QUEENSLAND is poised to join the rest of the nation in embracing water fluoridation, ending a 30-year political stalemate that has left its children with Australia’s highest dental-cavity rates.
A draft cabinet submission obtained by The Australian reveals the Beattie Government is preparing to force local councils to add flouride to urban and rural water supplies.
The current policy of leaving the decision to councils has left the state with Australia’s lowest water-fluoridation rate and an incidence of dental cavities in children that is 10 per cent higher than the national average.
Brisbane remains the only state capital without fluoridated water.
The leaked document shows Queensland Health wants cabinet to either transfer responsibility for water fluoridation to the state or streamline procedures and provide financial incentives for councils to do the job.
Only Queensland allows councils to decide what goes into their water supplies, subject to community approval.
As a result, no council fluoridation schemes have been introduced since 1972.
Confidential government research shows 60per cent of Queenslanders want fluoridated water.
Despite Queensland Health’s lobbying, it appears Treasury and the Department of Premier and Cabinet believe the decision should remain with councils.
Premier Peter Beattie and Health Minister Gordon Nuttall have agreed to work on a joint submission for cabinet to make a final decision.
Mr Beattie indicated he was more likely to support financial incentives being provided to councils.
“There are very strong arguments in favour of fluoridation and we’d be delighted to see councils do it, but it is a council responsibility at the moment,” Mr Beattie told The Australian.
The Local Government Association of Queensland, however, wants the state to take control. It estimated the cost of statewide water fluoridation to be $80 million, regardless of who made the decisions.
Queensland Health has put forward a figure of $13 million upfront and at least $3.8 million in annual maintenance costs, but maintains the benefits would far outweigh the costs. The issue has already been raised in budget committee and Labor caucus meetings.
Former Brisbane Labor lord mayor Jim Soorley opposed fluoridation, but the incumbent, Liberal Campbell Newman, has been more open to the idea.
The South-East Queensland Regional Organisation of Councils, which Mr Newman chairs, has demanded the state intervene if it wants water fluoridation in Greater Brisbane.
Last night, Labor used its numbers in state parliament to reject a Liberal Party move to mandate that councils embark on a statewide water-fluoridation program.
Liberal MP John-Paul Langbroek, a practising dentist who introduced the private member’s bill, questioned the Government’s resolve.
“I strongly suspect that they’ll be saying they’re going to leave it up to the councils to do the right thing,” Mr Langbroek said last night.
“But it’s such an emotive issue that when it comes to a decision, and council’s come up against the anti-fluoridation lobby, they decide to do nothing.”