That, in view of conflicting evidence available on the value of fluoridation of water, this House is of opinion that the decision to introduce fluoride into the water in the Canberra area should be suspended.
I want to say, at the outset, that if water in the Canberra area should be fluoridated that will undoubtedly act as a spur to the introduction of fluoride into water throughout Australia. In my view, it would set the pattern for the commencement of fluoridation on a widespread scale. This motion is designed to cut off the introduction of fluoride into the water in the Canberra area. I have submitted the motion to the House because I believe there is anything but unanimity of medical opinion on this matter. I regard as one of the conspicuous fictions of our day the claim that there is complete unanimity on the matter of the value and benefit of fluoride in water supplies.
Before I proceed to submit the evidence regarding that opinion to the House for consideration, may I briefly say something about the question of numbers, because some of the most ardent protagonists of fluoridation say, “ In any eventuality, the great majority of medical opinion in this world is in favour of fluoridation “. It strikes me as being a strange display of intellectual honesty when the truth and the validity of any scientific matter should be and can bc determined merely by numbers.
I want to assume, for the purposes of my argument, that there is no disunity in this matter. I want merely to take the argument that the overwhelming number of medical practitioners take the view that the introduction of fluoride into water is of immense value. I am dealing now with the numbers argument. I want to remind those who embrace the argument that the overwhelming number of medical practitioners would have been prepared to certify to the professional incompetency of Lister, Jenner, Pasteur and Madame Curie. So I say to those who use the argument, “We have the numbers on our side in this matter “, that they should recall the fact that some of the most remarkable scientific discoveries of this age have been supported against numbers.
The adoption of any scientific truth and its installation as truth call, first, for intellectual honesty and then for an empiricism which is not to be denied. As an example of contrary opinion or opinion which would certainly build up some measure of doubt as to the value of fluoridation, the first person to whom I refer is Sir Arthur Amies. I interrupt myself to say that the readiness with which some of the protagonists of fluoridation say that those who are opposed to it or have any doubts about it are incompetent, bewilders and frightens me. They never deal with their opponents’ arguments; they deal only with their motives and character. Listen to what Sir Arthur Amies, professor of Dental Medicine and Surgery, Dean of the Faculty of Dental Science and Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne has to say in a paper delivered some years ago in Adelaide and published in “ Australian Dental Journal “ volume 4, No. 2, of April, 1959, on pages 76 to 85. I am sorry to weary the House with this, but one must be meticulous in this matter, a trait, I am unhappy to say, which is not always observed in some of the protagonists of fluoridation. This is what Sir Arthur Amies had to say in that paper –
I suggest therefore, that the time has come when we should be prepared to agree with the wise philosophic comment of the late Professor Brash: “ There comes a point in the history of any subject in which much of the discussion has been of a speculative nature, when it is essential to clear the ground; to examine critically general conclusions which are currently repeated; to probe the basis of facile hypothesis; and face with frankness the sometimes not very welcome fact that speculation, though it may on occasion anticipate discovery is no substitute for enquiry “.
He went on to say – 1 do not intend here to enter the fluoridation controversy as such, but I think all would agree that if we are to be forward-looking as a profession charged with advising the public concerning dental health, fundamental issues and their implications must be faced with scientific honesty. Fluoridation of domestic water supplies involves the administration with therapeutic intent of a chemical preparation to young and old dentate or edentulous, well and ill, without individual examination and regardless of individual desire.
If, therefore, people are to be asked to allow government medical instrumentalities to arrange such mass therapy, they have the right to be assured of at least two things – one, that the measure will bring about an economic worthwhile reduction in dental caries; the other, that it will be completely safe medically.
He continued – 1 submit that the dental profession is competent to deal wilh the first question but is not in a position to give an assurance concerning the second.
That is within the province of the medical profession.1- .’Next I refer- to a study made by Dr. Philip R. N. Sutton, Senior Research Fellow of the Department of Oral Medicine and Surgery, Dental School, University of Melbourne. I emphasize that the members of the Department of Statistics of the University of Melbourne have vouched for Dr. Sutton’s statistical survey. In his publication “ Fluoridation, Errors and Omissions in Experimental Trials “ Dr. Suttonreaches these conclusions –
Endorsements of the process of mechanical fluoridation of public water supplies rely mainly on five experimental trials.
