The Challenge of Governance
The Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association (BVSRRA) became aware that representatives of NSW Health would be holding a private meeting with Bega Valley Shire Councillors & officials on May 3rd,2017 to present their case in favour of fluoridating the shire’s fresh drinking water supplies.
John Richardson Secretary/Treasurer of the Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association wrote in their media release on the day:
The BVSRRA takes the view that any decision to proceed with the fluoridation of the shire’s water supplies will be a major & highly controversial public health decision, affecting tens of thousands of residents & ratepayers.
As such, every aspect of this vital issue should be being dealt with in a completely open & transparent fashion. The BVSRRA understands that, in a lame attempt to justify Council’s decision to exclude the community from its meeting with NSW Health, one Councillor has suggested that Councillors need to be able to ask questions “without feeling under scrutiny”.
The BVSRRA contends that the highly contentious nature of the NSW Health proposal, coupled with the scale of its potential impact on a significant portion of the community, is precisely the reason why all deliberations on the issue should be subject to the strongest possible level of public scrutiny.
The BVSRRA takes the view that the community cannot be expected to have any confidence in a decision taken on such a major issue without the benefit of full public scrutiny, regardless of what that decision might be.
Moreover, the BVSRRA would argue that if Councillors have so little respect & trust in the community that they were allegedly elected to represent, that they are prepared to conduct their deliberations in secret, then the community is entitled to hold the same view about them.
Coming on top of Council’s inept management of this highly controversial issue from the outset, the BVSRRA believes that by agreeing to entertain representations by NSW Health “in camera”, Council is ignoring its only obligation, which is to the community.
This is their follow up media release of May 7th, 2017
Politicisation of Fluoride Issue
The Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association (BVSRRA) notes the comments by the state Opposition Health spokesperson, the Hon Walt Secord, MLC, criticising community opposition to the proposed full fluoridation of the shire’s drinking water supplies.
Singling-out the Clean Water for Life – Fluoride Free for Bega Valley Shire group for particular criticism, Mr Secord accused the group of “misleading” the Bega Valley community about the fluoridation issue & criticised the group’s 2,000 signature petition opposing the fluoridation of the shire’s drinking water supplies submitted to Council earlier this week.
While the BVSRRA notes Mr Secord’s claim that the group “does not have a right to impose its views on the community”, it also notes that he stands ready to hypocritically bestow that same right on himself, faceless bureaucrats from NSW Health & on unqualified Bega Valley Shire Councillors, while expressly denying the same right to the community.
While the BVSRRA believes that, as the Opposition Health spokesperson, Mr Secord is entitled to express a view on the contentious issue of fluoridation, it does not believe that his opinion should be afforded any greater weight than the opinion of members of the Bega Valley community.
Moreover, while Mr Secord has seen fit to publicly attack the community-based group opposing fluoridation of the shire’s water supplies, he ignores the failure of the state government, in particular NSW Heath, to mount a convincing public campaign in support of its proposal.
The BVSRRA questions Mr Secord’s assertion that “The community’s views are very clear on this issue. They want fluoride in their drinking water”, which is clearly contradicted by newspaper surveys, petitions & an abundance of submissions rejecting the proposal. Where is his substantiation for this ill-informed statement?
Indeed, it seems to the BVSRRA that Mr Secord’s comments have not arisen out of any genuine concern for the health & wellbeing of the residents of the Bega Valley, but rather reflect a cynical attempt to simply make life more difficult for his political opponents in Macquarie Street.
And while Mr Secord is happy to offer gratuitous remarks on the fluoridation issue, the BVSRRA notes that his behaviour is no better than that of his colleague, the Member for Bega, the Hon Andrew Constance, or Bega Valley Shire Council, who have refused to pursue a direct dialogue with the community & assess its opinion on the issue.
The BVSRRA has consistently argued that the onus should be squarely on NSW Health to convince the community on the merit of its proposals & if it is not able to do so, then it should abandon its plans.
The BVSRRA does not believe that it should be up to the community to prove that the proposal will be deleterious to its health.
At the same time, the BVSRRA is strongly of the view that the elected Councillors of the Bega Valley Shire should not be attempting to determine the matter through amateurish attempts to understand & assess the science attached to the issue, but rather to focus their efforts on understanding & responding to the views of the community.
Regrettably, the willingness of councillors to participate in a confidential meeting with representatives of NSW Health this week did nothing to reassure the community that it is genuinely interested in taking account of its views.