National deputy leader Shane Reti says his party could support the Government’s move to centralise the control of water fluoridation, if local DHBs still get consulted on the decision.
He said this position was reached as a compromise in caucus after the Government announced its intention to give all power over fluoridation decisions to director general of health Ashley Bloomfield, wresting the power from local councils.
Reti, who is also the party’s health spokesman, originally said that move was an “over-reach” and told Stuff he didn’t think “the needs, wants and aspirations of local people are trumped by the science of fluoridation”.
He instead backed the original National Party bill on the matter, designed when the party was in Government, which gave control of fluoridation to local DHBs instead of councils – saying some sort of local control was appropriate.
But he said his caucus would need to discuss the matter and after having that discussion Reti said a compromise had been reached, where National would support the bill if the Government would agree to insert a provision mandating consultation with DHBs.
“We support the science, no question whatsoever. We support the decision-making moving from local government, which is what our bill did. We reached a position whereby in my name we will place a SOP [Amendment] on the table requiring central Government to consult with local DHBs,” Reti said on Tuesday.
“There needs to be some local voice here. Fluoride has been a sensitive issue.”
Reti declined to discuss the actual caucus deliberations.
Newshub reported on Monday night that leader Judith Collins and Reti had backed full opposition to the plan, but had been outvoted narrowly by their own MPs. Collins said this report was false on Twitter on Monday, pointing to her record of backing fluoridation of water supplies.
The Government are able to implement the change without any help from National, but may want some bipartisan support to reduce any backlash.
Associate health minister Dr Ayesha Verrall has been asked for comment.
Reti said his caucus had not yet discussed how it would vote on the bill should his amendment be voted down.
Fluoride is a chemical added to more than half of New Zealand’s drinking water in minuscule amounts to promote healthy teeth.
A 2009 study found that Kiwi children in areas with fluoridated drinking water had 40 per cent less tooth decay than children living in areas without, on average.
Some people find the practice abominable, arguing that Kiwis should have the right to choose what medicines they take.
Lobby group Fluoride Free NZ has written to the Prime Minister urging her to stop the change and stop all fluoridation of New Zealand water.
New Zealand Dentists Association spokesman Dr Rob Beaglehole said the change was “extremely good news”.
“It’s great to see the Government take the lead on this issue, this will dramatically reduce the amount of pain and suffering that New Zealand children will experience because of tooth decay,” Beaglehole said.
“The number one reason children are admitted to hospital in New Zealand is to have their teeth taken out under general anaesthetic.”