A health advocacy group is challenging the decision to fluoridate the Patea and Waverley water supplies in the High Court.
New Health New Zealand has applied to the High Court at New Plymouth for a judicial review of South Taranaki District Council’s decision to fluoridate the two towns’ water.
The council will defend the challenge, which it believes could set a precedent for every other local authority in the country.
David Sloan, director of Christchurch-based New Health NZ, said his organisation would argue everyone had the right to refuse medical treatment under the Bill of Rights and no council had the authority to fluoridate water supplies since the Local Government Act of 2002.
New Health was formed in 2005 in response to what it saw as growing dissatisfaction with the health system.
Its main purpose is to ask what effect any health regulation will have on consumers and ensure that the welfare of those consumers is the primary consideration.
The South Taranaki council has called in Auckland law firm Simpson Grierson to lead its defence. And because the council believes the case has wider ramifications than their case, it will seek financial support from Local Government NZ and the Ministry of Health.
Chief executive Craig Stevenson said the council had lodged its statement of defence but did not know when the case might be heard. The challenge would set a precedent for local authorities because New Health was not taking the usual route and challenging council process.
“Instead they’re asking for a ruling on the legal right for a council to add fluoride to water supplies. In addition, they are invoking section 11 of the Bill of Rights Act which deals with the right to refuse to undergo medical treatment.”
He said if the High Court challenge proceeded it would be costly.
“You get no change from $100,000 but costs could easily be as high as $200,000.
“We don’t think it is fair that our ratepayers should foot the bill for a judicial review which challenges all councils’ legal rights to make such a decision,” Mr Stevenson said.
He said the council welcomed the opportunity to get a definitive ruling “once and for all”.
“Local government collectively spends a huge amount of time and effort debating this highly emotive issue every decade or so – it’s a national issue.”
In December, the council voted 10-3 to fluoridate Waverley and Patea water supplies after a month-long public consultation that attracted 508 submissions, with 345 of them – almost 70 per cent – opposed.
South Taranaki Mayor Ross Dunlop said while most of the submissions did not support fluoridation, councillors were swayed by the “overwhelming” amount of medical and scientific support.
He said it was the single most important thing the council could do to improve the dental health of people in Patea and Waverley.
“While there are those who argue that introducing fluoride eliminates freedom of choice, the public health benefit far outweighs that concern.”