The controls used in these studies are considered.
The reliability of the results reported is affected by:
odd experimental statistical methods;
failure to consider random variation and examiner variability, and to eliminate examiner bias;
commission of relevant data;
Controls were either doubtful or inadequate.
No control was employed in one trial.
The published data do not justify the statement that caries rates remained the same in control cities.
The sound basis on which the efficacy of a public health measure must be assessed is not provided by these five crucial trials.
My next reference is to the opinion expressed by Dr. Geoffrey Dobbs, Bangor University, Wales. He is a doctor of philosophy and a biologist of some standing, and I do not dismiss his opinion lightly. Dr. Dobbs has this to say –
The claim that fluoridation is one of “ nature’s experiments “ is not valid because the salts put into the water supply, sodium fluoride or silicofluoride, are industrial products never found in natural water of in organisms: They are, furthermore, notoriously toxic, sufficiently so to be used as rat poison or insecticide. Calcium fluoride, on the other hand, which is the form commonly found in natural waters, is not toxic enough for such uses.
– Who is this?
– Dr. Geoffrey Dobbs of the Bangor University in Wales. I come now to report No. 2500 of the United States House of Representatives Select Committee to Investigate the Use of Chemicals in Foods and Cosmetics. Inter alia, the report concluded –
None of the witnesses was irrevocably opposed to the principle of fluoridating water supplies for the purpose of reducing dental decay. It can be said that a number’ of scientists are opposed to the program at this time. In substance, their position is that there are too many unanswered questions concerning the safety of this procedure to permit recommendations to be made that would result in the consumption of fluoridated water by many millions of people every day of their lives.
In the same report, on page 7, we find this –
The advisability of fluoridating the public water supply of the Nation is essentially a local problem, to be determined for itself by each community. Your committee ls not recommending that Federal legislation be enacted in this field. The committee strongly urges, however, that research now under way be continued and expanded and that further studies, not limited to an examination of the vital statistics, be conducted to determine the long-range effects upon the aged and chronically ill of the ingestion of water containing inorganic fluorides.
A resolution passed by the conference of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons Incorporated is the next evidence that I submit for the consideration of the House. This is an organization made up of not one but 15,000 doctors, and this is what the resolution spelt out –
WHEREAS, the right to determine what shall be done to one’s own body is fundamental, and
WHEREAS, water is necessary for life, and
WHEREAS, many people are dependent 08 public supplies for water.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, Incorporated, assembled in San Francisco, California, this 12th day of April, 1958, condemns the addition of any substance to public water supplies for the purpose of affecting the bodies or the bodily or mental functions of the consumers.
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that copies of this resolution be transmitted to the President of the United States, the members of Congress, the Governors of the several states, and the mayors of our principal cities, and released to the media of public information.
The last evidence I submit for the consideration of the House is a letter published in “ New York Times “ on 19th July of this year. It is a letter written byDr. Ludwig Gross. To illustrate his competency, I point out that recently, on the recommendation of the World Health Organization, he was awarded a United Nations prize for bis research on cancer viruses. I mention that for the benefit of those who are disposed to traduce the professional competency of people who, if they have not voiced explicit opposition to fluoridation have at least sounded a warning on the matter. This is what Dr. Gross had to say –
I have been shocked by the uncompromising policy advocating fluoridation of the city’s .water supply system , expressed in your editorials.
I do not plan to question the merits of the application of fluorine as a measure against dental decay. I wonder, however, whether fluorine application is superior and more rational than other measures, such as curbing the excessive use of soft drinks containing a high content of sugar, trying to teach the population the importance of proper diet, improving personal dental care, etc.
Assuming that fluorine treatment is beneficial and safe, it should be applied on a voluntary basis. Anyone who wants fluorine treatment should be able to take this medication in tablet form, or have it applied on the teeth by his dentist.
