Lennox-based MP Catherine Cusack
Lennox-based MP Catherine Cusack Blainey Woodham

Laws which give AVN power to silence lobby may save lives

LAWS which give the New South Wales health watchdog the power to silence the North Coast's peak anti-vaccination lobby group may save the lives of "defenceless babies and small children", says Lennox-based MP Catherine Cusack.

The Liberal MLC told the NSW Upper House this week changes to the Health Legislation Bill would close the legal loophole which shielded the Bangalow-based Australian Vaccination Network from the fall-out of a damaging inquiry.

The AVN, which claims vaccinations are toxic to children, drew the attention of the Health Care and Complaints Commission following the 2009 whooping cough death of four-week-old Lennox Head baby Dana McCaffery.

The commission found the organisation provided "misleading and inaccurate information on vaccinations" but was allowed to continue after the Supreme Court found "deficiencies in the authority of the commission to investigate".

Under the new changes, the HCCC has the power to initiate its own investigation and Ms Cusack wants it to start with the group she says is deceiving vulnerable parents.

She called on the commission to "immediately return to its investigation" and "stop the organisation from spreading misleading information".

At the time of Dana's death, the Northern Rivers was in the midst of a whooping cough epidemic.

Childhood immunisations for whooping cough remain below 70% compared with 90% in most parts of Australia.

In the Byron shire, less than 50% of parents choose to immunise their children.

Ms Cusack said the region's low immunisation rate could be held "directly responsible" for Dana's death and warned the rampant campaign being peddled by anti-vaccination advocates would continue to have "horrific consequences".

AVN publicity officer Meryl Dorey, who drew fire from Ms Cusack during her impassioned speech in parliament this week, rejected the allegations that her organisation was misleading the community.

She said the government was allowing only "one side" of the story to be heard and "everyone should be concerned" about the government attempting to censor free speech.

She also argued the region had "a historically low" immunisation rate and that more parents were immunisation their children than ever before.

Asked whether she was ready for a second inquiry, Ms Dorey said she would speak with fellow members but as far as she was concerned, she was prepared to fight it "all the way".

The amended bill passed through the the Upper House late Wednesday and changes are expected to be adopted in the coming week.

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