It soon became clear from social media that many were taking excessive doses very often. On 21 August 2021 the FDA tweeted, “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.” That tweet links to accurate FDA information on the dangers of using ivermectin.
As 2022 got under way Australians were getting used to the idea of a third COVID-19 vaccination and the possibility that the year just might unfold without lockdowns. An endangered economy needed attention. Some began to talk of a “post-COVID” way of living.
Anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists however, were having nothing to do with a post-COVID anything. The pandemic and its consequent lockdowns had given them a reason to refine their identity and fool themselves into assuming a new sense of purpose. They were the self-appointed keepers of freedom. Indeed they had convinced themselves they were freedom fighters, perhaps based on a propensity for conflict at anti-lockdown protests during 2021.
Yet, with the probability 2022 would have scant regard for their well rehearsed narrative, they were faced with a new conflict: the impending likelihood of increasing irrelevance. This gave the (by then) heartily amused and bemused population Down Under the spectacle of the Convoy To Canberra. Inspired by the Canadian anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine mandate Freedom Convoy, the gathering of a reported 10,000 protestors in Canberra  was reported by anti-vaxxers on the Australian Vaccination-risks Network Vaxxed bus to be one million, and shortly after 1.8 million in strength.
The Canberra gathering was also populated by religious fundamentalists, sovereign-citizens, self-appointed indigenous activists and those drawn to the United Australia Party. Rather than organise into a coherent group and work toward realistic goals, the event became a shambles where infighting, conspiracy theory ranting, exploitation and violence was the norm. In January, GoFundMe froze A$160,000 in funds raised for the event due to obscurity over how it would be spent, requesting the organiser identify themselves. In February GoFundMe refunded A$179,000 to donors, citing violation of terms of service. Social media accounts organising this and other events, were reported to be based in Bangladesh, India and Canada. Australians had donated almost A$50,000 to the Canadian Freedom Convoy.
Other cookers remained in unhygienic camps in Canberra, regularly posting videos of their unhealthy plight. They warned the vaccinated of impending doom thanks to circulating COVID vaccine ingredients, and even promised boosters would cause a positive test result for HIV/AIDS. In early March the AVN filed their case against Brendan Murphy and the TGA with the Federal Court of Australia. They of course wanted money. Shortly after, sensible Australians were unmoved to learn that the AVN Vaxxed bus had been seriously damaged in the NSW floods. It was a write off. They of course wanted money. Around the same time dual Bent Spoon winner Pete Evans, joined a social media conga line of cookers citing this study, to claim “mRNA could alter human DNA”, even quoting from the paper whilst adding his own caps lock to warn that it “may potentially mediate GENOTOXIC SIDE EFFECTS”. But er, no.
The floods revealed some of the conduct of cooker and anti-vaxxer Dave Oneegs, and his intentions in founding the group Aussie Helping Hands (AHH). Crikey reported in mid March that questions were being asked relating to legitimacy. Following obvious deception, false advertising and exploitation of distribution centres, the Office of Fair Trading QLD, the Department of Fair Trading NSW and NSW Police began investigations. $330,000 had been raised and Oneegs bank account was frozen. The same applied to one Dorothy “Dotti” Janssen. In a video, Oneegs alludes to a conspiracy, labelling his plight “a precedent [to] the social credit system which is coming if Australians don’t wake up”. The Northern Rivers Times published an in depth piece on 19 May (Ed. 97, p.6) looking at the players behind AHH including Hayley Birtles-Eades. It is a damning assessment of AHH. Vaxatious Litigant (@ExposingNV) posted an interesting Twitter thread on the matter yesterday, as Oneegs is due in court next month.
The suave George Christensen was impossible to miss when he animated the zombie antivax myth that relies on the base rate fallacy: highly vaccinated populations have increased cases in those vaccinated. George went as far as claiming a conspiracy between “power elites and the media” was in play. I’ve looked at that fallacy here before and fact checkers have patiently explained time and again just why it is a non-event. However this graphic, tweeted by @MarcRummy, is one of the best I’ve seen that quickly and clearly reveals the fallacy. Of course, reporting of fatalities never stopped as George had claimed. Rather, they were never there. Also never there, were the serious adverse reactions to the Pfizer mRNA vaccine that led Craig Kelly to tweet:
The Pfizer report was also used by Senator Gerard Rennick to spook Australians with respect to vaccine safety. The problem with their approach goes deeper than Kelly’s unfortunate citation of Children’s Health Defense. Just like VAERS and the UK Yellow Card reporting system the Pfizer document relies on passive reporting. Causally speaking the data are unverified. However, again like VAERS and the UK Yellow Card system, the reports will be taken seriously and followed up if events occur more frequently than before the vaccine was distributed. As if on cue to reinforce this point came the absurd claims of Japanese Encephalitis actually being a side effect of the Pfizer vaccine (see p.32 for original).
In late March the AVN and fellow plaintiff Mr. Mark Neugebauer were found in the Federal Court of Australia to lack legal standing necessary to bring their case against the Department of Health to cease COVID-19 vaccination of Australians. Neither satisfied the requirement of being a “person aggrieved”. Delightfully, Justice Perry found that Meryl Dorey’s evidence contending the AVN “is the peak vaccine organisation in Australia”, is “recognised as a leader” by other similar groups and “is a leading source of information in respect of vaccination”, could be accepted only as a belief held by Dorey. Now is not the time to dig into Dorey’s “evidence”. Suffice it to say this wasn’t just a neat legal description from Justice Perry as to why she would not accept Dorey’s evidence as legal evidence. Perry rightfully considered section 136 of the Evidence Act as requested by the respondent. As one might expect the Act is clear in that a) one cannot simply use opinion or belief as evidence, particularly when b) it is prejudicial and/or misleading.
Nasty tricks continued to target the notion of being vaccinated. A version of this video doctored with captions contended that the QLD CHO was discussing fatalities from myocarditis brought on by vaccination against COVID-19. Yet seen in full context the discussion between himself and a reporter is about deaths at home from COVID-19. One of the lowest COVID conspiracy tricks pulled by Australian politicians related to Malcolm Roberts presenting so-called results from an event titled “Covid Under Question”. His speech to the Senate accused government bodies of hiding deaths and injuries caused by the COVID vaccine rollout. Roberts claimed a “cross-party inquiry” had produced the results. In fact it was a gathering of predictable COVID conspiracy identities. RMIT Fact Check reported:
Notably, it was not a parliamentary inquiry, despite being attended by six state and federal parliamentarians from One Nation, the United Australia Party and the Coalition, including George Christensen, Craig Kelly, Senator Alex Antic and Senator Gerard Rennick.
Among those giving evidence was Dr Peter McCullogh, who has wildly claimed that the pandemic was planned, that COVID-19 infection confers “permanent immunity” and that a Queensland vaccine trial “turned everybody in the trial HIV positive”.
It also featured at least one member of the World Council for Health, a group whose claims about vaccine harms have been debunked by AAP Fact Check, with one expert describing their evidence as a “garbled mixture of misinformation”.