In order to see the problem of fluoridation in its proper perspective it should be emphasised that fluorine is not added to the city’s water supply system in order to improve the water, to make the water safe from bacteria or more palatable for drinking. The sole purpose of the addition of fluorine is to use the water supply system as a vehicle for compulsory administration of this chemical to a captive population. Once we accept the principle ot a forced medication through the city’s water supply system, one could only speculate what will be the next suggested step in this direction. What other drugs will be suggested as beneficial and necessary?
Doctor Grove went on
The second point of considerable importance is that fluorine is a cumulative poison.
That is the doctor’s opinion, not mine. He further stated –
It is now suggested that one part per million of fluorine be added to the drinking water; assuming that the average consumption is approximately one quart a day a person. Nobody would recommend ten or fifteen parts per million of fluorine, because such a concentration would cause not only mottling of teeth, but other harmful effects such as osteosclerosis and would be potentially dangerous.
Doctor Grove concluded his letter by stating
New York City has one of the best drinking waters in the world. Let us keep this water clean, healthy and as free as possible from chemical additives.
I have referred to the fact that unfortunately some of the protagonists of fluoridation, if any person questions its medical effects, say, “ Overwhelmingly we have the numbers”. I have referred to that argument. I come back to the point that I object with bitterness to the way in which people will set out deliberately to smear and to slander those individuals who have reservations about fluoridation or who may have clear-cut opposition to it. I hope that I have shown to the satisfaction of honorable members that there is a division of opinion on the necessity for fluoridation. I, do not. adjudicate, on the -matter because
I am a layman, but if there is a division of opinion I think the issue should be settled before we proceed further with the matter.
Quite apart from the division of medical opinion, my objection to fluoridation rests upon fundamental questions of philosophy. I do not believe that this Parliament, as the National Parliament, should shrink from consideration of these fundamental questions because they involve the relationship of the State to the individual. Assume that fluoride is beneficial. Assume further that there is no division of medical opinion. These are two assumptions that I venture to suggest would be difficult to support. However, I put those assumptions as the basis of my argument. What a sad commentary it is on the vitality of a nation that enlightenment can come only by way of compulsion! The State says to-day, “ You must take this because it is in your interests to do so “. What is the State going to say to-morrow, in five years time or in fifteen years time? What is going to be the decision of the authorities of the day then? I do not regard the treatment of the word “ must “ with caution as an outward sign of social anarchism, but as a proper expression of independence.
One of the arguments of the protagonists of fluoridation is that X-ray examinations and vaccination are compulsory. However, compulsory X-ray examinations and vaccination are measures designed to harness or control contagious diseases, but fluoridation is intended to produce a positive physiological change within the body.
I am told, “You do not object to chlorination “. A lot could be said about that, but I merely refer the House to the report of the New Zealand commission on fluoridation, which refers specifically to the question of chlorination vis-a-vis fluoridation. The report states –
We think it necessary to refer to an argument put before us by some supporters of fluoridation that chlorination of water supplied is a process analogous to fluoridation and that the former process is accepted universally. The comparison is directed to the fact that chlorination aims at the prevention of disease by destroying germs in drinking water while fluoridation aims at the prevention of disease by making the task of germs in the mouth more’ difficult. .’ .
We do not accept the view of supporters of fluoridation that these processes are analogous. In the case of chlorination this action takes place outside the human body, while in the case of fluoridation the substance is intended to strengthen the resistance of teeth to the disease. The fact that each of the processes aims at preventing disease provides some similarity, but the methods by which this common aim is to be achieved are entirely dissimilar.
On the question of chlorination as opposed to fluoridation, I speak not as a chemist but merely as a layman. I can comprehend that when water containing chlorine is boiled the gas is driven out, but in the case of water that has been fluoridated boiling concentrates the salt.
Another argument put forward is: “You find in various parts of the world fluoride in natural form in the water”. I confess frankly that I am not impressed by the argument. I refer the House to the views put by Professor John Davidson of Vancouver. He pointed out that traces of a number of chemicals claimed to be medicinally useful occur in natural waters in various parts of the world. Where a trace of arsenic occurs, the people are said to be free of streptococcus boils and pimples; where the water contains magnesium sulphate, people and cattle are not troubled by constipation; and where the natural water contains a trace of fluoride, the children are said to have fewer cavities in their teeth. But it does not follow, the professor added, that we should resort to mass medication with all these chemicals because our natural water supply is free of them.
