Fluoride Action Network

Why the empty chairs filled a room with vitriol

Source: The Warrnambool Standard | August 22nd, 2007
Location: Australia

AS far as symbolism goes, it was powerful.

An empty row of seats sat at the front of the stage, bearing the names of local and State Government figures and fluoride advocates who didn’t attend the public meeting.

The absentees squarely in the firing line were Warrnambool’s seven councillors who have backed the move to fluoridate the city’s water supply.

Mayor David Atkinson had declined because his position was publicly known and it clashed with the council’s regular Monday planning meeting.

But as the night progressed, the vitriol directed at those specific seats only grew louder.

And it was former mayor, the ever-popular Frank McCarthy, who raised the 800-strong crowd to rapture when he declared his disdain for the council.

“I think they have let us down. It is disheartening and sad really,” he told The Standard yesterday.

“It is sad that the Government and all these intelligentsia don’t want to listen to the people… when they want to erode our freedom of choice.”

Mr McCarthy was one of several ex-councillors who turned out for the city’s biggest-ever public meeting on Monday.

John Kenneally, Charlie Brown, Les Hawkins and 91-year-old Jim Leahy were on hand to hear residents’ concerns.

Given the lack of current councillors to hear the public’s anger, it was the old guard that was delivered the message.

“There was a real strong groundswell last night to introduce a vote of no confidence in the council,” Mr Kenneally said yesterday.

“And a lot of people want to know how to go about it.”

Mr Kenneally is critical of the council’s handling of the hot issue, describing it as pathetic, lacking backbone and arrogant.

“I think it is an insult to former councillors, who helped build the reputation of this city, that they have taken this soft approach,” he said.

Mr McCarthy said he wasn’t in the business of pouring scorn on the council but felt it had failed its primary task to represent voters.

“This is what we are paying them for – to be the people’s representative,” he said.

Dr Natalie Ryan, an anti-fluoride voice, delivered a similar sentiment.

“If the council won’t represent us, then we have just got to represent ourselves,” she said.

Whether the depth of the ill-feelings carries into next year’s council elections remains to be seen.

But with Fluoride Action Group founder Peter Hulin intending to stand, his chances of gaining a chamber seat have risen.