One would think not if we accepted his plea to “forget about” water fluoridation during the next two years while the water grid undergoes construction. It is admirable that Mr Beattie has made the water grid a priority, but to discount other pressing policy initiatives such as fluoridation suggests his government can do only one thing at a time. No one believes that for a minute.
It instead appears that Mr Beattie is afraid to tackle any issue on which community opinion is divided, and will only countenance action when media, Opposition and lobby groups hammer at his door. This certainly appeared the case over children-in-care, overseas-trained doctors, roads and water. Regrettably, it seems that, until crisis point is reached, Mr Beattie is prepared to sit idly by rather than risk stirring public opinion. And now, Mr Beattie has conveniently dropped fluoridation into the same “too hard” basket containing daylight saving. This is not good political leadership.
We can understand Mr Beattie’s fear of electoral backlash over daylight saving, but we find his reticence over fluoridation perplexing. For one, Brisbane is Australia’s only capital city without fluoridation. For another, the scientific evidence is unequivocal that fluoridation improves public dental health. For example, in Townsville – since 1964 Queensland’s only fluoridated city – children aged 5 to 12 years enjoy a rate of tooth decay 45 per cent lower than Brisbane children. And, as The Courier-Mail’s most recent Galaxy opinion poll reveals, fluoridation is hardly contentious, with a clear majority – 62 per cent – of Queenslanders in favour of introducing fluoride to our water supplies, more than double the 29 per cent opposed. And unlike daylight saving, fluoridation enjoys majority support outside Brisbane.
Queensland is currently gripped by twin dental health problems. Not only is our dental health the worst in the nation, there are also too few Queensland public dentists, and too few public treatments, to rectify it. Mr Beattie can offer short-term respite by attracting dentists into public practice with significantly increased salaries comparable to their private-practice counterparts. But a longer term solution is for Queensland Health, as the Forster Report recommended in late 2005, to work with local government authorities to determine the feasibility of introducing fluoridation.
The Premier’s two-year delay is simply too long to wait. How many children’s teeth – assaulted by sugary foods and drinks – will be unnecessarily damaged in that time? Some opponents will cite cost as further excuse for delay. But given that many of those damaged teeth will be filled or extracted at public expense, is it not cheaper to invest in prevention rather than cure?
This is not the 1950s. Fluoridation is no longer the mysterious bogy that conspiracy theorists once linked to subversion. Today, it’s cavities and not communists we need to fear.