A bid by a Tweed councillor to debate and look into the annual costs of the shire’s current fluoridation of its drinking water supply and any savings if the practice were stopped was rejected last night.
Cr Katie Milne’s original agenda notice of motion to find out the costs and estimated savings if fluoridation were discontinued and to explore other options to replace it sparked some heated debate.
With most councillors not appearing to support her motion, the Greens councillor was forced to water it down to simply ask that media be told about the annual costs of fluoridating the shire’s water supply.
But that too was rejected 2–5 (Crs Milne and Gary Bagnall for) and replaced by an amended motion by deputy mayor Michael Armstrong and mayor Barry Longland for the costs of adding fluoride to be added to future council budgets as a line item.
That succeeded, with Cr Warren Polglase the only dissenter.
Cr Milne’s original motion had also asked for Council to report on other options that may be available for the community to receive fluoride, including methods in Europe where fluoride is added to certain brands of milk and bottled water.
She opened the debate by saying fluoride had become a ‘raging’ issue on the northern rivers and in Queensland and as one of the north coast’s biggest councils it was ‘incumbent’ on it to inform the community of the facts, as requested of her by some in the community.
She said the state health minister had recently advised that councils could not discontinue the practice of fluoridation once started.
But it was important, Cr Milne said, for other north coast councils currently considering adding fluoride that, once they had done so, there was ‘no turning back’.
She said the Tweed also had to be involved in the overall discussion about the issue.
But Cr Armstrong said he had ‘grave concerns’ about the motion as it stood because it was ‘misleading’ the community by ‘suggesting savings could be made if fluoride were discontinued, which was contrary to state legislation’.
‘Why tell the community there could be a saving when we just can’t do it?’ he said.
Cr Phil Youngblutt agreed, saying fluoridation was about stopping dental decay, which experts agreed was the case, and that ‘a very small minority of people was prepared to stop it, like the vaccination issue, by making out there were problems with it’.
Cr Polglase said the motion was ‘out of order’ because it would ‘misrepresent’ Council as ‘fluoridation already exists and no savings can therefore be made’.
Cr Milne then agreed to amend her motion to remove the term ‘savings’, but Cr Armstrong said it did the same thing ‘by implication that there could be some change’.
Cr Milne said she failed to see his argument, and that Council was ‘not at the stage of lobbying the minister’, which would be ‘far more controversial’.
‘It’s just a fact-finding, information exercise, and it would be proper for a media statement to be issued on this. I know what the costs are, but the community should be told,’ she said.
‘I can’t see how it could lead someone to think we want to get rid of it, but the community has the right to know, so it can have an informed debate; it’s about providing proper transparency.’
Cr Carolyn Byrne said the costs could be addressed by ‘a simple question on notice’ and that the ‘underlying intent’ of Cr Milne’s motion was to ‘stimulate or aggravate debate on fluoride and Tweed shire’s position on it’.
‘We accepted it 30 years ago and we’re not in a position to change it,’ Cr Byrne said.
The amendment by Cr Armstrong to add the cost as a line item in future budgets was then debated briefly and passed 6–1 (Cr Polglase against).