Covid vaccination sceptic’s health retreat received $62,000 from jobkeeper | Business


The federal government’s pandemic stimulus program delivered $62,000 in wage support to a controversial health retreat run by a prominent vaccination sceptic whose political party campaigns against using coercive policies to increase uptake of the Covid-19 jab.

Misty Mountain Health Retreat, a registered charity, charges clients thousands of dollars to treat serious medical conditions such as heart disease through what it describes as “the eight laws of health – sunshine, pure air, water, rest, good diet, temperance, exercise and trust in divine power”.

It is managed by Michael O’Neill, who is also the founder and president of the Informed Medical Options Party, a micro-party that until last year was known as the Involuntary Medication Objectors (Vaccination/Fluoride) party.

The party’s public statements are primarily aimed at stopping compulsory vaccination and coercive policies designed to encourage vaccination uptake. The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, has previously labelled the party “anti-vaxxers” while attempting to prevent its recent name change.

The retreat in Bellbrook, north-eastern New South Wales, was previously run by Michael’s wife, the banned wellness coach Barbara O’Neill, who wrongly told people their cancer was a fungus that could be cured with bicarbonate of soda rather than through conventional medical treatment, according to a finding from the Health Care Complaints Commission in 2019.

The commission also found O’Neill gave misleading and dangerous pregnancy and child-rearing advice in consultations and through online lectures.

“The misinformation has huge potential to have a detrimental effect on the health of individuals as Mrs O’Neill discourages mainstream treatment for cancer, antibiotics and vaccination,” the commission’s decision, published in October, found.

The retreat’s latest financial statement, filed with the charity regulator, shows it received $62,000 in “Covid-19 stimulus” payments from the federal government. The payments accounted for more than 10% of the retreat’s revenue in 2020.

Barbara O’Neill
Barbara O’Neill has been banned for life as a wellness coach by the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission for ‘misleading vulnerable people’. Photograph: Facebook

Michael O’Neill confirmed the payments were from the jobkeeper program and went to the retreat’s employees.

He said no funding was used for his political party and that there was no crossover between the two.

“Misty Mountain Health Retreat (MMHR) and Informed Medical Options Party (IMOP) are two different and distinct entities that have no cross-affiliation,” he said.

“I am the manager of MMHR, which is my paid employment. I am the secretary of IMOP, which is a volunteer position, which I do in my own time. No funds from MMHR go to IMOP.”

The charity regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, has received a series of complaints about the retreat, including that it should not be given charitable status as a health promotion charity given it “operates what is effectively a wellness holiday resort”.

The regulator would not comment on whether it has investigated or taken action. But its public website shows no enforcement action against the charity and one complainant has told the Guardian they never received a response from the regulator.

Michael O’Neill said the complaints were “politically motivated with intent to hurt me”.

The Guardian asked Hunt whether he thought taxpayer funds should be supporting an entity like the Misty Mountains Health Retreat. His office referred questions to the treasurer, Josh Frydenberg.

The Australian Taxation Office, which administers jobkeeper, said it could not comment on the individual affairs of any entity, but that not-for-profits must meet eligibility requirements to receive the payment. Those requirements included that the not-for-profit was operating on or before 1 March 2020, which the retreat was, and that it had a decline in turnover of at least 15%.

The retreat’s financial documents do show a heavy loss due to Covid-19. It lost $187,781 in 2020 and suffered a 38% decline in revenue “mainly due to Covid-19 impacts”. That followed a $101,700 profit the year before.

“Misty Mountain Health Retreat has been detrimentally impacted by the imposed restrictions and the economic conditions of the Covid-19 pandemic, which is the main contributing factor in the entity recording a substantial loss for the 2020 financials [sic] year,” the document said.

O’Neill rejects the “anti-vaccination” label and the party’s public statements focus on opposing compulsory vaccination or any coercive policy to encourage vaccination.



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