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Last July, Auckland City councillors chickened out of a vote on fluoridating Onehunga's water supply.

Instead, they kicked for touch and agreed to spend $45,000 on public consultation.

What an expensive rod for their backs that decision was.

The results are in, and the flat-earthers against fluoridation have scored a substantial 62 per cent versus 33 per cent victory.

Of course the council insisted at the time of the poll that it was non-binding. I am also sure that pro-fluoridaters will point to the fact that only a third of the 12,840 ballot papers were returned, giving it as a reason to reject the results of this non-poll.

But legitimate referendum or not, the result is a political victory for opponents of fluoride which nervous election-year councillors will find hard to ignore.

After all, the 34 per cent turnout is more than respectable, on a par with the 37.9 per cent who voted in last November's Avondale-Roskill byelection.

It is also close to the 39.6 per cent of Papakura residents who voted in the binding fluoridation referendum last November. In that case, 59.5 per cent supported fluoridation.

Just why Auckland City chose this method of public consultation beats me. Councillors must have known that the vast majority of citizens who either don't care, or expect their representatives to just get on and do the right thing, would not reply.

A more accurate gauging of public opinion would have been to conduct a random opinion poll.

This still raises the question of why polling on such an open-and-shut public health issue should be thought necessary.

I am as much a democrat as the next person. But the thought of living in the sort of purist democracy where everything is decided by popular referendum is very scary.

It might slow things down a bit, but I prefer my democracy to have a layer of politicians and bureaucrats and judges between the talkback mob and myself.

If fluoridating the water supply is a good thing, and scientifically proven to be so, surely they should just get on and do it.

Why councillors continue to be intimidated by the anti-fluoride conspiracists is one of politics' little absurdities.

It is as though the councillors take seriously the conspiracists' proposition that, for nearly 50 years, generations of medical officers of health and water engineers have been deliberately and intentionally poisoning their fellow citizens.

In Auckland the situation is even sillier. From Otahuhu across to Avondale, citizens are fed fluoridated water without any suggestion from elected officials that it is a bad thing. But when it comes to the little enclave of Onehunga, procrastination reigns.

The reason is historical. The old borough had its own underground water source, and local activists see retention of this water supply as a mark of independence from the wider city.

They also claim it is purer, bubbling up from an underground spring, and they do not want it sullied by introduced pollutants like fluoride.

The truth is, the famed spring water is not quite as pure as they make out. It comes from an aquifer running down from One Tree Hill and surrounding areas.

Apart from anything else, the spring water has high nitrate levels which, given the urban surrounds, probably come from broken sewer pipes. But let us not go down that path.

In 1989, before amalgamation, Onehunga voted against fluoridating its water supply. Over the years, proponents have fought to overturn this decision. Nine months ago they were back before the city council.

It wimped out by calling for consultation. The results of this go before the next Maungakiekie Community Board meeting. The city council works committee gets a report on March 7.

Despite the non-binding poll results, it's a no-brainer. Fluoridation of our water supplies since 1954 has led to a dramatic reduction in tooth decay.

Health Ministry figures show that Onehunga 5-year-olds have more rotten teeth than their mates in fluoridated Mt Roskill.

Bottled fruit juices and sports drinks have in recent times become an additional threat to young teeth, but that has not lessened the need for fluoride.

The rest of Auckland benefits from this public health measure; it hardly seems fair that Onehunga children continue to miss out.

It is time to call the anti-fluoriders' bluff and demand they produce a local victim or two.

For all their wailing, I can't recall them ever managing that.