Water Journal : Water Journal April 2011
community issues water APRIL 2011 151 Many reports contained multiple criteria but all had to be classified. In this sense, the method was determinist: mutually exclusive criteria categorised all newspaper reports. Standardisation of investigators' classifications was a concern, but a double-blind process involving two groups of assessors produced a 2% discrepancy, which was tolerated. All percentages in tables are rounded to the nearest whole number. Results The publication in December 2007 of 41 reports in 17 newspapers across Queensland (Table 2), including either editorial or opinion endorsement expressed in The Australian,15 The Courier Mail16 and several major provincials,17 18 19 20 confirms that Bligh's announcement was newsworthy. Moreover, The Courier Mail organised and published an online poll where "67% of the 4465 votes supported the move".21 While polls and editorials warrant cautious interpretation, the above evidence parallels Bligh's assertion of "public support" and lends weight to contemporaneous findings that suggested broad community support across Queensland.22 23 24 25 26 Tables 2 and 3 portray the chronological, geographical and numerical details of the reports. The numerical distribution of reports varies: from up to two in some local papers to 22 and 51 appearing in The Australian and The Courier Mail respectively. Papers in South-East Queensland published most reports. Discussion Fifty-five years after eminent engineer MA Simmonds formally called for fluoridation in Queensland,27 evidence in these reports confirms distinctive developments. For the first time, a Premier (Bligh: 191 mentions), a Minister for Health (Stephen Robertson: 39 mentions) and a Chief Health Officer (Dr Jaennette Young: 31 mentions) spoke in chorus with strong and public endorsement of this public health measure. Bligh, Robertson and Young were resolute and organised and their comments dominated the 25 pro-fluoride reports that appeared in December 2007. The virtual absence of reports regarding fluoridation in the preceding six months suggests that this announcement was well guarded and cautiously timed. Secondly, notwithstanding immediate opposition to fluoridation from councillors,28 29 30 the Local Government Association of Queensland, while retaining its policy requiring community approval of fluoridation by referendum,31 tolerated the decision.32 33 34 35 Thirdly, dentists and other health professionals were not the instigators of debate. Indeed, after over half-a-century of campaigning for fluoridation, their direct involvement was pointless and almost counter- productive. Many became passive observers of the "rollout." This partially explains the comparative decline (Table 6) in pro-fluoride reports after December 2007. Many of these developments were milestones in fluoride politics in Queensland. Bligh's announcement was also astute party politics: it re-opened historic problems for Liberal (generally advocates) and National (at best ambivalent) Parliamentarians. At the time, the Opposition Leader of the Liberal and National Parties, Mr Lawrence Springborg (National), faced inter- and intra-party tensions over potential amalgamation into the emerging Liberal National Party (LNP). Moreover in 2004, Liberal Member for Surfers Paradise Dr John- Paul Langbroek, who was the Opposition Spokesperson for Health, a dentist and a fluoride advocate, introduced a private members bill to mandate fluoridation across Queensland. The proposal failed spectacularly with a vote of 71-6 against. Only Liberals supported the move. This background could explain why Springborg made no published statement on fluoridation throughout December 2007. While Springborg eventually achieved 29 fluoride mentions in reports, most were in the neutral category. In December 2008, Springborg remained ambiguous, which view was noticed.36 37 38 He acknowledged an absence of Opposition policy, cited "freedom of choice" and promised to both "consult with communities before fluoride was added" and "revisit the issue where it was already being added to water supplies".39 In contrast, Langbroek (15 mentions), who would eventually replace Springborg as Leader of the LNP, heavily advocated fluoridation from the outset.32 33 34 35 40 Hence, Bligh's announcement was aligned with public opinion and generated obstacles for the emerging LNP. Many perceive election results, which implicate many issues, policies and strategies, as the litmus test for either political success or failure. On Monday 23 February 2009, Bligh announced a 27-day campaign for an election on 21 March. Throughout the campaign, only 24 fluoride-related reports (Table 4) appeared. The Bligh Government was Table 5: Chronology of publication with classification in numerals and percentages. Duration: Months of Year No of Reports Pro (%) Anti (%) Neutral (%) December 2007 41 24 (59) 5 (12) 12 (29) January to December 2008 165 30 (18) 95 (58) 40 (24) January to December 2009 169 26 (15) 100 (59) 43 (25) January to June 2010 30 4 (13) 21 (71) 5 (17) December 2007 to June 2010 405 84 (21) 221 (55) 100 (25) 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 2007 2008 2009 2010 Percentage of Reports [%] Comparing Annual Trends in Pro, An; and Neutral Reports [2007-2010] Pro-Fluoride Ar7cles An7-Fluoride Ar7cles Neutral Ar7cles Table 6: Comparing annual trends.
Water Journal March 2011
Water Journal May 2011