Diluted Thinking

in Australian healthcare

AVSN: NSW Fair Trading investigating AVN finances

Today, The Daily Telegraph published the article, "AVN profits from fear". It states that the AVN is being investigated for fraud. I'm unable to find the article online, so I've reproduced it below.
AVN profits from fear
Group investigated for fraud

Jane Hansen

An anti-vaccination group that was ordered to change its name because it was ruled to be misleading is also being investigated for consumer fraud and commercial activities in breach of its not-for-profit status.

The Australian Vaccination Network earned $281,885 in 2010, of which $187,405 came from selling magazines, books and videos based on discredited science linking vaccinations to autism and other anti-medicine books including one alleging mammograms are dangerous.

Another $76,996 was earned from "rendering of services", according to documents obtained under Freedom of Information.

The AVN is a registered not-for-profit association under the Associations Incorporation Act, which also qualifies it for a tax exemption. However, the group may be engaged in commercial activities that would contravene the act.

The Department of Fair Trading wrote to AVN founder Meryl Dorey early last year questioning the association's 2010 annual financial summary and asking her to clarify what "rendering of services" meant.

Ms Dorey responded in April last year saying she did not have to provide the information because "we are not a charity authority holder".

Greg Beattie, the current president of AVN, also sells his own book, which rails against vaccination, for $20 each.

The Director of Investigations for the Department of Fair Trading David Byrne, confirmed the department was examining the AVN's finances.

Meanwhile, Tasha David, the mother of eight put up by the AVN to be interviewed by television networks on May 19 describing how six of her children were injured by vaccinations is actually one of six committee members of the AVN. She confirmed she did not disclose this to media because, "I wasn't asked".

Whilst there is no question that NSW Fair Trading and NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming & Racing should be looking damn closely at AVSN finances, the above article contains a number of errors.

The AVSN was told by NSW Fair Trading to resubmit their 2010 financial statement. The amended 2010 statement contained more detail and corrected a number of major errors in the original statement. It appears that the original 2010 statement was used as a source for this article.

The income breakdown listed in the 2nd paragraph is incorrect, according to the amended 2010 financial statement. The $187K is "Donations", not sales. In 2010 the AVSN received a total of $74,200 in the sale of goods, where $43,259 was revenue from the AVN magazine, and $30,941 in the sale of other goods which includes books, dvds, etc.

The $76,996 "rendering of services" can be ignored. This amount was corrected in the amended statement, where "Donations" ($187K) and "Freight Collected" ($5K) were listed as separate items.

NSW Fair Trading was questioning the AVN about the 2010 annual statement as they had concerns the AVSN was a commercial enterprise. The original statement had listed $187,408 in the sale of goods. This was later corrected to be the amount of "Donations". Total sales was corrected to $74,200. There has been much speculation about the accuracy of the 2010 annual statement in particular, including how could the entire AVSN committee sign off on the financial statement when the "Donations" and "Sale of Goods" figures had been transposed? How is it possible that nobody picked up on that? Stock in hand remained unchanged from 2009, and are we expected to believe that an organisation that posted a total income of over $280,000 in 2010 only differed from the 2009 total by a piddly $129 whilst there were enormous changes in membership numbers, donations and sale of goods?

Information that NSW Fair Trading had requested included a breakdown of member and non-member sales for the years ending 31 Dec 2010 and 31 Dec 2011. Meryl Dorey responded that because they didn't hold an authority to fundraise there was no requirement for them to maintain that information, and they didn't have it. Requirement or not the AVSN could have supplied that information and Dorey misled Fair Trading in advising they didn't have it. In one correspondence with Fair Trading, Dorey does ask whether they wanted information for 2010 up until their authority to fundraise was revoked.

There is no question that for the years up to and including 2009, the AVSN was a commercial enterprise in that they couldn't operate without non-member sales and they couldn't publish their magazine without significant non-member magazine sales (at best, member sales only cover costs for 2 magazines per year). From the start of 2010, stand-alone magazine subscription was no longer available from the AVSN, though some 3rd-party websites sold subscriptions. This changed in October 2010 when the AVSN lost their authority to fundraise so they re-introduced non-member magazine subscriptions. Overall sale of goods had been decreasing steadily over the years; in 2007 they posted $197K in sales, falling to $60K by 2011.