There was of course a federal election campaign underway. Clive Palmer’s National Press Club address was so dishonest he earned his own Fact Check cheatsheet. This included that very tired misrepresentation of TGA data on COVID-19 vaccination that he and Craig Kelly had begun in 2021. The pandemic had squeezed out a veritable host of overly ambitious parties and candidates working toward their dream of political dominion. It would take Tom Tanuki to so neatly sum up this bevy of Cooked Candidates and Shit Minor Parties. Around election time in Australia, 2022 got the pox. Or rather, monkeypox. All those freshly primed and pumped anti-vaxxers must have been delirious. Well, more delirious than usual, as they swiftly adjusted their narrative to accomodate a cut and paste for monkeypox. We had VAIDS, which although non-existent apparently meant “vaccine-acquired immunodeficiency syndrome”. Interestingly one suggestion was that the COVID-19 vaccine was a tool of the global elite in their quest for world dominion. Not long after Malcolm Roberts tweeted this nonsense about WHO Health Regulations.
Not only is there no evidence anything was “quietly pulled”, the WHO has no influence on domestic health policy. Public health emergencies of international concern would see the WHO develop and recommend health initiatives. About this time the AVN returned to the Federal Court to hear that it was liable for costs sustained by the Department of Health in the earlier case. The AVN had argued their action was “public interest litigation” and as such costs should be waived. This was rejected. Costs further included those incurred in the dispute of costs and also any costs arising from their application to join with Mr. Neugebauer. The AVN had already received generous donations, with most via GiveSendGo. Rather than settle they continued to make ludicrous claims to members, purporting to have “evidence from some of the most esteemed medical and scientific experts in the world”. They filed to appeal. By now, thanks to insurance and donations, the group also had the ghastly Vaxxed bus back on the road, exploiting vulnerable Australians to peddle the myth of large scale vaccine injuries.
One day after the TGA provisionally approved the Moderna vaccine for children aged six months to five years antivaxxers blamed it for the death of a toddler at a QLD childcare centre. Despite the fact there is significant time between approval and availability, misleading social media posts falsely described the toddler as “fully jabbed”. In fact the importance of COVID-19 vaccination for all ages was brought home days later when toddler Ruby Edwards died after contracting the disease. It triggered Acute Hemorrhagic Leukoencephalitis following inflammation in her brain and spinal cord.
As COVID-19 reinfections gradually increased the anti-vax lobby happily explained the cause via mere temporal correlation. It was the devastation of immune systems caused by COVID-19 vaccines they claimed. This was debunked at the time and a recent study from Denmark confirms effectiveness of vaccination against reinfection with COVID-19, albeit less so with respect to the Omicron variant. Then came the social media claim that a fertility specialist at Brisbane’s Mater hospital had “collected data showing 74% miscarriage post inject (sic)”. Even worse “In an attempt to silence him he was fired last Friday!!”. However the doctor hadn’t worked there for nine months and hospital records gave no indication of such an increase. A spokeswoman for Mater Health responded to queries:
Mater has not observed any change in the rate of miscarriage over the last five years or specifically since the introduction of COVID-19 vaccinations.
Victorian CHO Brett Sutton was accused of admitting COVID-19 vaccination was ineffective, following comparison of two video outtakes. It was a popular trick amongst conspiracy theorists and relied upon comparing health reports specific to different Omicron variants. The dominant strain in Victoria in April was BA.2. By August it was BA.4 and BA.5. Sutton had observed the vaccines were less effective at preventing infection with the latter strains. August also brought the appeal hearing for AVN v Secretary Dept. of Health. Three judges dismissed the appeal as incompetent and ordered the AVN to pay costs. One might suspect that the AVN would get the message. No. On 31 October AVN advised of their intention to pursue further action. Just before Christmas Meryl Dorey announced a refined “babies case” would be filed with the High Court of Australia. They of course want more money and this case has its own GiveSendGo page.
The cooker community continued to fascinate throughout the year. One bemusing feature was the badgering of New Zealand and Australian Governors General by supporters of rabid paedophile conspiracy theorist Karen Brewer. Standing at the G.G. residence gate, and reading from a script they would bellow through a bullhorn that all federal and state parliaments must be dissolved, as they have “lost confidence in the government”. New elections must be held and “all the documents Senator Heffernan produced for royal commission” must be released “unredacted” immediately. This refers to Heffernan’s 2015 speech, which cookers use to help justify the conspiracy theory that the elite run an international paedophile ring. Despite its absurdity this belief is common amongst the “cooker community”. Just to complicate things other cookers, such as retired QANTAS pilot Graham Hood reject it outright, adding to the angst and infighting. For a sample of cooker infighting I heartily recommend this video.
The year trundled into the latter months with a distinct feeling that those intent on spreading COVID-19 misinformation as a means to profit, had in many cases succeeded but had spent the year waning in popularity. Still, this meant many thousands of Australians – and millions of others around the world – remained in echo chambers of misinformation. Monkeypox was now caused by AstraZeneca of course, because it contained a chimpanzee adenovirus. A bogus claim that Robert F. Kennedy had won a US Supreme Court case against pharmaceutical lobbyists, and in doing so confirmed mRNA vaccines cause irreparable damage was denied by Kennedy himself. Australian deaths in 2022 slightly increased, bringing more claims the cause was COVID-19 vaccination. “SHAME. DISGUSTING. CRIMINAL.”, tweeted the almost forgotten Craig Kelly. Meryl Dorey drew a debunking from AAP Fact Check for this very lie. Yet in October the TGA had still reported a pandemic total of only 14 deaths linked to COVID-19 vaccination. Thirteen followed one dose of AstraZeneca. Those figures are unchanged as of today.
Fortunately 5G is unable to manipulate our DNA via graphene oxide injected with COVID-19 vaccines. Nor is graphene oxide destroying our immune systems. It is not a component of the vaccines, or masks, or PCR tests and thus, thankfully won’t be controlled by “electromagnetic 5G sensors”. More to the point such a concept is utter rubbish. One had to feel a little sorry for fact-checkers dutifully refuting this piffle. Social media accounts spreading disinformation had continued to close. Meryl Dorey’s AVN Facebook page, widely known for disinformation, was finally unpublished and her Twitter account, @nocompulsoryvac followed soon after. Monica Smit spent the year fumbling to recreate her prior influence. Time was spent fighting charges brought against her in 2021, reinventing herself and refuting vaccine requirements. Incitement charges were dropped in July and Smit now claims she intends to sue Victoria police. Some good news was that Avi Yemini was denied a Victorian parliamentary press pass and people still mock him.
Malcolm Roberts has continued to work hard all year to ensure his position as an outspoken authority on COVID-19 is the same as his position as an authority on climate change. One tweet which cited Natural News reminded me of the awfully deceptive film Died Suddenly. This was released in an attempt to spread the myth that vast numbers are dropping dead because of the COVID-19 vaccine. A collection of out of context clips and headlines uploaded by rabid conspiracy theorist Stew Peters, it pushes the depopulation theory and has been thoroughly debunked. It relies on decontextualisation to lull the viewer to not consider alternative causes for the images of blood clots and collapsing people. On a sad note it has contributed to the trolling of those who have lost a loved one to sudden death, regardless of the cause.