I come back to what is the essential feature of the fluoride issue – the question of compulsion. I hope that members of the House and people outside will take into account the considerations and submissions I have put forward. To-day it is the judgment of the state that fluoridation is good for you; ergo, anything that the state says is good for you must be done by you. I invite honorable members to take some heed of the fact that history enjoins us to recognize that to protect liberty calls for a keener sense of discipline than does the endurance of tyranny call for patience.
I come now to the argument that fluoridation is merely a display of benevolence on the part of the state. The state says, “ We are solicitous of your welfare; we want you to ensure that you have maximum good health “. If that is a genuine argument, I invite those who propound it to deny that refined sugar is deleterious to dental health. I invite them to say that soft drinks should not be sold. On the question of solicitude for the welfare of the people, I invite them to consider the mass of statistical evidence regarding smoking. I invite them to deny that alcohol taken in excess is dangerous to the human body. If there is to be solicitude on the question of dental care, why is there not solicitude on the questions of the effects of refined sugar, soft drinks, smoking and alcohol? I come back again and again to the thesis that the state knows best. For my part, I will attack it and attack it and attack it again, because it is the very opposite of the philosophy which I hold.
I refer the House to the concluding sentences of Aldous Huxley in his book “ Brave New World Revisited “. I hope that we have the sense and prescience to heed what he had to say. He wrote –
In my fable of Brave New World, the dictators had added science to the list and thus were able to enforce their authority by manipulating the bodies of embryos, the reflexes of infants, and the minds of children and adults. And instead of merely talking about miracles and hinting symbolically at mysteries, they were able, by means of drugs, to give their subjects the direct experience of mysteries and miracles – to transform mere faith into ecstatic knowledge. The older dictators fell because they could never supply their subjects with enough bread, enough circuses, enough miracles and ‘mysteries. Nor did they possess a really effective system of mind-manipulation. In the past free-thinkers and revolutionaries were often the products of the most piously orthodox education. This is not surprising. The methods employed by orthodox educators were and still are extremely inefficient. Under a scientific dictator education will really work – with the result that most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution. There seems to be no good reason why a thoroughly scientific dictatorship should ever be overthrown.
Meanwhile there is still some freedom left in the world. Many young people, it is true, do not seem to value freedom. But some of us still believe that, without freedom, human beings cannot become fully human and that freedom is therefore supremely valuable. Perhaps the forces that now menace freedom are too strong to be resisted for very long. It is still our duty to do whatever we can to resist them.
To which I add, Sir, this simple assent on my part: It would seem a trifle more than silly to become disenchanted with the responsibilities of a free society and to submit to the monotony offered by a completely planned society.
Mr SPEAKER (Hon Sir John McLeay: BOOTHBY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
– Is the motion seconded?
Mr Jeff Bate:
– I formally second the motion and reserve my right to speak later, Mr. Speaker.
Mr BEAZLEY: Fremantle
Mr. Speaker, I move
That all words after “ That “ bc omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: – “ a select committee be appointed to inquire into the advisability of introducing fluoride into the water supply of the Australian Capital Territory.
That the committee consist of seven members, four to be appointed by the Prime Minister and three to be appointed by the Leader of the Opposition.
That every appointment of a member of the committee be forthwith notified in writing to the Speaker.
That the chairman be one of the members appointed by the Prime Minister.
That five members of the committee constitute a quorum.
That any member of the committee have power to add a protest or dissent to the report of the committee.
That the committee have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit during any adjournment of the House and to adjourn from place to place.
That the committee report to the House as soon as possible.
That the foregoing provisions of this resolution, so far as they are inconsistent with the Standing Orders, have effect notwithstanding anything contained in the Standing Orders “.
The features of the amendment that are of a mechanical or organizational character will be clear.
