Shamed wellness blogger Belle Gibson, who profited handsomely from falsely claiming she had cancer, has been penalised $410,000 for contravening Australian Consumer Law.
Gibson was taken to Federal Court by Consumer Affairs Victoria in June
2016 for falsely claiming she had overcome terminal brain cancer after she stopped taking conventional methods of treatment in favour
of natural remedies.
The claims helped boost her popularity on social networks including
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, allowing her to peddle sales of her app
and a recipe book from publishing house Penguin, both of which were titled The
Gibson promised to donate most – if not all – of the sales to various
charities and, in what was described by Judge Debbie Mortimer as
"particularly unconscionable", offered to donate proceeds to the family of
Joshua Schwarz, a little boy who had an inoperable brain tumour Belle
falsely claimed was much like her own.
"She did this to encourage members of the public to buy her product, to
generate income for herself and her company, and generally to promote
herself and her commercial activities," says Judge Mortimer. "She
consciously chose to use the terminal illness of a little boy in this way."
Gibson's company, Inkerman Road Nominees, which has since entered
liquidation, generated $440,500 in sales, of which $250,031 represented her
But the three donations she made to charities were relatively small,
totalling $10,800. They were made after a year of pledging to do so and the
majority of them were only made after the media questioned the veracity of
her charitable contributions.
"Those (proportionally small) donations should be seen as nothing more than
an attempt to restore credibility to her conduct," says Judge Mortimer.
The Federal Court handed down a combined penalty of $410,000 for the five
instances Belle contravened Australian Consumer Law by pledging proceeds
from her apps, her book and a virtual launch event to a swathe of
The individual fines range from $30,000 to $150,000, with the largest
penalty issued for her claims regarding Joshua Schwarz, who sadly died from his illness in January 2017 at the age of nine.
The fine is notably less than the maximum $1.1 million that could've been
awarded, but the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Marlene Kairouz, says the
penalty sends a warning that such "rubbish" conduct will not be tolerated.
"Belle Gibson sold a web of lies to vulnerable, desperate people – and
thought she could get away with it," says the minister.
"Her actions were not only careless, but also dangerous. Her book and app
were targeted at people who had cancer and were looking for a ray of hope."
The Federal Court ordered Gibson to pay:
$90,000 penalty for the contravention concerning the app sales
$90,000 penalty for the contravention concerning the company
earnings donations claims
$50,000 penalty for the contravention concerning the app launch
$150,000 penalty for the contravention concerning the Schwarz
family app donations claim
$30,000 penalty for the contravention concerning the Mother's Day
event donations claim