On the topic of consequences however, Australians were shocked when Nathaniel, Gareth and Stacey Train murdered two young police officers and a neighbour almost certainly as a result of their involvement with, and conduct as, online conspiracy theorists. Their lifestyle indicated they’d chosen to live isolated, and had internalised paranoid beliefs about government intentions. Gareth Train had contributed to different forums where conspiracy theories and sovereign citizen ideology thrive. The pandemic with its consequent restrictions and mandates likely exacerbated his thinking, but Train was no newbie. Click through the sample below:
Unsurprisingly there was sympathetic chatter amongst conspiracy theorists online, some of which occurred on (dodgy flood money guy) Dave Oneegs’ Telegram page. Dave has a long history of believing lockdowns signalled that Australia will be “taken over”. Elsewhere, articles have appeared questioning every reported aspect of the shooting. Why was a welfare check run on a missing person? Why send regular cops? Why not sit and wait it out? Why, why, etc, etc. In short this event is now a conspiracy theory for conspiracy theorists. Sympathisers wanted to identify with the Trains claiming, “he was definitely one of us” and that it was “time to rise up”. A tweeted reply to a well known activist was chilling in its ignorance. “Wearing that title with pride now, look what we can do. Smoked to (sic) 2 pigs. It’s too easy. while you snooze… normie”. If this event has taught us anything it can not only be how a small minority might act. We must accept how a much larger minority is prepared to think and converse and provoke. That is where the problem lives.
As Australia moves into the fourth year of this pandemic we can predict that the enemies of reason and those who profit from disinformation, will ensure plenty of losing in the lucky country. Only a few have been mentioned above. Yet living in this wealthy country at this time in civilisation’s history is still a case of winning the lottery. COVID-19 infections are presently surging and we’re yet to see what strains, if any, will arise from the situation in China. We’ve learnt much about coping with pandemic conditions. 2023 can’t do much more than demand we continue to put that knowledge into practice. Similarly we’ve learnt much more about evidence denial and those that rely on it. 2023 will be an opportunity to immunise against non-critical thinking and to further identify, refute and annoy those who seek to promote it.
At the end of June this year I posted on a dubious-looking legal fundraising campaign announced by the Australian Vaccination-risks Network. They were, apparently, proposing private action against Australia’s federal health minister, Greg Hunt, and injunctive relief against the federal government.
It was not surprising to learn they were claiming the COVID-19 vaccine rollout was an experiment and must be stopped. The full 18 June letter to Hunt and Mark Butler MP is here. They had given Greg Hunt seven days to respond, and in the post I included part of their demands:
If you do not respond or if your response once again does not address our concerns, we would feel that we have no option but to consider legal action against you yourself, Minister Hunt, in the form of a private prosecution and against the Government to seek injunctive relief to immediately stop this current experiment on the Australian population…
Hunt, of course, did not respond. Meryl Dorey announced on the eve of day seven that, absent his response, a page would be set up for donations and legal action would proceed. Or rather it would if “our solicitors and lawyers and barristers say we are going to proceed”. What followed was… well, nothing. Or rather, nothing from deep in the AVN bunker. One suspects that this is because other actors, planning legal action against COVID public health initiatives, were drawing significant funds from motivated donors.
The AVN is an anti-vaccine pressure group with a history of dubious legal fundraising schemes. Last year all roads led to funding their Vaxxed bus tour. This has long since ground to a halt, as Meryl Dorey struggles to reinvent herself, yet again, to sell the unsuspecting the same decades old packages of vaccine disinformation. Dorey attracts reasonable numbers to her Facebook videos but this isn’t an income stream. One suspects the AVN is keen for an injection (pun intended) of donor dollars.
Recent failed COVID legal challenges
In June 2020, COVID conspiracy lawyer Nathan Buckley’s popularity grew when he advised Victorians to ignore lockdown directives. Eleven long months before AVN thought to raise money for COVID related legal challenges, Buckley had already suggested up to $10 million would be needed for a High Court challenge against Australia’s lockdowns. He further used the AVN playbook to propose action against flu vaccine legislation and No Jab No Play laws in South Australia. At the end of July 2021 he was still attracting attention in mainstream media.
Nathan Buckley reportedly raised over $575,000 via crowdfunding, to challenge vaccine mandates and public health orders related to COVID-19. An October report suggested he had raised $700,000. Both lawsuits brought before the NSW Supreme Court, targetting NSW health minister Brad Hazzard were dismissed by Justice Robert Beech-Jones on Friday 15 October. Buckley’s bizarre social media posts attacking Justice Beech-Jones and misrepresenting his findings, contributed to his suspension from the NSW Law Society. For the AVN, this meant Buckley’s generous donors were potentially available.
The efforts of Tony Nikolic and Matthew Hopkins of AFL Solicitors have also attracted a great deal of attention and donor dollars. Nikolic targeted Brad Hazzard and Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant. At one point antivaxxers contributed by publishing misrepresentations of evidence given by Kristine Macartney, the director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance. The NCIRS published a statement addressing each item in the falsified court transcript. AFL solicitors, who had brought one of the suits, were moved to reject those antivax claims on Telegram.
After these cases had all failed, AFL and G&B joined forces in an attempt to force Australia’s Prime Minister to apologise outside the Polish embassy for “deceiving” Australians. The chosen location for the apology was based on COVID conspiracy theorists belief that “Polish government officials” had protested outside the Australian embassy in Warsaw. In fact the protest was not by government officials but members of a far-right political party, with a history of spreading COVID-19 misinformation and conspiracies. In another case challenging the human rights of vaccine mandates, Marcus Clarke QC representing plaintiffs, unsuccessfully called on Justice Melinda Richards to excuse herself from the trial.
Serene Teffaha of Advocate Me, reportedly raised over $654,000 before her practising certificate was cancelled in April this year. Even after this, her efforts continued to divert funds for vague and futile legal efforts, away from the AVN. Finally, Maatouks Law Group raised close to $100,000 for a NSW class action. At the beginning of September, Cam Wilson’s article in Crikey listed the main players crowdsourcing funds for eventually hopeless legal gambles. He rightly noted it’s not illegal to test the authority of public health restrictions. The text of his article captures the absence of transparency available to donors regarding the quality and integrity of expenditure decisions. There are many other examples, and appeals are still being heard.
This organised, well funded action based upon disinformation and rampant conspiracy theories, stewing on encrypted social media, overly seasoned with offensive personal attacks on anyone who dare think differently, is common. That’s high praise indeed as to free democracy in Australia. A fact that does not resonate with Meryl Dorey’s 20 November opening line to the AVN’s latest legal fundraising blurb. On the pages of Christian fundraising site GiveSendGo [Archive], we read:
Australia is in a tailspin – descending almost inexorably into tyranny.
Orphaned donors an opportunity for the AVN
“Tyranny” has been a well worn word for COVID conspirators during the pandemic. The AVN has given “Medical Tyranny” and “fascism” ample airing, as Dorey urged followers to donate in support of the fight for freedom, and as a reason to attend illegal protests during lockdown. The AVN had frequently promoted the efforts of Buckley, Teffaha, Nikolic and Hopkins. Nikolic had cited AVN antivax material in a long letter to Brad Hazzard. The AVN has watched these fraught legal efforts with scrutiny. Is it cynical to suspect that as legal challenges fell to “fascist medical tyranny”, eyes in the AVN bunker also noticed increasing numbers of ‘orphan’ donors had lost their cause for donation?
The fundraising blurb continues:
We are not able to travel from State to State or overseas, work in our normal jobs – even when those jobs are part of our own business, go out to eat, drink, to the cinema, dance, sing, or do just about anything else without agreeing to take an experimental jab that has already killed hundreds of our countrymen and women and injured over 80,000.
