Letter | We need to focus on the process in fluoride decision

WHEN I first saw the letter in the Review titled “Allow the truth to prevail” (August 2), I started to peruse it with hopeful anticipation.

What a disappointment. Instead of it being an “about time” moment, it turned out to be more of the same propaganda that is now expected from this sector.

If it contained any truth, then it was so dented and damaged by it being carelessly mishandled that it was unrecognisable.

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The topics covered were wide-ranging in what appeared to me at the time to be in a self-justification style with a touch of bewilderment that it was not being appreciated that there were people who joined our community and had saved us from years of “self-denial”.

Most people will have seen the article and formed their own opinion. Those who may be confused as to what is really the case are able to research for themselves if they are interested. This democratic right to form a personal opinion is the part that this group do not seem to understand. 

On later reflection, I have come to the conclusion that this letter should not just be dismissed as just being about fluoride. Its main purpose, perhaps, is to keep the fluoride issue going to divert attention away from and protect the process and those individuals who delivered the outcome that was required.

It is understood that a belief was held that if those involved held the line and kept their heads down (probably on the advice of some government bureaucrat) that the issue would go away. In other areas this may be the case, but not in Oberon, where the community have a historical in-built need to see unfair treatment and injustice addressed.  

Now that the focus has moved back on to issues of due process and transparency, together with a developing perception that something may not be right, some involved now appear to be showing a degree of nervousness.

There may also be an indication of this in the “truth” letter with it being claimed that by asking for the community to be “given back our council” that I was suffering from “poor loser syndrome”.

A claim was also made that I had “backflipped” on supporting the action in which the council had engaged regarding fluoride.

These two claims are incorrect.

Similarly, the comments in the same letter supporting the Department of Health survey, and the bagging of the extensive survey implemented by council and monitored by senior council staff, are also mischievously placed.

No other purpose for doing this can be seen other than trying to provide some justification or basis for the council members making their decision.

I have always made it quite clear to everybody (including council) that I was neither pro nor anti fluoridation, although I had sympathy for the anti-group simply because of the disgraceful manner (again, my opinion) in which they had been treated and their opinion disrespected during the debate. 

My primary focus has always been on trying to ensure that due process and transparency guidelines are followed and that every effort is made so that minimal damage is done to community harmony. Or, to put it another way, “it is not what is done but how it is done”.

Any compliments that I gave at the council meeting related to the manner in which the general manager and staff had conducted themselves and the extensive information which they had provided for council consideration.

This included the survey ridiculed in an attempt to discredit it as it in no way supported the decision taken. This was a survey that I believe was instigated by council. Every submission was checked to ensure that regardless of the form of submission by an individual ratepayer, they were recorded and consolidated into one vote. Either YES or NO. Outside submissions were recorded separately.

From my recollection, this survey was about 70 per cent to 30pc against fluoridation. It is hard to understand that the writer of the “truth” letter would not be aware of this as she has direct access to an elected member. This information is in the attachment to the council business papers issued for the July meeting, report item 301, attachment 2.

As an indication of how definite the no vote was in this survey, it was then felt necessary to arrange for the Health Department to carry out a phone survey despite the fact that it was received after the one month time frame set by the council for submissions.

Not surprisingly, this survey is touted in the “truth” letter as being prepared using “scientifically valid methodology with data weighted to accurately reflect the demographics of the community”.

I leave it to others to make up their mind whether this is correct.

I would like to suggest when giving the matter some thought that it may also be worth considering that if this survey was conducted on scientifically valid methodology as suggested, then:

  • How did some people get contacted twice (landline and mobile)?
  • The logic of surveying 34 per cent of the people on town water with the remainder on alternative water supply.
  • How, if surveys of this nature are so dependable, did the Labor party not lose a seat in the recent byelection over four states when surveys predicted they would lose one, two or possibly more?
  • Is it only a coincidence that a similar result was obtained by a Department of Health survey carried out on behalf of a South Coast council when the community were also strongly opposed.

In summary, the fluoride decision is not the problem, it is an example of the cumulative outcome of:

  • Lack of consultation by the council with the community.
  • Transparency issues through closed discussions.
  • Sections of the community appearing to be allowed to disregard the opinions and democratic rights of those who hold a different point of view.
  • A lack of understanding of the cultural history and decision-making processes upon which the community’s expectations are based. This may be due to some not wanting to understand as it would only get in the way of them achieving their objectives.

I believe we now need to focus on a long-term solution if we are going to ensure the ongoing independence of our council.

Democracy is back on the agenda and the council can be part of a quick solution by reviewing their actions with greater attention to managing community perceptions and engaging in meaningful and open discussion with the community, not just the selected few.

The alternative longer term situation could result in ongoing disputation until at least 2020 and, in the interim, run the risk of losing the council’s independence.

One thing for sure is we don’t want people going around advising the outcome, and as in this case what the actual vote would be (and the names of the first four) of any community issue prior to it being raised in council.

Keith Sullivan