25 November 2013

Advocacy, Naming and Vaccination

In Australian Vaccination Network Inc v Department of Finance & Services [2013] NSWADT 266 the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal has affirmed the decision by the Director General of NSW Department of Finance and Services to direct the controversial Australian Vaccination Network Inc (AVN) to adopt a new name.

The AVN is a legal entity under the Associations Incorporation Act 2009 (NSW).

The Director General made the direction on the basis that the AVN name is likely to mislead the public in relation to the AVN's nature, objects or functions, given the finding that AVN's "message is anti-vaccination and that the name does not reflect that message". The Director General also found that the name is "undesirable" and that "it suggests a connection with the Commonwealth government". The AVN applied to the ADT for a review of the decision.

The NSWADT generously comments that -
AVN's main object is the dissemination of information and opinions that highlight the risks of vaccinations. AVN is sceptical about vaccinations. The existing name, Australian Vaccination Network Inc, suggests that the association is pro vaccination or, at least, is committed to providing comprehensive information and opinions about the pros and cons of vaccination. The name should be changed so that it is not likely to mislead the public in relation to its main object. Although I do not have to decide this issue, a name that includes the word "risk" or "sceptic" such as Vaccination Risk Awareness Association Inc or Vaccination Sceptics Network Inc would, in my opinion, be acceptable. The name could also include the word "Australia" or "Australian" without suggesting a link to government. 
Controversy over the AVN, which has apparently endorsed the views of Andrew Wakefield, is noted here and here.

In  January 2013 the Director General had issued a direction to the AVN to change its name, on two grounds: that the name was"likely to mislead the public" and that the name was "undesirable." In February 2013 an internal review of the Director General's initial decision found that -
1) The Australian Vaccination Network Inc's message is anti-vaccination.
2) Its name does not reflect that message or its true nature, objects or functions.
3) Its name is likely to mislead the public. 
The AVN applied to the Tribunal for a review, meanwhile  gaining a stay subject to inclusion on its AVN's websites and Facebook page of a warning.

The NSWADT decision states that the Director General's decision
to direct AVN to adopt a new name is the correct and preferable decision. But my conclusion is not based on a finding that AVN's message is exclusively anti-vaccination, that the name suggests a connection with the Commonwealth government or that the name itself is undesirable. 
In essence, the AVN - under a rejigged name - remains free to engage in 'anti-vaccination advocacy' subject to provision of information from bodies such as the Friends of Science that is inconsistent with its ideology. Concentration on naming sidesteps the more intractable questions about advocacy that, as noted by critics, puts some people at unavoidable serious risk.