It is obvious to anyone who has observed what’s been happening over the last 22 months that our governments – State and Federal – are determined to remove every right our parents and grandparents fought for in many wars over the last 100 years or so.
We at the Australian Vaccination-risks Network (AVN) have watched this with great dismay, as we know many of you have done as well. We have participated in protests, made submissions, written letters and for the most part, though these actions have put the government and their bureaucracy on notice, their course seems to have been set and unchanged through it all.
Court cases have arisen and been lost – and others are ongoing – we wish them all well. Though we have informed people of these cases and done everything we can to offer whatever assistance we can to the organisers, the AVN has not personally gotten behind any of them.
We recently met with a legal team that has rendered a legal advice that has been reviewed by two eminent Australian and English legal minds, (a former Justice and a current QC), that the case has merit and, if it wins (there is never a guarantee) .. of completely turning the current situation on its head!
The AVN claim to feel so strongly they have donated $20,000 into the “AVN Judicial Review Fund of our instructing solicitors Irish Bentley”. That might sound generous and is intended to motivate donors. Yet we must remember the AVN 2016 High Court challenge against “tyrannical ‘No Jab, No Pay’ federal legislation”. According to their own emails and website, this ultimately left them holding a minimum of $80,000 and possibly close to $110,000. These figures vary because their own published totals of raised funds and apparent legal expenditure both varied significantly. Was $160,000 raised or $152,000? Was expenditure around $70,000 or was it $50,000? This disparity remains online and has never been explained.
Money from this remaining kitty that the AVN might claim was spent on antivax pursuits, distills into two efforts. In February 2019 the AVN advised members they had donated $5,000 USD to ecologist James Lyons-Weiler, to help fund his crowdsourced “Vaxxed vs unvaxxed” study. Published in the International Journal of Research and Public Health, it was quickly demolished  by critics of the new and dubious methodology. The study was retracted in August this year. In March this year the AVN advised that £4,000 was apparently donated to Professor Christopher Exley of Keele University in the UK. This was to assist his work into linking aluminium to neurodegenerative diseases, including the long debunked “vaccine-autism” trope. That money supposedly vanished in the midst of controversy that saw Exley leave Keele University in August this year.
The fundraising blurb attempts to justify their position in defending all Australians, whether vaccinated or not. It’s about freedom and slavery, no less.
Now is the time for ALL freedom-loving people – those who have taken the jab and those who have not; those who are staring down unemployment and those who are still able to work; those who want to protect their children and grandchildren and those who simply believe that the government’s rights stop at our skin – to pull together as one.
Whether you are able to donate $5 or $5,000, we need you now! And if you have no money to give to this cause, we need you to share this with everyone you possibly can – both here in Australia and overseas.
What we do here and now can have wide-ranging and positive influences on the entire world. There are more of us who believe in freedom than there are those who want to enslave us.
Cleaning Up Their Act
What’s notably different about this fundraising attempt is that the AVN have provided terms and conditions. They actually name real solicitors and refer to a trust account. It’s now clear to those who read the terms that the AVN is not a charity. That last point is a hard learned lesson that previously cost them significant funds. The 2016 High Court challenge ceased abruptly and the reason, is something the AVN has tried to keep secret. After announcing $160,000 had been raised, and that double that was needed, the AVN suddenly went silent. Three and a half months later, on Christmas day, they quietly revealed by email that, “counsel has advised us not to proceed due to the poor chance of success and the high costs of a High Court challenge”.
That was not accurate. What had actually happened was the AVN (then ‘Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network’) were advised of an upcoming NSW Fair Trading investigation into the fundraiser. The Australian reported the facts two days after the AVN had formally ceased fundraising. An August 2018 letter from Fair Trading, eventually advised then-AVN president Tasha David of the outcome. Essentially, the High Court fundraiser had indeed broken the law, but the AVN would not be prosecuted.
The Inquiry has found AVsN’s representations as to the money solicited on its website, and received by it, include a charitable purpose in that it purports to be for the promotion of education and learning. A copy of s. 9 of the Act is attached. […]
On this occasion NSW Fair Trading does not intend to initiate legal proceedings. However, AVsN must immediately cease the conducting of unlawful fundraising. If AVsN fails to comply, a further investigation may be conducted. If a future investigation finds that AVsN is continuing to conduct fundraising unlawfully, Fair Trading will consider appropriate enforcement action.
NSW Fair Trading investigations are bound by the limits of the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991. In simple terms that means they can act if non charities, such as the AVN, appear to be raising funds for a charitable purpose. By stating now that they are not a charity, the AVN hope to avoid accusations of unlawful fundraising and the promised “enforcement action”. Naming their solicitors, as opposed to previously alluding to anonymous representation, is something they had to do. For almost two years now, proposed crowdsourced legal action against public health directives and COVID-19 vaccination, has had names and faces. The AVN pre-COVID claim of needing secrecy to avoid revealing their strategy to the government and “the pharmaceutical lobby”, will no longer work.
I suspect that now having actual solicitors whose professional reputation is involved, means that a trust account has been strongly recommended. Legally, as the AVN is not a charity, the Charitable Trusts Act 1993 does not apply. In 2016 donors were asked to identify payments with the initials “NJNP”. All routes of deposit led to a long standing Westpac “AVN Community Solutions” account. There simply was no dedicated bank account, and if donors did not initial cheques, money orders or PayPal donations, the AVN advised, the money would be assumed to be not for the High court challenge and used as they saw fit. It may not be essential to provide a dedicated account for funds raised, but it is sound practice and the AVN have learned not only from their own mistakes and critics, but quite likely from recent critics of Serene Teffaha.
The Terms and conditions are as follows:
The goal is $300,000. Total to date since 20 November, is $123,040. Two realities have emerged with respect to recent legal challenges of this nature. The chance of success is unlikely in the extreme. The chance of significant profit is high. Item 10 in the terms and conditions allows the AVN to spend donor monies on what they may deem related administrative costs. Item 11 states that only donors who contribute over $500 “may elect” to receive a pro rata return from surplus funds, if over $5,000 is left.
If at the completion or cessation (for whatever reason) of the proceedings (which may include appellate proceedings) there are monies exceeding AU$5,000 remaining in the AVN Judicial Review Fund (i.e. surplus funds), donors who have contributed an amount greater than $500 may elect to receive a pro rata return from the surplus funds (i.e. their total donation as a proportion of the total funds raised). Any funds remaining after such pro rata return will be paid to AVN.
Following a complaint to the ABC in the wake of a 12 August interview with the founder of Reignite Democracy Australia, Monica Smit, Audience and Consumer Affairs concluded that it was a “serious editorial misjudgement”.
They found that ABC Far North Drive breached the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy, harm and offence. A correction has been published and, after the finding is reported to the ABC board, it will be published under upheld complaints.
A post here on 18 August, examined in depth a series of bogus claims made by Smit (pictured), and touched on the importance of editorial accuracy. On 13 August I’d submitted a complaint to the ABC summarising the most significant points made in that post.
As mentioned in the post under Editorial Standards?, after the interview, presenter Adam Stephens did clearly outline his reasons for having Smit on. He thought it is interesting people hold such views and that, as evidenced by RDA pamphlet drops, some residents around Cairns had been swayed by Smit.
