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Byron Shire
July 23, 2024

Chase for legal costs over fluoride ‘a foolish waste of money’

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North coast water authority Rous Water is set to spend more than $100,000 to investigate chasing legal costs from anti-fluoride campaigner Al Oshlack.

At a closed-doors meeting last week, Rous County Council (RCC) voted to spend the money to investigate the ‘seeking of legal costs’ incurred in the Land and Environment Court (LEC), awarded against Mr Oshlack.

Lismore City’s Cr Vanessa Ekins told Echonetdaily that Rous has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting the case.

‘Before going to the LEC I moved that we consent to orders which means that we don’t actively defend the court case but let the court case happen; we also don’t spend hundreds of thousands on lawyers to defend the case,’ Cr Ekins, who also sits as a councillor on the Rous Water Board, said.

‘Now Rous have voted to spend $100,000 on chasing this public-minded citizen who took the community’s wishes to the LEC. He has spent years of his time and it has taken a personal toll to do what is in the public interest,’ Cr Ekins said.

‘A public-spirited citizen took Rous to court to say that we didn’t go through the right process. He argued that councillors were told they would be personally liable if they did not support the decision to fluoridate.

‘One councillor was very threatened and was afraid to lose his house; he made public statements about this,’ Cr Ekins said.

The court ruled that individual councils could choose if they want fluoride in their water supply or not.

‘This is a win; where they say that Rous won was that the chair used his casting vote on the review of environmental factors, the outcome being that had all the councillors voted to fluoridate the water then it could be proven that the whole council was under pressure,’ Cr Ekins said

The NSW Department of Health (DOH) has allocated $95,000 to the legal costs, which have been drawn from the interest earned on $2 million given to Rous for dosing plants.

‘We wrote to the DOH asking them for this money as we were defending their policy and initiative so they need to contribute,’ she said.

Rous allocates funds each year for legal costs which have also gone towards this case.

Cr Ekins said that RCC voted to negotiate with Mr Oshlack about a payment deal to cover costs and that Mr Oshlack intends to appeal.

‘This is a foolish waste of money for Rous to pursue these costs,’ Cr Ekins said. ‘I have argued they won’t get any back,’ she said.

Rous has more important issues to be spending funds on, according to Cr Ekins.

Risks to water supply

‘At our recent meeting we looked at catchment management plans, which we are required to have under the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.

‘We have plans for Emigrant Creek Dam, the Lismore Source water supply, and one will be done for Rocky Creek Dam; and they look at some of the risks to our water supplies,’ Cr Ekins said.

‘We have quite a few risks which include erosion from macadamia plantations, cattle access to water courses and onsite septic systems,’ she said.

‘We need to budget for this. We are currently spending $25,000 per annum implementing the Catchment Management Plan yet we have a report saying that we need to spend $250,000 per annum over 10 years to implement this plan.

‘This is the cost for one plan; there are two more plans to be adopted.

‘Fluoridation is a state government policy that they are trying to force us to implement and pay for. Rous could be spending this money on more important things.’

Cr Ekins says Mr Oshlack ‘is not a criminal and should not be hunted because he represented his community’.

‘There should really be a referendum on this anyway; the community is so divided on this issue,’ she said.

The Department of Works is currently developing design plans for the dosing plants.

‘We think around March next year a report will come to RCC for a decision to appoint a contractor for the construction of the dosing plants,’ Cr Ekins said.

If LCC vote to not fluoridate, the designs will be changed to reflect that.

‘All that will change is the number and locations of the dosing plants,’ she said.

Cr Ekins is a member of the Greens and recently entered into a fluoride debate at a northern rivers Greens branch meeting.

‘The Greens are a grassroots organisation and policy is built from the ground up, like how a tree grows,’ said Cr Ekins.

‘We do not have a policy on fluoride,’ Cr Ekins said.

‘Another local member of the Greens was sure that the Australian Dental Association (ADA) was correct and that fluoride was an effective way to deal with children’s teeth.

‘I am aware of a lot of research that shows drinking fluoride has impacts on the rest of the body, and I also believe in the precautionary principle which says if there is some debate or concern about harm to people or the environment from the action then don’t do the action.’

More research needed

Cr Ekins referred to major reviews of putting fluoride in the water supply.

‘The York Review and the National Research Council in America showed that the science was inconclusive and further research needed to be done on the impacts to the human body and the downstream environment,’ she said.

The majority of those in attendance at the internal part meeting voted not to fluoridate the water.

Cr Ekins says that trying to reach the target group through fluoridation is ineffective and misappropriation of resources.

‘The target group for fluoridation is about three per cent of our community,’ she said.

‘The target group was already catered for when we had the school visit program that the DOH ran and funded.

‘Every primary school child was visited every two years and it brought up opportunities to talk about dental hygiene and give out toothbrushes and teach kids about oral hygiene.

