Byron Shire Council has denied a bid to ban anti-vaxxers from using council venues.
Byron Shire Council has denied a bid to ban anti-vaxxers from using council venues.

Is banning anti-vaxxers denying free speech?

A BID to prevent anti-vaccination individuals or groups from hiring out Byron Shire Council facilities was unsuccessful during the council's meeting.

The final decision gained loud cheers and applause from the majority of the public access gallery.

Cr Paul Spooner moved a motion for the council to deny any bookings at council facilities from such, in particular the Australian Vaccination Risks Network, for the purposes of promoting anti-vaccination messages.

In a report he wrote: "Immunisation is critical for the health of children and the wider community”.

He said according to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported rates in recent years within the Byron Shire were as low as 48.4 per cent, which created "a growing public health risk for babies and children in the community”.

On the 30 April, 2014 the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) issued the following warning that remains current today: "The Commission has established that AVN does not provide reliable information in relation to certain vaccines and vaccination more generally. The Commission considers that AVN's dissemination of misleading, misrepresented and incorrect information about vaccination engenders fear and alarm and is likely to detrimentally affect the clinical management or care of its readers”.

The council's guidelines for venue bookings or template hirer's agreement does not stipulate what the hall/venue can and cannot be used for.

During public access Heidi Robinson from Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters said the "chronically ill rely on the community to protect them”.

She said denying the groups or individuals the use of venues "was not denying free speech”.

During debate Cr Spooner said by allowing the groups to access council facilities they were "promoting their messages and supporting their cause”.

"This is not a legal question, it's a moral and public health question.”

But mayor Cr Simon Richardson said the issue was around free speech.

"It's not pro-vax or anti-vax, it's whether we allow a type of conservation to happen in a council facility,” Cr Richardson said.

"Do we only allow the conversations we do like?

"I don't support free speech without any boundaries however this is a conversation ... that's not discriminatory. It's simply a different perspective of science and medicine that others have.”

He said moving the recommendation would make council "the thought police”.

Cr Jeannette Martin said after her three-week old daughter died from whooping cough after catching it from her vaccinated sibling, she questioned the vaccination movement.

"It has made me applaud the people who are brave enough to stand up and say I don't believe what is going on.”

Councillors Hackett, Spooner and Hunter voted for the motion, which was unsuccessful.

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