He also added:
Whether you wanted to hear from Monica or not there are people that are listening to her message, and sometimes it’s… I think worthwhile in actually learning about the motivations of some of these groups in our community, and some of the people that feel strongly enough to actually join groups like this and distribute their information.
This sounds reasonable, but the problem is that Smit is a skilled manipulator. She is well versed in faux justifications for anti-vaccine, anti-mask and anti-lockdown claims. The RDA site leaves no doubt that they present harmful and divisive claims backed up by legal loopholes and the misrepresentation of studies. At the time, Smit had already incited a number of illegal protests. It was clear she had no regard for community safety. It is a factor that ABC management should have proactively made clear to programme producers across the country.
In an ideal world, disinformation would be refuted on the spot. In reality, because Smit (and others like her) cover such a range of topics, and use obscure details, this is impossible. The answer is to never provide air time. A decade ago, anti-vaccination activist Meryl Dorey was given ABC air time to discuss an immunisation incentive. She used both opportunities to spread disinformation. Complaints were upheld and Dorey hasn’t been on the ABC since. Let’s hope a similar fate awaits Smit.
ABC Far North: On 12 August, ABC Local Radio Far North Drive interviewed a member of anti-lockdown and COVID-19 conspiracy group Reignite Democracy Australia (RDA). The program failed to explain that the interviewee had no medical or pandemic expertise; and that the group is anti-lockdown, anti-vaccination and encourages illegal lockdown protests. This context was material to the audience’s understanding of the issues to hand. During the interview it was stated that mask wearing is dangerous; this is inaccurate. The interviewee made repeated erroneous claims about important public health matters which were not adequately contextualised or corrected by the presenter. The program failed to take the opportunity after the interview to directly correct and debunk the claims made.
ABC’s editorial standards are covered in the Code of Practice. Ultimately, Audience and Consumer Affairs found that the interview breached the ABC standards for accuracy 2.1 and 2.2, and for harm and offence 7.1 and 7.6. The full email response from Audience and Consumer Affairs is below (with permission of ABC).
Dear Mr Gallagher
Thank you for your email regarding the 12 August edition of ABC Far North’s Drive with Adam Stephen, which featured an interview with Monica Smit of Reignite Democracy Australia (RDA). I apologise for the delay in responding.
Your complaint has been considered by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of content making areas within the ABC. Our role is to review and, where appropriate, investigate complaints alleging that ABC content has breached the ABC’s editorial standards, which are explained in our Code of Practice. We have carefully considered your complaint, sought information from ABC Regional management and assessed the content against the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy and harm and offence.
Drive has explained that local Cairns businesses had received flyers from RDA, and that they broadcast an interview with a business owner who expressed his frustration with the “irresponsible” behaviour of this group which would “put everyone else in danger”. Following this, the editorial decision was made to interview Monica Smit from RDA.
Audience and Consumer Affairs have concluded that within the context presented, this interview was a serious editorial misjudgement. Our findings are set out below against the relevant editorial standards.
2.1 Make reasonable efforts to ensure that material facts are accurate and presented in context.
2.2 Do not present factual content in a way that will materially mislead the audience. In some cases, this may require appropriate labels or other explanatory information.
As you explain, at no point was it made clear that Monica Smit and RDA have no medical or pandemic expertise, nor are they advised by medical experts. It was not made clear that their flyer and website provides no reputable or evidence-based information. Further, it was not explained that RDA is an anti-lockdown, anti-vaccination activist group which attends, supports and encourages illegal lockdown protests and other activities. This context was material to the audience’s understanding of the issues to hand and in particular to the credibility of the claims made by Monica Smit.
As you point out, Monica Smit made numerous inaccurate and unsupported statements in this interview which were not corrected or adequately challenged by the presenter. The claims made by Monica Smit regarding mask wearing and lockdowns were both alarming and erroneous. The interviewee was allowed to make repeated inaccurate claims about important public health matters which were not adequately contextualised or corrected. Further, the program failed to take the opportunity after the interview to directly correct and debunk the claims made.
Audience and Consumer Affairs have concluded that Drive breached the ABC’s editorial standards for accuracy 2.1 and 2.2.
Harm and offence
7.1 Content that is likely to cause harm or offence must be justified by the editorial context.
7.6 Where there is editorial justification for content which may lead to dangerous imitation or exacerbate serious threats to individual or public health, safety or welfare, take appropriate steps to mitigate those risks, particularly by taking care with how content is expressed or presented.
Audience and Consumer Affairs observe that reliance by listeners on the information provided by Monica Smit during this interview about public health orders was likely to cause harm. This includes the inaccurate information about mask wearing, lock downs and comments made by the interviewee on how to breach / avoid health orders.
The likely harm was not justified by the editorial context. Issues around groups like RDA are newsworthy to a degree, usually because of the threat or harm they present to the wider community and their illegal activities. An interview with a fringe activist with no medical expertise talking about public health matters requires very solid context and rigorous debunking; that did not happen on this occasion.
The material propagated by Monica Smit in this interview put RDA followers and the people around them at risk, and the editorial context did not justify the likely harm. The program did not take adequate care with how this content was expressed or presented, particularly in relation to accuracy.
Audience and Consumer Affairs have concluded that Drive breached the ABC’s editorial standards for harm and offence7.1 and 7.6.
ABC Regional apologise for this serious lapse in editorial standards. This matter has been discussed with the program team and a correction published here. In keeping with Audience and Consumer Affairs’ usual processes, this finding will be reported to the ABC Board and a summary published here.
Thank you again for bringing your concerns to the attention of the ABC. Once again I apologise for the delay in responding. Should you be dissatisfied with this response, you may be able to pursue your complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (www.acma.gov.au).
Yours sincerely (redacted) Investigations Manager Audience and Consumer Affairs
Fundamentalist chiropractor and career anti-vaccination activist Simon Floreani, was last week suspended from practice for six months, from 18 October 2021.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) handed down the ruling [Archived] after Floreani was referred by the Chiropractic Board of Australia (the Board) in March 2019, for professional misconduct. In November 2016 Floreani featured in a video podcast interview titled Nazi Vaccination Regime in Australia. In December 2016 Floreani facilitated the screening of Andrew Wakefield’s anti-vaccine film Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe at his chiropractic clinic. Not surprisingly the film’s thoroughly debunked theme and content are, “contrary to the Chiropractic Board of Australia’s codes and statements”.
Floreani was initially suspended on 27 September 2017, after an Immediate Action Committee (IAC) was convened. The transcript informs [item 5]:
The IAC made that decision on the basis it formed the reasonable belief that action was necessary because Dr Floreani posed a serious risk to persons and it was necessary for it to take immediate action to protect public health and safety.
That suspension lasted around six weeks as it was stayed by the VCAT. Conditions were imposed in March 2018 [item 142], and have applied since then. The Tribunal accepts Floreani has complied with them. The matter had returned to the Tribunal, “because the Board decided it was appropriate to refer Dr Floreani so the Tribunal could consider making disciplinary determinations.” [item 8].
