Dear Beagle Editor, Your Bega Valley readers might be interested in a survey they will soon be asked to resond to in regards to fluoridation of Bega Valley Shire Council water supplies. the fluoridation fix …
In what may see as an act of contempt for the elected council & the community, the general manager of Bega Valley Shire Council (BVSC), Leanne Barnes, apparently advised councillors on Monday of this week that NSW Health had commissioned a survey into the question of whether the shire’s drinking water supplies should be fully fluoridated.
Councillors were also apparently advised that the survey would commence this week, with the objective of having it completed prior to Christmas, so that the results could be presented to council at its first meeting in the New Year, on January 31st, 2018.
Councillors were apparently not consulted on the decision to pursue this course of action regarding the survey. They were apparently not furnished with any details as to the credentials of the organisation conducting the survey, nor to its design & methodology. Most importantly, councillors were also apparenetly denied input into the form of questions to be used in identifying the opinions of residents & ratepayers in respect of the proposal to fluoridate the shire’s drinking water supplies.
In recent months, the public debate concerning the proposal by NSW Health to fluoridate the balance of the shire’s drinking water supply was arguably the most fractious & contentious the community has experienced, with both sides arguing fiercely over the relative merits of the science & the efficacy & legitimacy of the public consultation process pursued by BVSC, in particular the involvement of Hunter H2O, while councillors struggled to find a decision that they believed would reflect community opinion & would be in the community’s best interests.
So, ultimately, there was almost a sense of relief when council adopted the following resolution at its ordinary meeting on November 1st, 2017 …
“1. That Council note the fluoridation of drinking water community information process already undertaken.
2. That Council request staff to approach NSW Health to fund the engagement of a suitably qualified research and survey company to undertake a statistically representative community survey to determine a valid community view on whether or not fluoride is supported for the Bega Valley. “
The BVSRRA believes that those in the community opposed to the proposal were delighted by council’s decision, in particular given its commitment that the survey would be conducted by a “suitably qualified research & survey company” & in particular given their clear expectation that the only involvement of NSW Health would be to underwrite the costs of the survey.
Clearly the community expected BVSC to arrange & coordinate the survey on behalf of the community & to do so openly & transparently so as to underwrite community confidence in the result.
So this week’s news that NSW Health was organising the survey & the complete absence of transparency around the decision has not only come as a shock but will doubtless generate immediate doubts in the minds of those opposed to the fluoridation proposal that the outcome can be trusted.
However, as previously mentioned, the biggest concern must be the main question that participants will be asked, which the BVSRRA understands is
“Do you agree with adding fluoride to the public drinking water supply to try & prevent tooth decay?”
Apart from the fact that no information has been made available as to “who” drafted the question, the BVSRRA believes that “blind Freddy” can see that it is designed to influence responses by making a positive reference to the alleged health benefits of fluoridation: benefits that are at the heart of the dispute over the proposal.
Rightly or wrongly, but certainly with strong justification, many in the community will immediately conclude that the survey is being pursued in such a way as to achieve a “pro-fluoridation” outcome.
The BVSRRA believes that a survey outcome, regardless of what it is, that is conducted on a questionable basis, using questionable processes, will achieve nothing other than to foster further distrust of council, NSW Health & the outcome; something that cannot benefit the community moving forward.
The BVSRRA believes that it was critically important for council to take the responsibility for coordinating the survey, rather than NSW Health, & that the secretive & apparently high-handed action by the general manager & NSW Health in approving the process without prior consultation with the elected council may see the outcome totally discredited.
Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association