Bangalow-based anti-vaccination group the Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network (AVN) will be forced to produce records of its fundraising activities as part of a Fair Trading investigation confirmed last week.
The group lost its charitable status back in March 2014 after then Fair Trading minister Stuart Ayres said an investigation had ‘highlighted a number of potential concerns.’
The following year the group launched a High Court challenge against the federal government’s controversial No Jab, No Pay policy and, despite the ban, called on donations to help them fund it.
In October 2016, AVN’s president, Tasha David, wrote to members informing them ‘our fundraising at this point stands at just over $160,000,’ according to The Australian newspaper.
But by the end of the year the group had abandoned the challenge after apparently being advised it would fail.
At that stage the total cost of advice, according to emails sent to members, amounted to $72,500, the report said.
It continued, ‘the AVN suggested the remaining funds would be put to uses such as pursuing the Therapeutic Goods Administration for “misfeasance in public office” or lobbying MPs for a royal commission into vaccinations.’
Fair Trading has now served papers on AVN meaning they must produce ‘various records in relation to their fundraising activity,’ according to Better Regulation minister Matt Kean.
‘There has been sufficient concern about AVN’s potential breaches of the Act to warrant a thorough look at the group’s fundraising activity,’ he said.
‘I make no apologies for taking whatever action is necessary to ensure this group – and any other brought to my attention – complies with the Act.
‘If you seek public donations for a charitable purpose, there are circumstances where you need an authority to do so, and I’m focused on making sure this group is obeying the law.
‘Members of the public make charitable donations in good faith. The law is there to protect them and I can assure the community that breaches will not be tolerated,’ Mr Kean said.
A spokesperson for the minister told Echonetdaily that the investigation would look into all aspects of AVN’s fundraising practises and not merely focus on the High Court Challenge.
Breaches of the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991 may constitute a criminal offence.
Echonetdaily has approached AVN for comment but has yet to receive a response.