The conditions, designed to limit Floreani’s anti-vaccination influence when he returns to practise, will be in place for twelve months. These include a ban on anti-vaccination signage, materials, advice to practice clientele, and “public comment discouraging vaccination”. If asked about vaccination by a client, Floreani must refer them to an appropriate practitioner. These are an effective continuation of conditions imposed by VCAT in 2018 and “there is no dispute Dr Floreani has complied with them in full at all times”. There is another pre-existing condition (noted item 178) that will also continue. Floreani must display the following sign in all waiting areas.
Please be advised Dr Simon Floreani does not provide any patient with advice regarding vaccination. Any patient requesting such advice will be referred to an appropriately qualified medical practitioner
He must permit the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) access to waiting areas during business hours, to monitor compliance with signage. Floreani must also submit to practice inspections during which AHPRA may access appointment diaries, booking schedules and any social media accounts used in conducting his business. AHPRA will provide a minimum of 24 hours notice before these inspections, and not conduct them more frequently than once per calendar month. Despite this, they are referred to as “random practice inspections”.
The respondent must bear his own costs of complying with the above conditions.
The videoed interview Nazi Vaccination Regime in Australia was with US based anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist and chiropractor Billy DeMoss. During the 3 November 2016 interview Floreani suggested that “they” are trying to silence screening of Vaxxed in Victoria and because people “have to have secret screenings”, it was “a nanny state”. He went on to make some extraordinary statements such as:
…we could not find one shred of evidence to show the efficacy of childhood vaccination […]
I’m, under my regulation and registration requirements, not allowed to talk about vaccination. But under the laws of this country I have to do what’s right… I have to tell people the truth, as a health practitioner, as a leader, as a father, as a community member […]
…parents are trusting their gut and saying, “I don’t want to do this. I can’t inject this poison in my baby’s body and be okay with that” […]
…the evidence is not there to suggest that people are safe and our kids are safe
Prior to 10 December 2016, Floreani was contacted by then president of the anti-vaccine pressure group, Australian Vaccination-risks Network (AVN)*, Tasha David. She requested he screen the film Vaxxed at his clinic. Floreani and his wife, anti-vaccine author and chiropractor, Jennifer Barham-Floreani are past professional members of the AVN. The screening at his clinic was one of a number the AVN had organised at the time. The event was covered in depth, including a video of the entire evening, by reasonable hank. Glaringly obvious, but important from a legal standpoint, the Tribunal has observed that prior to the screening, “Floreani was aware of the content of the film”. Indeed.
Both allegations, which are detailed in the ruling transcript, are that Floreani engaged in professional misconduct and unprofessional conduct. Both allegations note that he:
(i) failed to promote the health of the community through disease prevention and/or control; and/or
(ii) failed to provide balanced, unbiased and evidence-based information to the public; and/or
(iii) promoted and/or provided materials, information or advice that was anti-vaccination in nature and/or made public comments discouraging vaccination.
That sounds like the Simon Floreani I’m familiar with. His transgressions in the above regard range far further afield than those covered in the Tribunal ruling. This is reflected in item 197 of the transcript:
The Board submitted the admitted conduct represented ‘repeated brazen departures from the standards expected of a registered chiropractor’.
This may be a statement about Simon Floreani. However, in that it describes his stance on vaccination, it confirms that similar views held by a large number of practicing chiropractors are therefore well removed from “standards expected of a registered chiropractor”. The problem is one inherent in chiropractic, although I rush to add it is not absolute in chiropractic nor exclusive to chiropractic. The re-emergence of vitalism in chiropractic has led to an influx of practitioners who almost certainly began the study of chiropractic with an established aversion to evidence-based medicine. Once qualified, they see themselves as representatives of a viable alternative to the medical profession if not a replacement for it. This is a problem of staggering proportions and one that the Chiropractic Board of Australia is seemingly ill equipped to address.
A unique example emerges when considering the transcript of the VCAT hearing. As noted there’s no dispute about Floreani’s compliance with conditions initially imposed in November 2017 [item 144]. As we read in item 150 the Board considered another notification about Floreani in 2019. It was received by the Board in 2017, and concerned conduct from 2016. The Board decided to investigate in May 2017, concluding on 26 July 2019. The professional conduct issue related to items published by Floreani on Facebook and his business website. He made claims about the effectiveness of chiropractic for conditions and circumstances, in the absence of any evidence. Namely [item 151]:
(a) Chiropractic care for childhood illness, colic, ADHD, autism, cerebral palsy and asthma;
(b) Chiropractic care to treat infants who are having trouble sleeping or have persistent ear infections or reflux;
(c) Suggesting homeopathy could be used in lieu of traditional vaccines; and
(d) Suggesting that conventional medicine was ‘poorly performing’.
The transcript tells us the investigation lasted twenty six months. Twenty one months in, on 20 February 2019, Floreani appeared onA Current Affair defending the actions of AndrewArnold who was filmed the previous August performing a series of non-evidence based adjustments on a two week old infant. Floreani told ACA:
I’ve been doing this 20 years, and the proportion of paediatric patients has gone from one in 10 to three or four in 10.
The next day Arnold was put on an undertaking by the Chiropractic Board, published on his website, that he would not treat children from birth to twelve years or provide any material in support of such treatment on any internet platform. It’s inconceivable that Floreani was not aware of the Board’s ongoing investigation into his advertising. He chose to publicly defend Arnold despite the highly controversial and widely reported circumstances.
Ultimately the Board found that his 2016 performance was unsatisfactory and below the expected standard. He failed to work “within the limits of his competence and scope” and failed to comply with the Board’s Statement on Advertising. After AHPRA requested removal of the material it was removed in full. The transcript observed that this was said to demonstrate, “some level of insight and compliance by Dr Floreani in relation to his advertising”. Floreani had already been cautioned in 2014 for provision of anti-vaccine material (see below). In response to the evidence-free claims above, which are anything but unique in chiropractic advertising, the Board cautioned:
The practitioner is cautioned in relation to the publishing of advertising and other material in relation to chiropractic care that is not supported by sufficient evidence.
One should acknowledge that this is seperate from the career antivaccinationist activity Simon Floreani is known for. Perhaps the record of compliance with conditions and the evidence he gave does support him having turned a corner. Perhaps. We can get an idea of his prior and current vaccination beliefs by revisiting his comments about his wife’s book, Well Adjusted Babies, both during the DeMoss interview and when giving evidence. Item 65 contains longer responses of Floreani’s from the DeMoss interview. During these he clearly relies on the book as a source of “evidence” and “research”. He talks about working with the regulator to show them “evidence”. He tells DeMoss his wife had been snowed under and produced:
18 reams of paper worth of evidence and research around every single question they asked […]
…and you give these people what they want. When they want evidence, you know, there is – we could not find one shred of evidence to show the efficacy of childhood vaccination.
This is only twenty eight months after the Board had cautioned Floreani for providing Australian Vaccination-risks Network booklets in his waiting room. It was submitted to Tribunal by Marion Isobel, counsel for the Board, that he had done so despite being aware that the Board had that year, “released a communique requesting practitioners to remove all anti-vaccination material from their websites and clinics” [item 202]. On 22 July 2014 the Board advised of the caution. It was as follows [item 148]:
The Chiropractic Board of Australia cautions Dr Floreani that in the future he ensures that he is familiar with and complies with the Board’s guidelines for the advertising of regulated health services.
