PORT Macquarie's state MP has stepped in on the debate over the running of a community poll on water fluoridation at the December council elections.
Member for Port Macquarie, Leslie Williams said residents continue to express their concern about the what she says is a misleading narrative relating to the decision to fluoridate the Port Macquarie-Hastings local water supply.
The poll, supported by mayor Peta Pinson, deputy mayor Lisa Intemann and Cr Sharon Griffiths, has been rigorously debated in the council chamber. Cr Pinson has used her casting vote twice to ensure the poll proceeds despite objections from Crs Rob Turner, Geoff Hawkins and Peter Alley.
The mayor says the poll, which will cost between $65,000 and $90,000 to run, is an opportunity to give ratepayers "a voice".
Mrs Williams stands by her statement that the community poll is an "appalling" waste of ratepayer money.
She said regardless of what the poll reveals about community opinion on the issue, council is mandated by state government legislation to add fluoride to the water supply.
The decision to cease fluoridation, or any concerns about the process, should be discussed directly between council and the state government, she said.
Mrs Williams added that any member of the community who has concerns about fluoride, they should contact their local state member who will make representations to the Health Minister on their behalf.
Under the Act (1957), it is only the Secretary of the Department of Health that can revoke that direction.
This direct approach would save valuable ratepayer money that could be used elsewhere in the community, particularly when council is facing a flood repair bill up to $70 million, Mrs Williams said.
This week, the mayor confirmed the poll with the NSW Minister for Health Brad Hazzard, who raised concerns about the inconsistent wording of the poll and the fact the local water supply had not been fluoridated for 18 months.
The mayor clarified in writing to the Minister the reasons why council had not continued fluoridating the bulk Hastings water supply post drought, one of which is the incapacity of the fluoride dosing plant to reach the required fluoride levels.
Council said it has liaised with NSW Health and the EPA on this matter. The Minister has offered full funding to upgrade the plant.
The Fluoridation of Public Water Supplies Act 1957 (the Act) sets out a very clear pathway for the authorisation and control of the addition of fluorine to public water supplies which was followed by the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council when the decision was made to fluoridate drinking water nearly two decades ago, Mrs Williams said.
At its May 2004 meeting, council resolved to approach the NSW government to establish an expert panel to advise the relevant Minister whether there would be a strong case to fluoridate the Hastings Water supply. Council was subsequently directed by NSW Department of Health to fluoridate its drinking water supply following the council resolution to hand the decision of whether to fluoridate over to NSW Health.
The Gazette notice to fluoridate the Hastings water supply was published in August 2004.
Cr Intemann in opposition at that time, successfully lodged a notice of motion that the Australian Local Government Association support a moratorium on the expansion of water fluoridation into any new areas pending a proper and independent review of the practice.
Fluoridation of the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council water supply commenced in February 2012 following the construction of a fluoride dosing plant at Rosewood.
If elected councillors are concerned about the current direction to fluoridate the water supply then they need to take that up with the state government because under the Act it is only the Secretary of the Department of Health that can revoke that direction.- Leslie Williams MP
"It is very clear that it was the elected councillors who resolved in May 2004 to approach the NSW Government to establish an expert panel to advise whether there would be a strong case to fluoridate the Hastings water supply," Mrs Williams said.
"In August 2004, after weeks of careful review following referral to an expert committee, NSW Health approved the addition of fluoride to the local water supply and it was subsequently Gazetted that same month.
"The mayor says everyone must be given the opportunity to have their say on the issue but the community must also know that council has legal obligations under the Act to continue fluoridation of the water supply.
"If elected councillors are concerned about the current direction to fluoridate the water supply then they need to take that up with the state government because under the Act it is only the Secretary of the Department of Health that can revoke that direction."
Mrs Williams said council even acknowledged its legal obligation at its April 2018 ordinary meeting.
The report also stated that funding of $1.78 million was provided by NSW Health in 2012 for the construction of the fluoride dosing plant at Rosewood. Under the condition that should council discontinue dosing the water supply within 15 years of the funding being provided, council would have to refund the full amount.
"This is well understood by council as highlighted in the April 2018 council meeting agenda which states 'due to council's legal obligations to continue fluoridation of the water supply it would be inappropriate for engagement with the community on this issue at this time.
"I hear from the community on a daily basis that they are angered by the council's intention to expend up to $90,000 on a community poll which they know is not going to change health policy on fluoridation.
"The community should also be aware that if council as a result of any poll decides to progress along a path of withdrawing fluoride from the water supply it would be a very costly exercise.
"I fully understand why council stopped fluoridating the water supply at the height of the drought, but the community now expects that it be reinstated as a matter of urgency irrespective of the outcome of the upcoming poll.
"I am calling on council to respect the process followed by previous elected representatives and pull the poll.
"If our community has concerns about fluoride, as appropriate they should contact their state member who will make representations to the Health Minister on their behalf."
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