The Federal Parliamentary Labour Party, at its meeting yesterday, decided that a select committee of this House should examine the proposed fluoridation of the water supply in Canberra. The Opposition is fully aware that the use of fluoride additives in water supplies has been authorized by Labour governments in New South Wales and Tasmania. However, it was felt that, in relation to the Australian Capital Territory, this Parliament fills the roles normally exercised separately by Federal and State Parliaments and by city councils. Many people have been disturbed by the campaign in opposition to fluoridation, and the community needs to be assured that the decisions taken at the administrative level are checked by all elements in this Parliament. If the case for fluoridation is overwhelming, the presentation of evidence before the proposed select committee, and a favorable finding by the committee, should reassure disturbed people. I do not anticipate any finding one way or the other. However, the Opposition feels that honorable members have not been given the pros and cons of this question in the House and that a committee of the House should examine them.
We presume that the motion proposed by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) in an effort to delay the adoption of fluoridation must have a purpose and that purpose must bc to have an investigation. We believe that any such investigation should be made by a committee of this House, which, alone, represents the Australian Capital Territory. The Senate has no part in that representation. The findings of the proposed committee would have an important influence on the question of fluoridation all over Australia.
– Is the amendment seconded?
Mr J R Fraser: ALP
– I second the amendment, Mr. Speaker, and reserve my right to speak later.
Mr FREETH: Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works · Forrest · LP
– Mr. Speaker, the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) spoke with a great deal of eloquence and a great deal of sincerity on a subject on which, obviously, he feels very deeply. I should like to say that this is a matter that has troubled me, as the responsible Minister, over a lengthy period, because, like the honorable member, I have been very keenly aware of acute divisions in the community on the subject. But I doubt very much whether the honorable member’s dismissal of the fact of fluoridation because divisions of opinion happen to exist is valid. I doubt very much, at this time, whether the motion or the amendment proposed by the Opposition will add very much to the total information on this matter now available to the community in reports of select, committees and royal commissions and in White Papers and the like. An enormous amount of literature and material based on scientific studies of almost every aspect of fluoridation of water supplies is available, and the canvassing of even one-tenth of that material during the brief time at my disposal to-day would not be within my capacity, Sir.
Let me first state the problem. It has been said in Australia that the teeth of Australians are among the worst in the world. This may be qualified in some way or other, but there is no doubt whatever that the Australian people suffer a great deal from dental decay. I have no reason to doubt the figures that have been given to me. They show that 99 per cent, of Australians under the age of twelve years have a substantial degree of dental decay. That is a very large percentage. Ninety per cent, of adult Australians under the age of 50 have lost all or a substantial number of their permanent teeth. This is a problem that, I think, calls for very close government consideration and, if possible, a fairly drastic remedy. The honorable member for Moreton referred to tobacco smoking being a cause of lung cancer, and the like. There are some analogies, but I think that, where an appropriate remedy is suggested, the Government has a duty to weigh the evidence as judicially as it can.
I shall now deal with the first remark that the honorable member for Moreton made. He said that we should not value mere numbers. Let me assure him that I do not believe that truth and validity are determined by mere numbers; far from it. But he himself will be well aware of the fact that, in courts of law, judges frequently have to consider and weigh the evidence of experts. There may be half a dozen experts on one side and half a dozen on the other, and, at some point of time, a layman has to weigh the value of their evidence. All I can say is that, on the weight of evidence, the value of the addition of fluoride to water supplies is proved beyond reasonable doubt and the dangers that have been mentioned are minimized.
I can deal with the matter only by describing some of the kinds of judgment that we have to exercise. In this matter, there are relative fields. First of all, there is the purely scientific field. On the question of the .effects of fluoride on the human body, we must look for scientific opinion. But, so many times, the opponents of fluoridation quote a scientist, a doctor or some other expert who has expressed a philosophical or an engineering opinion. So many times, the scientist claims a particular status for his view because he is a scientist and then states an argument that is neither scientific nor logical.
