Garth George: Council vote nothing to smile about

By Garth George

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Garth George
Garth George

Let's put national politics aside for another week to take a look at local politics, the Rotorua District Council in particular.

Many years ago, a wise old mentor of mine told me: "Garth, as you travel through life you will discover that six out of 10 people are as thick as two short planks, three out of 10 know how many beans make six and one out of 10 knows where it's all at."

And, indeed, as I have travelled through life I have discovered that, if anything, six out of 10 might be a bit light.

As far as the Rotorua District Council is concerned, it is obvious that seven out of 10 councillors are as thick as two short planks and six out of 13 know how many beans make six.

The seven are those who voted against a binding referendum on fluoridation of Rotorua's water supply - which should have been done 50 or more years ago - and tried to cover themselves by insisting it was the central government's role to deliver such things.

They include Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, whose inexplicable change of sides tipped the vote.

The first thing I want to know is why the matter was ever debated for a second time. How come the six dissenting councillors in the first debate, which agreed to the referendum, were able to force a second debate using a notice of motion?

Does that, I wonder, pertain to all council decisions? Does a majority vote mean nothing to these people if they happen to disagree with it? No wonder what passes for democracy in this country is getting weaker as each year goes by. Mrs Raukawa-Tait said she had changed her mind because there was no real call from the community to debate the issue.

"We have got bigger issues to deal with, anyway," she said. "If central government thinks this is such a big health issue for the nation then they should take the lead on this."

And in the meantime thousands more children in Rotorua will grow up with poor dental hygiene and suffer at least 40 per cent more tooth decay than their peers in fluoridated areas.

The council faces no bigger issues than that as far as I'm concerned. To condemn further generations of little ones to rotten teeth is beyond understanding.

As the mayor of the South Taranaki District, Ross Dunlop, said when his council resolved to fluoridate water in Patea and Waverley a couple of years ago, fluoridation was the single most important thing the council could do to improve the oral health of children and adults.

And irrespective of how Mrs Raukawa-Tait thinks about it, fluoridation has been a local body concern for 60 years, ever since Hastings became the first to do it in 1954. Whether it might be someone else's responsibility is irrelevant.

Furthermore, the Rotorua Council has made this inexcusable decision in the face of referenda in Whakatane and Hamilton, which voted strongly to retain fluoride; and the failure of a High Court challenge to the South Taranaki decision brought by anti-fluoridationists last year.

When fluoridation was raised by the Ministry of Health and others qualified to pronounce on this matter earlier this year - and the Lakes District Health Board offered the council $50,000 to help pay for a referendum - the council should have said "Thanks, but no thanks" and taken the bull by the horns and voted all by itself to fluoridate.

After all, several generations of children and adults living in the 80-odd areas in New Zealand where water has been fluoridated for decades, have enjoyed tremendous benefits to oral health - and absolutely no deleterious effects whatsoever.

The Rotorua councillors who voted against even a referendum bring shame on this city and district.

- Garth George is a veteran newspaper journalist, retired and living in Rotorua. Contact him at garth.george@hotmail.com

- Rotorua Daily Post

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