MARK COLVIN: After six months’ unwinding many of the policies of the Newman government, Queensland’s Labor Government still won’t commit to reversing one of the more controversial of them.
Campbell Newman made the fluoridation of water optional for local councils, and since then coverage has gone from 90 per cent of the population to 79 per cent.
It’s worse in the more disadvantaged areas with only one Indigenous council fluoridating its supply.
The Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, who slammed the move in opposition, says she’s not going to change it.
Matt Wordsworth reports.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Queensland was late to water fluoridation. While the rest of the country introduced it in the 50s and 60s, it wasn’t until 2007 that the then Labor premier Anna Bligh announced it would be made mandatory for any town with a population of more than 1,000 people.
By 2012, the Dental Association says it lifted the number of people drinking fluoridated water from less than 5 per cent to almost 90 per cent.
When the LNP (Liberal National Party) took government, health minister Lawrence Springborg gave councils the opportunity to opt out.
The Dental Association says coverage has now dropped to 79 per cent of the population.
Spokesman Dr Ian Meyers.
IAN MEYERS: Look it is a concern and that’s come a little bit because initially when it was brought in as state legislation it then changed to a district by district council legislation and, while the intention was to get it to everybody across the state, unfortunately not all areas have continued with that.
And that unfortunately means that some of our population missed out on the benefits.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Health department emails show a commitment to fund the operating costs in Indigenous communities.
So far only Aurukun has taken it up, and a council spokesman says that funding is due to expire at the end of the year.
It has raised concerns it will be scrapped, with experts noting that Indigenous children already have poorer dental health than the wider population.
IAN MEYERS: Obviously it’s a big concern because there is a greater degree of decay within some of the Indigenous communities that can be put down to either a lack of services being provided, again lack of things like fluoridated water and sometimes it can be a change in diet or accessibility to certain foods and substances so they can keep their diets good.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Of the 77 councils in Queensland, three have naturally occurring fluoride meaning adding more is not necessary
Twenty six councils fluoridate some or all of its water supply. That’s dominated by the major south-east Queensland councils such as Brisbane, Ipswich, Logan, the Gold and Sunshine Coasts.
Forty-eight do not fluoridate at all, including Cairns, Rockhampton, Bundaberg and Fraser Coast, roughly 800,000 people and more than 40 per cent of Queensland’s Indigenous population.
Dr Mark Brown is Queensland’s chief dental officer.
MARK BROWN: Well I’m disappointed that we’ve dropped back from a higher level but I respect the decision of local councils and the local community. I’m hopeful as councils review from time to time their position that they’ll make the decision to fluoridate their water supplies.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Just two years ago, while opposition leader, Annastacia Palaszczuk slammed the LNP for its move saying it was taking Queensland backwards.
But now as Premier, she won’t force the issue.
ANNASTACIA PALASZCZUK: My Government is a government of consensus. The Deputy Premier and myself meet regularly with the mayors of the different councils. We’re prepared to give as much information to councils as possible but we want to take councils with us.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Political scientist Dr Paul Williams says it’s all about being in minority government.
PAUL WILLIAMS: We all know that you can’t govern the state from Brisbane, from the south-east, the regional cities and towns – they’re the tail that wags the state dog as it were. And I think that the Palaszczuk Government which is already in a very precarious position and doesn’t want to risk an unnecessary backlash which will destabilise an already precarious Government.
MARK COLVIN: Political scientist Dr Paul Williams, from the Griffith University, ending Matt Wordsworth’s report.