The honorable gentleman quoted Sir Arthur Amies, who said that speculation was no substitute for inquiry. I agree with that entirely. 1 do not smear these people who hold doubts about fluoridation. Some of them are most estimable people, but in many cases their logic can be refuted. He said that speculation is no substitute for inquiry. Well, there has been inquiry on a most massive scale throughout the world into this question of fluoridation. He says we have the right to be assured on two points, first that there will be a reduction in dental decay and, secondly, that fluoridation will be safe. As to a reduction in dental decay, all the weight of any judicial kind of consideration is to the effect that the addition of fluoride to water supplies in the proportion of one part per million will reduce dental decay in the population by from 60 to 70 per cent. That is quite a massive reduction. If you like to look at it in terms of hard cash, for every £1 that you spend on fluoridation of water supplies you will save £40 in dental bills.
One of the most interesting aspects of this matter, I think, is that dentists, almost world-wide, are in favour of fluoridation. It seems to me an odd thing that many people who are anti-fluoridation suggest that there are some hidden motives in the proposals to fluoridate water supplies. The British Dental Association and the Australian Dental Association are solidly behind proposals to fluoridate water supplies. Yet you hear – and I absolve the honorable member for Moreton in this connexion – the wildest statements made that this is a communist plot to stultify the minds of the population. Even if this were credible, it would be made more credible if the opponents of fluoridation did not shift their ground on it, because an alternative proposition is that this is a racket by the producers of aluminium to dispose of one of their by-products. Again, this is just not credible, and it is made even less credible because, as I say, it alternates with the communist plot theory.
You will find a great number of demagogues mounting platforms and asserting all kinds of wild propositions. I just mention in passing – and again I absolve entirely the honorable member for Moreton – that we often find that a man will get up on a platform with a little bottle in his hand to lend a touch of drama to the occasion. He will say, “Here is a bottle of sodium fluoride. It is marked ‘Poison’ in red letters. I challenge anyone who says fluoridation is safe to drink a teaspoonful of this mixture.” Of course he would be on safe ground, because a teaspoonful of that substance would be poisonous. But if a person were to drink that teaspoonful of sodium fluoride diluted with water in the proportion of one part per million, he would have to drink something like 50 bathtubs full of the mixture.
This is the kind of propaganda that makes it unsafe, in my view, to submit this question to a kind of public judgment. I realize that the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley), on behalf of the Opposition, does not want this matter to go to a referendum, and I think the Opposition is very wise in adopting that attitude. I know that the honorable member for the Australian Capital Territory (Mr. J. R. Fraser) has suggested a referendum. 1 am a little surprised at his doing so, but I feel that he is running away from having to make a decision one way or the other which is not his to make, and I can see some excuse for him on that account. You will find that this proposal for a referendum is brought forward by those same people who argue that you should not rely on mere numbers. Many of them will welcome a referendum because they can panic the population.
In most cases in which fluoridation as a proposition has been rejected, it has been rejected because of a most violent antifluoridation campaign, which has included all these panic propositions that I have referred to. This applies in some parts of America, where fluoridation has been adopted for a time and then has been rejected. The fact that this has happened has been one of the main arguments used by the opponents of fluoridation. They say, “ Why have so many American communities adopted fluoridation and then abandoned it? There must be something wrong with it.” But if you analyse every such instance you will find that the abandonment has been the result not of a scientific or judicial examination of the evidence, but as a result of political action, a political campaign involving all these grotesque statements to which I have referred, and also many others.
In trying to evaluate for the- House the scientific side of this question, I want to deal with some of the facts which have been alleged as to fluoride. First, it is not a cumulative poison. It passes through the human system very quickly indeed. The human skeleton merely absorbs an amount which is minimal compared with the amount which passes through the system. It is no more a poison than many other medicines or substances which are used by people to improve their health. Sodium chloride or common salt, iodine, strychnine, arsenic, digitalis and many other substances are beneficial in the right proportions or dilutions but are harmful when taken to excess.
It is also said that fluoridation increases the mortality rate from other diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, intercranial lesions, nephritis, cirrhosis of the liver and other diseases. In many communities where fluoride is present in the natural water supplies, or where it has been artificially introduced, there is no evidence of any significant difference in the mortality rate due to these diseases, as compared with other communities- and studies of this question have extended over periods of twenty years and more. I know that the honorable member for Moreton produced some statement by Dr. Sutton that statistical methods are not always soundly based. Even if we accept that argument, the weight of solid statistics on this question is still sufficient to say almost irrefutably that not only do you get the beneficial results claimed in relation to dental decay, but also that no harmful results follow.
