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Anti-vaccine group's charity status opposed

EXCLUSIVE

A group that believes vaccines cause autism and cancer should have its charity licence removed because of irregularities in its financial statements and its lack of charity work, critics say.

The Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing has confirmed it is investigating ''problems'' in the Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network's financial statements.

The anti-vaccine group has raised nearly $2 million in the past seven years but has never done any ''charity'', according to Stop the AVN, a coalition of critics formed after the parents of a baby who died of whooping cough were targeted by the network.

Stop the AVN spokesman Ken McLeod said he had reported the group to authorities more than 1½ years ago.

''The AVN do not comply with the law and the state government is not enforcing compliance,'' he said.

In 2010 the Office of Liquor and Gaming found evidence that the anti-vaccine group had breached the Charitable Trusts Act and Charitable Fundraising Regulation on ''a number'' of occasions.

Financial statements lodged with the NSW Office of Fair Trading show large disparities between years and information gaps, Fairfax can reveal.

The 2008 financial statement said the group had more than $50,500 of assets, yet in its 2009 statement, assets from 2008 are listed as only about half that amount.

And nearly two-thirds of $281,855 in expenses listed on its 2010 financial statements are not explained, given only the title ''other expenses''. The 2012 statement for the group has not been submitted.

A chartered accountant who examined the documents for Fairfax Media, but declined to be named for fear he would be harassed, said the documents were ''the worst set of financial statements I have ever seen''.

Mr McLeod said the organisation should not be allowed to operate as a charity when the money it raised appeared to not be spent on charitable purposes, such as helping the sick or promoting religion or education.

''My feeling is that until we started making a lot of noise about this group people were being conned into donating,'' he said.

The group added the word ''skeptic'' to its name this week after it lost a court battle with regulators. Its president, Greg Beattie, agreed his organisation should not have a charity licence, and said regulators had forced it to have one.

He said it had been the victim of a campaign since it won a court case overruling a Health Care Complaints Commission warning about it on technical grounds. The law has since been changed and this week it was revealed the commission has drafted another warning. ''Since we won we have had more audits and a total of 12 investigations, I think, by government bodies, all at the request of Stop the AVN,'' he said.

The anti-vaccine group's spokeswoman, Meryl Dorey, said she was unaware of the discrepancies between the 2008 and 2009 reports, and had paid an accountant ''many thousands of dollars'' but was very upset at the job he had done.

''Neither the Office of Liquor and Gaming or Fair Trading have questioned [the statements], which makes you question the amount of oversight.''

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