A controversial group that claims vaccines cause autism and cancer will be forced to change its name after a tribunal found it was likely to mislead parents into thinking it provides fair and balanced information.
The Administrative Decisions Tribunal decided the name "Australian Vaccination Network" (AVN) was likely to mislead an ordinary member of the public into thinking it provided comprehensive information about vaccination.
The victory is the end of long-running legal battles between the AVN and various arms of the NSW government as they have sought to prevent it from spreading misinformation about vaccines.
NSW Fair Trading Minister Anthony Roberts welcomed the result.
"This is about being open and upfront about what you stand for, not hiding behind a name which could mislead the community about a very significant public health issue," he said. "The time has come for AVN to find a name which reflects its anti-vaccination stance."
Spinal surgeon and epidemiologist John Cunningham, speaking on behalf of the group Stop the Australian Vaccination Network, said for too long "innocent and well-meaning" parents had been misled into putting their children at risk.
"We've seen young people die in Australia of whooping cough and diphtheria," he said. "The AVN does not represent a valid source of reliable information and should be regarded as a fringe group like other conspiracy theorists out there."
The head of the Australian Medical Association NSW, Brian Owler, said the decision was important to ensure transparency.
"The AVN certainly has the right to exist but framing an organisation as a source of advice comes with the responsibility of using the best available information to support your counsel," he said.
The deputy president of the tribunal, Nancy Hennessy, ruled that the AVN was sceptical about vaccination and that its "main object is the dissemination of information and opinions that highlight the risks of vaccinations". Yet the name suggests it is pro-vaccination or at the very least provides balanced information.
She suggested the group should consider adding the words "risks" or "sceptic" to its name to ensure people understood what its purpose as an organisation was, upholding a decision by the Department of Finance and Services to insist on a name change.
The decision comes more than a year after the AVN won a Supreme Court appeal against a decision by the Health Care Complaints Commission, which had ordered it to warn people that its website "should not be read as medical advice".
The decision was overruled by the Supreme Court on the basis of a technicality about what types of complaints can be investigated by the commission, forcing Health Minister Jillian Skinner to introduce new laws to Parliament to allow the commission to investigate organisations that posed a threat to public health.
AVN president Greg Beattie said the group had had the same name for 15 years, and the government had never had a problem with it in the past.
"Obviously the department is responding to a large volume of complaints from a small group," he said.
He said it would now be up to members of the AVN to come up with a new name, and that he hoped the department would work co-operatively to find a name that everybody was happy with.