Returning to Floreani’s chat with DeMoss, the transcript includes:
And, you know, really the evidence is not there to suggest that people are safe and our kids are safe, and it’s a really – you know, my wife, God bless her, has worked tirelessly to bring the evidence together, and her next book will be – you know, we’ve got this multimedia platform where we can share the research as it becomes available, in layman’s terms, to help people actually hear the truth, not through the media but through multimedia platforms. We can share around the world exactly what the truth is, exactly what the research says and let people make informed decisions…
This confirms the level of disinformation Floreani and his wife were content to disseminate through various media. Indeed VCAT and the Chiropractic Board of Australia are limited to Floreani’s conduct as a chiropractor, or activity demonstrated to be in a professional capacity. Well Adjusted Babies was published through the group Well Adjusted Pty Ltd. Floreani and his wife are the shareholders and Floreani’s son is the director [item 64].
In evidence, Floreani confirmed he had been active in the company as a “research assistant” and currently has no role. He maintained he does not promote the book Well Adjusted Babies. Dr. Ann Koehler [item 41] gave expert evidence to the Tribunal, including the risks associated with statements made in the book’s chapter on vaccination; chapter 15. She quoted the preface to this chapter [item 70]:
Laying aside the very real possibility that various vaccines are contaminated with animal viruses and may cause serious illness later in life (multiple sclerosis, cancer, leukaemia, ‘Mad Cow’s’ disease, etc) we must consider whether the vaccines really work for the intended purpose.
Regarding his role in development of the book Floreani said he, “helped distil information into lay terms” [item 187]. Perhaps the above paragraph reflects his prior, and not his current stance on vaccination. Or, perhaps not. Giving evidence, Floreani was asked if he stood by the content of chapter 15. He referred to the book as “an evidence-based document”. Dr. Koehler stated that the content was “inaccurate, misleading and alarmist”. Floreani disagreed. In fact it wasn’t something he wanted to discuss because the Tribunal was not “workshopping the book”. Asked how he would describe the content of chapter 15:
He said again it was an evidence-based document which was ‘up for discussion’ as was all research information. He said he was not in that arena and did not deal with that kind of material and was not prepared to ‘walk down that path’.
When asked if he still held the same views on vaccination but had agreed to not make public statements, Floreani replied that he was “a researcher at heart and a critical thinker” [item 189].
He said he would appraise any information and he was not fixed in his views. He said he was ‘very prepared to take [his] medicine’. He then stated that he understood that, in the whole area of vaccination, there were ‘diverse opinions’.
In addition, Floreani’s current curriculum vitae lists him as a “contributor” to Well Adjusted Babies 2005, Well Adjusted Babies Revised Edition 2006, Well Adjusted Babies 2nd Edition 2009 Vitality Productions and Well Adjusted Babies Practitioner Guide 2009 Vitality Productions [item 166]. The antivaccinationist in Simon Floreani is an ingrained part of his identity. His C.V. reflects that he is not only happy to be seen as having promoted anti-vaccination views but is proud of it.
Reading the transcript, it’s tempting to accept he is motivated to keep an anti-vaccine image out of his professional life. Yet even this purported change isn’t something that evolved. He has been forced into this position after repeated breaches of the Chiropractic Code and/or Statement. To use his own words he feels he has been “bludgeoned about the head” [item 185].
He was no doubt also motivated to avoid a suspension and, having already been suspended in 2017 by the IAC for the same matter, was aware the Board would seek another. Reading through the transcript it isn’t surprising that the Tribunal agreed one was warranted. Particularly in light of his entrenched views outlined above, which is reflected in item 14:
However we remained concerned that his statements to us showed he has not fully absorbed relevant Code obligations and he appeared to maintain a level of scepticism about vaccination.
Under Dr Floreani’s submissions on determinations, the transcript noted via his counsel, Mr. Shaun Maloney, that Floreani agreed a reprimand was an appropriate order [item 204]. Also, that written submissions “contended that a suspension was wholly unsustainable in this case and was in fact a punishment” [item 205]. It’s further contended that suspensions are reserved for protection of the public and to ensure the practitioner gains insight and ‘the message’. “None of those matters are present here”, it was submitted.
Other noteworthy points from submissions include [item 205]:
Dr Floreani has full insight. […] He is apologetic and has recanted. […] The risk of repetition is non-existent. […] This is a health practitioner who has committed isolated error for which he is truly sorry… […] …the only possible justification for a suspension is as a matter of general deterrence. […] It is illusory to suggest that general deterrence is necessary here… […] …seen in the light of that which it truly is, being an isolated act, made in error through a transitory erroneous opinion… […] Accordingly, any period of suspension is not warranted for protection of the public, either for specific deterrence or for general deterrence.
Clearly the Tribunal did not accept the argument from submissions. I also found the source and content of references for Floreani compelling [item 168]. Not one referee stated a clear purpose for the reference nor indicated they were aware of the VCAT proceedings or Floreani’s involvement with the Board. One name leaps out immediately. That of Canadian chiropractor Elizabeth Anderson-Peacock, who in 2019 lost re-election for her seat on the executive of the College of Chiropractors of Ontario (CCO). The National Postreported this was in the wake of speaking at a conference that also hosted Del Bigtree. Earlier that year she had endorsed Vaxxed – the same movie Floreani now faced disciplinary action for permitting to be screened at his clinic. The reference was dated 22 June 2021.
The Tribunal didn’t refer to this thumbing of the nose at proceedings from Floreani, but did provide a quoted section from Anderson-Peacock’s reference which they were “very concerned by”. It included in part [item 172]:
On occasion that [ensuring clients can make a fully informed decision] sometimes includes inconvenient or alternative viewpoints from mainstream allopathy. Dr Floreani encourages people to do their own research and think.
Another, dated 7 June 2021, referee is Mr Giles A. La Marche, Vice President of University Advancement and Enrolment, Life University Canada. On 13 April 2020 BuzzFeed News publishedChiropractors Are Feeding Their Patients Fake Information About The Coronavirus. A paragraph was devoted to La Marche who, on April 10, had then shared a conspiracy video about Bill Gates’ plan to depopulate the planet with COVID-19 and articles on how Fauci was planning to profit from a COVID-19 vaccine. On 21 May 2021 La Marche featured inThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution after posting a story from the antivax disinformation mill Children’s Health Defense on a purported COVID-19 vaccine death.
More recently on 27 September this year La Marche posted a video on his Facebook page, Canadian doctors destroy the COVID-19 fear narrative. On 7 September he shared “important info” on “jaw dropping mask and vaccine failures”. He’s also just bought Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s book, The Real Anthony Fauci. On 30 August he wished someone a happy birthday. Smiling from the accompanying photo is one Billy DeMoss who hosted the Nazi Vaccination Regime in Australia podcast – the same podcast Floreani now faced disciplinary action for airing his anti-vaccination laundry on.
Eric Russell, past president of the New Zealand college of chiropractic is devoted to the promotion of vitalism in chiropractic and “subluxation-based research”. He has spoken of chiropractors going into the world to help humanity and the chiropractic philosophy. In 2009 he was inducted into Palmer College of Chiropractic’s Great Hall of Philosophers. At last year’s Parker seminar he spoke about chiropractic philosophy and how this shapes Wellness past, present and future.
In an undated reference chiropractor Kimberlie Furness praised Floreani, having been impressed by him almost twenty years ago. He had worked on infants, toddlers and children. The transcript observed [item 174]:
She referred to his practice being evidence-based, combining the ‘best available research evidence with clinical judgement and patient preference’.