‘If any kids needed dental work they were referred to the clinic and it was free; you didn’t have to wait up to one year like some people do now.

‘There is a state-of-the-art, multimillion-dollar dental premises in Goonellabah that is just sitting there.

‘I believe Chris Crawford and his department have around $3 million earmarked for dental care in this area. This clinic is ready to go and with some funding could offer free dental care,’ said Cr Ekins.

LCC recently voted to rescind the decision to not fluoridate the water supply. Cr Ekins believes this rescission was more about giving councillors an opportunity to undergo a workshop on the issue rather than it being a decision to go ahead with fluoridation.

‘Some councillors still have not decided,’ Cr Ekins said.

Cr Ekins will put up a notice of motion for the upcoming LCC meeting on December 10 seeking to advise Rous to not fluoridate the water source.

LCC will hold its fluoride workshop on December 3, which will see speakers against fluoridation (Dr John Ryan, Marilyn Haines, Dr Andrew Taylor) and for fluoridation (Brendan White, Prof Wayne Smith, Dr Kerry Chant).

The pro-fluoridation team is the same team that lost their case in Byron Shire Council recently.

The fluoride workshop is open to the public and is being chaired by pro-fluoride mayor Jenny Dowell.

‘Mayor Dowell has a strong view but she has assured us that she was capable of being an independent chair,’ Cr Ekins said.






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  1. 1) It is a complete waste of money chasing Oshlack as he has no assets

    2) This statement by Ekins is absolute hogwash poppycock ‘‘The Greens are a grassroots organisation and policy is built from the ground up, like how a tree grows,’. It has been more than 18 years since the Greens were a bottom up party. Ex
    amples of top down are ubiquitous and I will only mention the change of their enlightened drug policy back to the current draconian one

  2. Congratulations and thank you to Cr Vanessa Ekins for speaking up for a very significant proportion of the population who have appreciated Al Oshlack’s attempts and who do not want to see the Lismore water supply fluoridated for the very reasons she mentions. My understanding is that Mr Oshlack has no financial resources or assets which would allow Rous Water to recoup legal costs from him, so its move to do so is extremely foolish, especially given the need to allocate its finances to address the other water supply issues.

    Whether or not Council chooses to accept it, there is indeed evidence that fluoridation has harmful effects on at least some members of the community, and for that reason alone the precautionary principle should be adopted. Furthermore, the decision to fluoridate our drinking water, no matter how many other precedents there may be for it in other areas, infringes our human right of choice in relation to preventative or therapeutic care, and there are many of us who do not give our consent to it. Nor do we endorse the understanding, promoted by some councillors, that we can opt out of drinking fluoridated water by installing reverse osmosis filters (because they demineralize and acidify the water, thereby creating other health issues). I’ve even heard a pro-fluoride councillor proclaim that those who don’t want fluoridated water can “install rainwater tanks or catch rainwater in a bucket, for all I care!” – she should care, because this option clearly discriminates against those who lack the mobility and strength to carry buckets around, and is unfair, unsatisfactory and clearly unsustainable in times of drought.

    Again, Vanessa Ekins, thanks for representing a large part of your community.

  3. Unbelievable! Rous are now prepared to waste more of ratepayers money $100,000 to chase the costs from Mr Oshlack. Thank you Cr Ekins for putting the story straight and being the voice of reason This is throwing good money after bad. Cr. Ekins put up a motion not to appeal Mr Oshlack’s intial win but RCC persisted on their legal advice even though the judgement had given them clear relief to be able to vote against fluoridation if they so chose . They did have the numbers before Cr Yarnall withdrew his vote after he felt he was not prepared to be fined or to loose his private property. Cr Sullivan also went on NBN emotionally saying he was not prepared to loose his private property. All three supreme court judges ruled their legal advice from Lindsay Taylor $20,000 worth, was erroneous.

    Mr Oshlack has spent over 20 years in the LEC not earning a single $1 as a public advocate, he is well respected in LEC as someone who has the high moral values representing the indigenous community and many environmental issues that most lawyers would be paid $100,000’s for, he does it on principal for those who often dont have a voice of their own. The fluoridation issue is of great concern to many people in the Northern Rivers, Mr Oshalck acted out of concern for his community.

    The monies for the appeal came from interest from the DoH’s infrastructure funds $2.3 and this was a condition of the appeal voted by RCC. In actual fact RCC are not out of pocket, they pursued Mr Oshlack until they had a win when clearly they did not have too as Cr Ekins then had put up a motion not to continue the appeal.

    Recently Cr Ekins put up a motion to waver costs against Mr Oshlack, but the majority of councillors seem to think Mr Oshlack needed to learn a lesson?

    I can imagine who the councillors were without naming names who would act in this manner and their arrogance is breathtaking to say the least.

    Ilga Sleja


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