Water supplies throughout the world contain fluoride in varying proportions. They vary from a minute proportion to one part per million, to a maximum of six parts per million in Great Britain, to fourteen parts per million in some parts of the world. In communities where the water supplies contain large proportions of fluoride, well above the recommended dilution of one part per million, the only ill effect has been a mottling or pitting of the teeth, but there has still been a beneficial effect in relation to dental decay.
Fears have been expressed that fluoridation makes the bones of elderly people brittle. All the evidence that can be produced indicates that it tends to toughen their bones, that it does not make them brittle, and that the benefits of fluoridation do not extend only to the relatively small proportion of juveniles in the community, but throughout the whole community.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock: LYNE, NEW SOUTH WALES
– Order! As it is now two hours after the time set down for the meeting of the House, the debate is interrupted.
Motion (by Mr. Howson) agreed to –
That the time for the discussion of notices be extended until 12.45 p.m.
– Whenever a proposal like this is before us argument rages as to the relative safety of it.
Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes:
– We have never previously had a proposal like this before us.
– No. The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) suggested that the fears of the Australian people would be allayed if a select committee of the Australian Parliament could examine this matter. With great respect I suggest that an examination by such a committee would do no more to allay the fears of anybody than would a close study of, for example, the document produced by the Ministry of Health in the United Kingdom on the conduct of fluoridation studies in the United Kingdom. An examination by a select committee would do no more to allay fears than a study of the findings of the New Zealand commission of inquiry in 19S7. An experimental area for fluoridation was set aside at Hastings, in New Zealand, six and a half years ago and an analysis of results there indicates that there has been a tremendous improvement in the teeth of people living in the area. The analysis shows that the incidence of permanent tooth decay among the population has been reduced from 24.4 in 100 to 6.3 in 100.
It is arguable that these statistics are in some way suspect because people move in and out of the area and one cannot say for how long some people have been drinking fluoridated water. In Australia we have areas, such as around Beaconsfied in Tasmania, where people have been drinking fluoridated water since 1953. For some years the people of Yass, Goulburn, Orange, Cooma, Condobolin and Tamworth in New South Wales and Bacchus Marsh in Victoria have been drinking fluoridated water. There is not the slightest shred of evidence to suggest that those people have suffered any harmful effects.
I do not have sufficient time to deal with the aspect of compulsion, but surely it is agreed that the liberty of the individual is subject to the right of the government to legislate for the good of the people as a whole. The overwhelming weight of evidence is that this is a matter which requires some government attention. After all, we legislate to compel a man who wants to go to sea in a boat to carry lifesaving equipment and we compel him to use a boat that complies with certain standards of safety. Are those requirements an infringement on the freedom of the individual to drown himself if he wishes? Of course, they are not. In the same way we believe that the Government clearly has an obligation and a duty to take this action on behalf of the whole of the community.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER:
– Order! The Minister’s time has expired.
Mr J R Fraser: ALP
– The arguments put forward by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Freeth) reveal a line of thinking that is both dangerous and frightening. I have never sought to dodge this issue of the addition of fluoride to Canberra’s water supply. I have said, and I say again, that I accept in general the weight of medical evidence which suggests that the addition to the diet of fluoride in some shape or form is beneficial in reducing the incidence of dental decay but I think we are entitled to have some reservations on the matter, bearing in mind recent disclosures about the effects, for example, of thalidomide and phenacetin, which doctors have been prescribing for many years. I do not think we should be obliged to accept without question the views that have been put forward by the Minister in his advocacy for the addition of fluoride to Canberra’s water supply. If we accept that fluoride is beneficial to the growth of healthy teeth, I still maintain my very strong personal objection to the means by which it is proposed to administer the fluoride, namely by adding it to the water supply. I object to being required to take a medicament which I would not myself choose to administer. The Minister’s illustration of a man being required to wear a lifebelt when he goes to sea in a boat is hardly apposite. I accept the compulsory examination for tuberculosis, which is a communicable disease. I accept vaccination for diphtheria, which again is a communicable disease. I accept the quarantine regulations which are designed to protect the community. But I suggest to the Minister and to those others who advocate the addition of fluoride to the water supply that teeth are essentially a matter for the individual. If I have bad teeth somebody else cannot catch decay from me. I do no harm to the community at large.