The Tribunal observed it’s often inappropriate to present references from clients “given the uneven power dynamic between practitioner and patient” [item 171]. However they did note that Ms. Andrea Pavleka “senior executive, legal practitioner” [item 168], was positive about professional treatment received and personal qualities of Floreani.
Looking at these references it is far from surprising that the Tribunal observed:
Taken as a whole, the references did not show the authors were aware of the content of the Allegations or the nature of the Tribunal proceeding. Some appeared to support chiropractic care which might well fall outside the Code and Statement [item 222].
It’s equally unsurprising that submissions arguing against a suspension included.
His references are excellent. They reveal a respected and trustworthy health practitioner.
The underlying story of the references is a reflection of Floreani’s entire defence. It’s a story of going through the motions, keeping within the lines. Indeed Simon Floreani doesn’t have to think like a health professional, but merely act like one. Ultimately that’s all that is required and it underscores the problem with chiropractic today and the Board’s inability to initiate serious change.
More so, as a chiropractor, Floreani need not be educated as an effective health professional nor maintain and update an evidence-based skill set. Despite his rhetoric, evident in the transcript, of him being a “critical thinker”, referring to “evidence” and “research”, vitalistic chiropractic deals in anything but. Floreani just won’t admit that his disdain for the sciences important to public health, is what keeps leading to disciplinary action. From item 184:
Dr Floreani was asked about his past disciplinary history. He agreed a caution was an important regulatory tool for practitioners who ‘misunderstood’ what they were doing consciously or unconsciously.
As mentioned, Floreani reinforced his anti-vaccination views by defending Well Adjusted Babies. He contended the content was “up for discussion” and thinks it is “research information”. This is what defines Floreani and his wife, Jennifer Barham-Floreani. These problems and others, did not escape the Tribunal as evidenced by item 220. It included:
While the content of that book is not strictly before us, Dr Floreani’s comments raised questions in our mind about whether he has absorbed the fact that the profession of chiropractic does not have adequate training or expertise in the science supporting vaccination. His reference to the ‘political climate’ being a factor in the discussion about the safety of vaccines was worrying.
The Board should be worried. Consider the disparity between assurances Floreani gives to regulators, and his wife’s response to a 2013 crackdown by the Board on anti-vaxxers.
Chiropractors will certainly be working towards making sure that the information that they convey to parents is the latest, up-to-date information that presents both sides of the vaccination debate. I think it would be very rare that there would be chiropractors giving only one side of the argument.
Which brings us back to the problem the Board faces. Whether it’s anti-vaccination beliefs, advertising claims void of evidence (if not plausibility) or the motions carried out on infants and in the name of “maintenance”, pseudoscience is endemic in vitalistic chiropractic. It’s an ideology that is enormously profitable and it exudes a trendy energy that continues to be disturbingly popular with an unsuspecting, cashed-up public. One gets the feeling the horse has bolted in reading item 234, in which the Tribunal comment on discourse arising from Floreani’s support of Vaxxed.
The underlying scepticism towards science continues to be potentially damaging and likely to bring the profession into disrepute.
The Tribunal was aware Floreani presented himself as a leader in his field [item 236]. It didn’t help him. Rather it contributed to the decision to enforce a suspension. It was seen as:
…an aggravating factor because it is inconsistent with the standards of the profession for such a person to promote the anti-vaccination cause and to provide unbalanced, biased and non-evidence-based information to the public.
This is as it should be. Any perceived success of Floreani should add to the suspension’s value in deterring others. Floreani had held a number of influential positions with the Chiropractors’ Association of Australia (CAA), now the Australian Chiropractors’ Association, including president from 2009-2012 [item 162]. Under his direction and authority, pseudoscience gained firm traction. His supporters were delighted when Floreani decided to run for the 2017 CAA presidential election. Then they were crushed when his short suspension (for the same reasons that led to this hearing), threatened his chances. At the time reasonable hank publishedSuspended chiropractor’s supporters liken themselves to Jews and AHPRA to Nazi Germany.
It’s an essential read and very much a case of in their own words. In pleading Floreani’s case they apply the very same offensive allusion to Nazism that has led in part to his suspension. For our purposes note the familiar theme we have come to hear almost daily during the COVID-19 pandemic. Often from chiropractors, one of whom was a referee for Floreani in this very hearing. Namely that when vaccination is attacked, those who defend the high standards of evidence-based health care and the science it relies upon are as the fascists of Nazi Germany. Those who wish to do what they want regardless of the harm it may cause others, are as the persecuted Jews whose very nature was unjustly targeted.
Which for the very last time brings us back to the problems faced by the Chiropractic Board of Australia. Problems that are ingrained in fundamentalist elements in chiropractic, in all countries in which they thrive. Australians have the right to ask how this came about. How can a movement that seemingly regards accepted evidence and regulatory standards as almost anathema, hold the position it does? How can chiropractors, be highly regarded by colleagues and rise to positions of influence, whilst spreading harmful disinformation?
Floreani’s referee Liz Anderson-Peacock was, in fact, one of three senior members of the council of the College of Chiropractors of Ontario to endorse anti-vaccination views. At the time she was vice-president of the CCO, report the National Post. There are similarities to Australia. The CCO is not unlike the CAA under Floreani’s influence. Jonathon Jarry is a science communicator at the Office for Science and Society at Canada’s McGill University. He noted that anti-vaccination views are “innate to a certain persistent strain of chiropractic”. With respect to the three members of the CCO, he had a winning comment:
If a professional regulator is allowed to be so wrong about a basic building block of public health, the public should demand change for its own protection. Swift action is needed to correct this dangerous misfire.
The answer to our questions then, is in appreciating that chiropractic here is often modelled on the already tarnished international movement that resurrected the unscientific beliefs of D.D. Palmer and now passes them off as health care. In fairness to Palmer, who got the idea from a deceased doctor’s ghost, he stated in 1911 that chiropractic should be regarded as a religion and he, its founder. The 126th anniversary of his first “adjustment” was recently observed on Facebook by Floreani’s referee, Gilles La Marche.
By necessity, Australia must at times internalise scientific trends from overseas. This is particularly true for evidence-based medicine. By definition then, we should firmly resist the influence of vitalistic chiropractic. The challenge for the Chiropractic Board of Australia and indeed for AHPRA is to do just that. A proactive regulatory process is needed. It should not be the responsibility of advocates for evidence-based public health to ensure reckless, dangerous actors are brought to account.
Simon Floreani has for years actively promoted disinformation and misinformation related to vaccination whilst attacking evidence-based medicine. He has given no indication that he has changed his views. Were he to have genuinely changed he would be a rarity in fundamentalist chiropractic. More so, he only need refrain from being overtly anti-vaccination in a professional sense. The problem with this, is that he never need be motivated to give sound advice on the topic.
A six month suspension is an undoubtedly insufficient sanction. Yet given the current scope of regulatory power it is an understandably appropriate response. The real problem is that Simon Floreani and other chiropractors like him should never have been practising in the first place.
That is the problem that must be managed.
* The Australian Vaccination-risks Network was at the time the Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network, and before that the Australian Vaccination Network. They are referred to in the ruling transcript as the Anti-Vaccination Network.