Hopes dashed as fluoride kept out of water
It was D-day for Hamilton's fluoride saga: Deferral day.
Those hoping the council would swiftly abide by the results of October's public referendum, which found the majority of the city's residents wanted fluoride returned to their water supply, had those hopes dashed as Hamilton City Council opted instead for a wait-and-see approach.
The High Court in Taranaki has been hearing a legal challenge by an anti-fluoride group against the South Taranaki District Council's decision to fluoridate water supplies.
That group, Health New Zealand, has argued adding fluoride to water breaches section 11 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, which gives people the right to refuse to undergo medical treatment.
Hamilton City Council's lawyer had told councillors before the vote they had no legal obligation to delay their vote.
However, delay their vote they did, opting 7-5 to defer their decision until after the High Court judge announced his reserved decision - which could be well into the new year.
Under the gaze of a packed public gallery and the nation's media, councillors at yesterday's meeting slammed on the brakes, just when it seemed they might finally be arriving at the fluoride saga's conclusion.
At the start of the debate Deputy Mayor Gordon Chesterman moved for the council to re-commence fluoridating - overturning a 7-1 decision in June by an eight-member council tribunal to remove it from the supply.
Although he was one of the seven who voted fluoride out in June, Mr Chesterman said the comprehensive referendum result had altered his perspective.
"I will no longer impose my personal view on the majority of citizens," he said.
But Mr Chesterman was soon thwarted by an amendment proposed by councillor Margaret Forsyth to defer it until after the Taranaki case had been resolved.
"The most prudent action is to defer," she said.
"If the High Court holds that fluoride is in breach of the Bill of Rights . . . that has implications for all councils."
Cr Forsyth was supported by Cr Angela O'Leary.
"We need to rein in the train and take a slow and steady approach," she said.
Justice Rodney Hansen could take some time on his decision whether to proceed to a full judicial review in the STDC versus Health New Zealand case - and it may not be announced by the time of the next Hamilton council meeting on January 30.
The council's deferral means a proposal, costed by council staff at between $200,000-$300,000, to install an unfluoridated tap at the water treatment plant will also have to wait to be appraised by the city's elected officials.