– You become a charge on the community and the health services.
Mr J R Fraser: ALP
– The Minister is entitled to that comment if he wishes to have it. He could, if he wishes, take that argument a good deal further. He could take up the points made by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen). If the advocates of fluoride are serious, let them really tackle the things that harm the community. Let them tackle the scourge of cancer. I do not doubt the medical evidence that the smoking of cigarettes is conducive to lung cancer. Let the Government say that it will not permit people to smoke cigarettes. Would that not be a logical extension of the argument the Minister has used in relation to the addition of fluoride? Is it not recognized that wholemeal bread is vastly better for people than is white bread? Would it not then be logical for big brother to demand that people eat nothing but wholemeal bread? Is it to be admitted that alcohol is harmful to the human system? If it is accepted that alcohol is harmful to the human system, could we hot have an ordinance in the Australian Capital Territory banning the consumption of alcohol except under medical direction, or would the drinking of beer be encouraged provided the beer was made from water that had been fluoridated? Those are all logical extensions of the type of argument used by the Minister – that the Government must legislate for the benefit of the individual; that it must decide what things are best for the individual and must compel him to do those things.
For years in Australia we have sought to discourage the smoking of cigarettes by young people in an endeavour to protect their health, but when they reach sixteen years of age we allow them to make their own decisions. In this matter the Minister will say that in order to protect the teeth of children the Government will add fluoride to the water supply and will compel people to drink fluoridated water for the rest of their lives. Already, in order to combat the presence in this area of goitre, iodized salt is added to the flour from which our bread is baked. If we take this argument a little further – I submit this is logica] although it sounds farfetched – should we not introduce legislation banning the consumption of sweets and chocolates because they are harmful to teeth, or should we continue to permit the merits of different brands of sweets and chocolates to be advertised and then put fluoride into the water in order to counteract the harmful effects of the chocolates and sweets that we have consumed?
If the Minister wants everybody to have good teeth, would it not be more logical to include the fluoride in the sweets, chocolates and other items in the diet which cause harm to the teeth? Will the Minister admit that the aboriginal people of this country do not have bad teeth and that the diet is the cause of bad teeth? I could go on with this style of argument for a long time. The pros and cons of the medical evidence could be argued for weeks and months. I do not doubt that they will be. But I object most strenuously to a decision of this kind being imposed on the community from above without the community being given any opportunity to express its views on the matter.
There is an analogy. If we suggest an amendment of the Australian Constitution, it is obligatory for the Government to prepare a case for and a case against, to put those cases in the hands of the electors and to require the electors to vote. For an amendment to bc carried there must be a majority of the people in a majority of the States in favour of it. Apparently the people of Australia can be trusted to sum up the case for and the case against an amendment of the political Constitution and to vote on it, but they cannot be trusted to weigh the pros and cons of a decision that will affect the human constitution.
I could say a great deal more on this subject. Personally, from the evidence I have studied, I accept that the weight of medical evidence indicates that fluoride added to the diet in some way or other does improve dental health; but I maintain the reservations that I have stated. I object most strenuously to the means by which it is proposed to force fluoride, this medicament, on the people of the Australian Capital Territory. Because the time allotted for this debate will expire in four minutes and because I believe it is important that there should be a vote on the matter now before the House, I move –
That the question be now put. (A division having been called for, and the bells being rung)-
Mr J R Fraser: ALP
– Mr. Deputy, Speaker, I ask whether, under the terms of the Australian Capital Territory Representation Act, the member for the Australian Capital Territory may vote on the question now before the House.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER:
– The member for the Australian Capital Territory is not entitled to vote on this question.
Question put. The House divided. (Mr. Deputy Speaker – Mr. P. E. Lucock.)