The Hamilton City Council has ample evidence to suggest it supported a vocal minority when it voted by seven votes to one to remove fluoride from the city’s water supply.
To begin with, it has overturned the result of the 2006 referendum when 38 per cent of eligible Hamilton voters – more than typically vote in council elections – overwhelmingly supported continued fluoridation. That referendum was supposed to be binding.
If the council was somehow beguiled or misled into thinking the public has changed its mind since 2006, its folly was exposed in a recent poll conducted by this newspaper. Again, a persuasive two-to-one of Hamilton residents say they want their drinking water fluoridated.
Mayor Julie Hardaker and the six city councillors who over-rode that opinion should be anxious to get back on side with the majority.
To the contrary, Ms Hardaker expresses satisfaction with the tribunal process that was introduced to guide the council.
It gave the community its opportunity to comment, she says, and she is comfortable with how she voted. She is untroubled by claims that fluoride could cost the council their jobs at local body elections in October.
She may be right in believing her job is secure, but Waikato District Health Board member and city councillor Ewan Wilson is better tuned into public sentiment when he pushes for a fresh referendum on fluoridation and expresses the hope this leads to the council overturning its decision. He maintains the tribunal process and the cue it gave to councillors were hijacked by the anti-fluoride lobby and ignores what the majority of Hamiltonians wanted. He refers to the “considerable good science” that shows fluoridation is a good base for public health. The prime minister’s chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, agrees.
Pat McNair, co-ordinator of Fluoride Free Hamilton, has obvious reasons for insisting a referendum is unnecessary and for defending the integrity of the tribunal process, but she shows a disdain for democracy when she dismisses a referendum as “just people’s opinion in the street”.
The referendum idea has thrown the council a lifeline, inviting it to pull itself out of a hole into which it has dug itself.
The council could emerge much faster and with more dignity if it simply said “oops” and reversed its earlier decision.