STATE Government’s decision to block a vote on a private member’s bill to allow referendums on fluoridation is a setback for Victoria’s parliamentary democracy.
Fluoridation is obviously a very hot topic for the Government, which had to wear losing a vote on the bill in the upper house when Democratic Labor Party MP Peter Kavanagh introduced it last year.
The democratic changes Labor made to parliament bit the Government on the behind as Kavanagh used Liberal and National votes to earn a slender majority in the now proportionally represented Legislative Council.
But Geelong’s lower house MPs won’t get to block the bill themselves, the party machine is doing that for them.
Mr Kavanagh this week told the Independent, Labor MPs had ridiculed him for moving the bill and on the fact it would not make it into Hansard in the Legislative Assembly because the Government controls the legislative agenda downstairs.
And Labor won’t allow the bill to be presented in the lower house of parliament, Mr Kavanagh said.
So in effect, Labor has claimed to introduce more democracy in the upper house only to stymie it in the Legislative Assembly.
Is that a double standard?
Well, from a government that’s made significant progress about turning Victoria into a nanny state it’s entirely in line with existing policy.
Geelong residents won’t get a say on whether they want fluoride anyway.
Not unless there’s a major shift in Government thinking, or a major political movement develops on the ground opposed to it.
Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Dr John Carnie told residents as much anyway when he wrote to them over Christmas, delivering a Government brochure extolling the benefits of fluoride to the community.
That mail-out, significantly delivered at a time when many people turn their attention away from affairs of state to concentrate on family holidays, has attracted plenty of criticism in letters to the editors of the region’s newspapers.
Government plans aside, blocking a vote on Mr Kavanagh’s bill is somewhat contemptible of community views on fluoride.
Dr Carnie has claimed fluoride was government policy before the election.
Well, fluoridation might have been but there were no specific plans to fluoridate Geelong’s water supply before the election.
That news came after the vote when then Premier Steve Bracks backflipped on desalination and announced Geelong’s interconnection with Melbourne’s fluoridated water supply.
Geelong obviously holds significant reservations about introducing an artificial level of fluoride to its water supply (there is a natural level of fluoride already in Geelong’s water).
But it would be embarrassing for Government MPs – who hold all lower house seats in the region – to be seen as telling voters they have no say on what goes into their water.
However, Labor MPs are not elected to dodge embarrassment about voting on difficult issues.
They are elected to represent the views of their constituents in parliament.
They should be allowed to have the courage to tell the voters of Geelong, Lara, South Barwon and Bellarine electorates that “no, you won’t get a referendum on fluoride” by raising their hands in parliament.
Isn’t that what the institution stands for anyway?