Why you shouldn't boycott this youth conference
THE chair of a conference for youth has urged the community not to be deterred by a recent controversy.
Franklin John-Leader is a chairperson for the Positive Adolescent Sexual Health (PASH) conference is scheduled to take place in Lismore's City Hall tomorrow.
The group will also run a community forum in Byron Bay tonight.
Mr John-Leader said those events would be proceeding as scheduled.
Some members of the consortium were asked to step aside after NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard issued a directive that NSW Health have no further dealings with Universal Medicine.
UM, a Goonellabah based business, was last month found to be a "socially harmful cult" by a Supreme Court jury when the group's leader, Serge Benhayon, unsuccessfully sued former client Esther Rockett for defamation.
NSW Health is a supporter of the event.
"Those people directly implicated are not involved," Mr John-Leader said.
Mr John-Leader said PASH had been running for five years and had "strong checks and balances" for the program.
"It's vetted by professionals," he said.
"This program is evidence-based.
"The community needs a lot of support and we don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater."
Tonight's open-door community forum will focus on social media and mental health, while tomorrow's conference - expected to draw 400 high school students - will span 16 topics.
"We have a range of topics that are helpful for young people," he said.
Despite the attention drawn from the controversy, Mr John-Leader said PASH was a vital event for the Northern Rivers.
"All I can focus on is the quality of the program and the quality of the presenters," he said.
"(PASH) has been hugely appreciated by teachers, parents and young people."
In a post on Twitter, Ms Rockett urged people not to boycott PASH.
"I'd like to be very clear that the ... PASH sexual health conference for schools is an excellent, worthwhile event," she said.
"Universal Medicine related staff have been stood down.
"Please don't boycott it."
The PASH consortium has asked UM affiliates involved with the event to step down.
Candidates hope event not marred by UM links
LABOR candidates for Lismore and Ballina, Janelle Saffin and Asren Pugh, were concerned by links with some PASH consortium members and Universal Medicine.
But they're concerned those links could hurt an event that holds huge value for young people.
They have both supported calls for an inquiry into UM.
Ms Saffin said PASH had been a positive thing for the community.
"The PASH Conference and their work is wonderful," she said.
"It has done a lot of good for our young people.
"It would be a real shame if it was to suffer damage by becoming sullied in controversy, with many I know considering whether to stay involved or have their teenagers attend."
Ms Saffin said the "infiltration of some UM people" could hurt the event's reputation.
"The infiltration of a number of our government agencies and major caring and service ones, and leading local organisations, can only be understood with a forensic inquiry," she said.
"We need to know how this happened to so many good agencies and people in our community, to avoid this happening again."
Mr Pugh said it was important the premise of PASH wasn't undermined by the controversy.
He said a recent verdict by a civil court jury that UM could truthfully be described as a "socially harmful cult" demonstrated the need for an inquiry.
He said this inquiry should ensure no resources from State or Federal Governments should go towards any group that could be regarded a "cult" and that government departments are not involved with such groups.