The Queensland government is split over whether to add fluoride to the state’s water supply.
The issue has pitted Premier Peter Beattie against his health minister after Mr Beattie ruled out taking charge of fluoridation.
Mr Beattie killed off any likelihood of blanket fluoride protection in the state’s water supply on Tuesday, saying local councils held the decision-making power for using fluoride.
However, the announcement has pitted him against Health Minister Gordon Nuttall, who has strongly advocated the introduction of statewide fluoridation to address childhood dental disease.
Mr Nuttall previously described the failure to fluoridate as defying logic, adding that his views on the issue were well documented.
“Dental disease is the single most chronic childhood disease in Queensland and must be addressed,” Mr Nuttall said on Wednesday.
Mr Beattie, who is on holidays, was branded a coward by Queensland Liberal MP John-Paul Langbroek, a dentist who this year introduced a Private Members Bill to state parliament to mandate statewide fluoridation.
Mr Langbroek said all Australian capitals had fluoride added to the water, however the only areas in Queensland to use it were Dalby, Mareeba, Moranbah, Townsville and parts of Thuringowa.
Brisbane’s Liberal Lord Mayor Campbell Newman last month led a push by 18 councils for the state government to tackle the issue to improve childhood dental health.
Gold Coast Mayor Ron Clarke has called for a referendum of ratepayers, the common practice before introducing fluoride to the water supply.
The ALP state conference resolved earlier this month to call on the state government to conduct an independent inquiry into all aspects of fluoridation.
Since 1963, state government policy has been to give local councils the decision-making power on the issue.
However, Mr Langbroek said Mr Beattie was ignoring advice from colleagues and medical specialists.
Fluoridation is backed by the World Health Organisation, Australian Medical Association and Australian Dental Association.
“The rest of Australia has had fluoridation for 40 years. This is the only state that doesn’t have it and our children have a decay rate 50 per cent higher than the rest of the country,” Mr Langbroek said.
“He has flicked it back to the councils like Pontius Pilate.”
Mr Beattie denied he was trying to “duck shove” responsibility.
He said there was no doubt dental health would benefit.
“But I wonder what other effects it has,” Mr Beattie said on Channel Nine.
But Mr Langbroek said his concerns were unmatched by scientists.
“This is scaremongering by people who want the status quo maintained,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Mr Beattie denied the ruling put him on a collision course with Mr Nuttall, saying he simply supported the existing situation of councils maintaining responsibility.