Would-be MP doc­tor linked to cult leader


A Syd­ney doc­tor who says the un­reg­u­lated “es­o­teric heal­ing” prac­tices of a “so­cially harm­ful cult” lead to mir­a­cles ev­ery day is a se­nior lec­turer in medicine at a NSW univer­sity and ran for Lib­eral Party pre­s­e­lec­tion in Mal­colm Turn­bull’s for­mer seat.

Rheuma­tol­o­gist Max­ine Szramka — a pub­lic sup­porter of Uni­ver­sal Medicine cult leader Serge Ben­hayon, who was found by a NSW Supreme Court jury last month to have an “in­de­cent in­ter­est in … girls as young as 10” — failed in her bid to be­come the Lib­eral can­di­date for Went­worth but is still em­ployed by the Univer­sity of Wol­lon­gong.

A se­ries of rev­e­la­tions in The Aus­tralian about cult-linked pro­fes­sion­als work­ing in health and psy­chol­ogy and re­ceiv­ing tax­payer sub­si­dies, in­clud­ing Dr Szramka, has prompted fed­eral Health Min­is­ter Greg Hunt to or­der an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Uni­ver­sal Medicine, which pro­motes a diet that has been linked to hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tions in north­ern NSW, has a net­work of le­git­i­mately reg­is­tered health pro­fes­sion­als on its books, in­clud­ing at least three psy­chol­o­gists, a neona­tal pae­di­a­tri­cian, Dr Szramka, an anti-flu­o­ride den­tist and a phys­io­ther­a­pist.

In to­tal, there are 30 doc­tors, nurses, den­tists and al­lied health pro­fes­sion­als who are di­rectly as­so­ci­ated with the cult.

The Univer­sity of Wol­lon­gong, which pre­vi­ously su­per­vised the suc­cess­ful PhD of an­ti­vac­ci­na­tion cam­paigner Judy Wi­ly­man, de­clined to com­ment.

The Univer­sity of Queens­land launched an aca­demic mis­con­duct in­ves­ti­ga­tion in May af­ter the ABC re­vealed that three mem­bers of its fac­ulty of medicine pub­licly ad­vo­cated for the cult with­out dis­clos­ing their as­so­ci­a­tion on re­search that was later pub­lished in two jour­nals.

“The univer­sity can con­firm that Dr Mark Jones is no longer em­ployed by UQ and Dr Amelia Stephens, pre­vi­ously a lec­turer and ca­sual aca­demic, has not been en­gaged since June,” a spokes­woman told The Aus­tralian.

“An in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­lat­ing to pub­lished re­search is near­ing com­ple­tion.”

In a now-deleted en­dorse­ment on Uni­ver­sal Medicine’s web­site, Dr Szramka wrote: “I have seen many things that we would con­sider as mir­a­cles in medicine, yet they are ev­ery­day, or­di­nary oc­cur­rences in or­di­nary peo­ple at Uni­ver­sal Medicine. I am aware that some of the teach­ings of Uni­ver­sal Medicine may ini­tially sound un­con­ven­tional to some, but it is (sic) re­sults and changes in peo­ple that speak very loudly.”

Dr Szramka re­cently wrote an open let­ter to the Aus­tralian Health Prac­ti­tioner Reg­u­la­tion Agency about the his­tory of doc­tors be­ing “in­ves­ti­gated and pros­e­cuted” for speak­ing be­yond med­i­cal sci­ence.

She has pre­vi­ously been the sub­ject of at least one com­plaint to the NSW Health Care Com­plaints Com­mis­sion.

“Doc­tors learn much in their clin­i­cal prac­tices in ad­di­tion to the sci­en­tific lit­er­a­ture and need to be free to ex­press their ex­pe­ri­ences and lean­ings with­out fear of hav­ing their med­i­cal li­cence re­moved,” she wrote on her blog in Au­gust.

Dr Szramka was also the lead au­thor of a sub­mis­sion from the Es­o­teric Prac­ti­tion­ers As­so­ci­a­tion — a cre­ation of the for­mer bank­rupt and one-time ten­nis coach Mr Ben­hayon — to a NSW par­lia­men­tary in­quiry into the com­plains com­mis­sion that said “es­o­teric modal­i­ties” were complementary medicine, not al­ter­na­tive.

A spokes­woman for Mr Hunt said the Min­is­ter “is con­cerned about these al­le­ga­tions” and would “write to AHPRA about it, ask them to look at the al­le­ga­tions closely, and re­port back”.

A key de­fender of Mr Ben­hayon — who told a court he was the rein­car­na­tion of Leonardo da Vinci — is Ray Karam, an “ac­tive mem­ber” of the Na­tion­als party who tried un­suc­cess­fully to be pre­s­e­lected for the state seat of Lis­more.

Dr Szramka and Mr Karam did not re­spond to re­peated re­quests for com­ment.



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