COMMENT: Fluoride survey a chance to better local democracy

With a comprehensive survey of the shire on the addition of fluoride to all town water now on the cards, all eyes are squarely on the state government to see if it will fund the move.

If it agrees, a social research company will be tasked with gauging the perspective of the population as a whole.

They will seek a spread of localities and ages, in an attempt to judge the feelings of residents, possibly shire-wide.

While everything is hypothetical, being a survey it may also be able to also take into account the perspectives of the region’s youth who are left out of social, political and economic debates. It may be a postal survey, or by phone, or both. 

In places like California, residents get to vote on pretty much everything. Across all layers of government. Something that to us feels so foreign.

The result will be, like the federal government’s same sex marriage survey, non-binding, and it is hard to say if it will sway the current perspective of councillors.

Councillor Cathy Griff, who raised the motion seconded by councillor Sharon Tapscott, said she feels the state government’s push to fluoridate tap water “masks the issue of sugar in diets”, which she said they have placed in the “too hard basket”.

She said the survey must be as “clear and simple as possible”, and while the NSW government claims Australians are in support of fluoridated tap water, she feels “in the interest of democracy, let the people speak”.

There is no doubt the debate has brought out a passionate case opposing the move, often including dentists who say there is no need to hit ratepayers with the cost of adding it when everyone these days can afford fluoridated toothpaste.

While the state government says for every dollar spent residents will save between $7 and $18 on dental bills, a full breakdown of the cost of processes like monitoring and constant sampling is not yet known.

There was talk during depositions on Wednesday fluoride addition could see a future class action suit put to council. Bigger questions could flow from the survey results. Will council take out insurance if there is legal liability? What will the premium be? 

If Bega and Tathra residents vote overwhelmingly against fluoride in drinking water, will steps be made to remove it?

It will be interesting to see exactly how any potential survey is implemented and what results for our community.