Charity group deregistered for lobbying
An anti-immunisation group has been stripped of its charitable status after it was deemed to be a political lobbyist.
The Charities Commission has deregistered the Immunisation Awareness Society, meaning it can no longer claim tax exemption as a charity.
The society has campaigned against immunisation, with opponents claiming that it used parent groups and midwives to spread anti-immunisation material.
The society has accused the Health Ministry and district health boards of using "fraud", "discrimination" and "coercion" to push immunisation on children and parents.
In its decision released late last month, the commission said the society's main purpose was clearly political, not charitable.
The society argued it was educating people about immunisation, but the commission disagreed, finding its information was not balanced or neutral.
In a statement, society chairwoman Eugenie Kruger said she did not agree with the commission's decision but would not be challenging it.
The society would continue to provide information that would help "parents to make an informed decision regarding vaccination", she said.
"Many parents in New Zealand are not aware of the fact that vaccination is a choice in this country."
The commission investigation was sparked by several complaints, including one from Darcy Cowan, a science blogger and lab worker from Hamilton.
Mr Cowan said he was "aghast" to find the society passing itself off as an educational charity.
"It is effectively publicly subsidised speaking when you become a charity, and that does come with strings attached," he said.
The loss of charitable status means the society will have to pay income tax, and any donations will not be tax-deductible.
Auckland University's Immunisation Advisory Centre has been countering the society's views for years.
Spokesman Theo Brandt said the society relied on thoroughly discredited "pseudo-science" to support its claims.
"While they say they are there to promote informed choice, everything they say is anti- vaccination," he said.
There remains global debate over immunisation, with opponents claiming vaccines are unnecessary and dangerous.
But many in the medical community have dismissed immunisation opponents as extremists relying on fringe science.
The Charities Commission has declined or removed the charitable status of more than 4000 organisation since it was established in 2005. These have included sports clubs, religious groups and political lobbyists that were not deemed sufficiently charitable.
The Dominion Post