8 Jun 2021

Water fluoridation bill back before Parliament

From The House , 6:55 pm on 8 June 2021

A bill transferring control of water fluoridation from local councils to the Director General of Health is back before Parliament this week.

First introduced under the National Government in 2016 the Health (Fluoridation of Drinking Water) Amendment Bill is now in the name of Labour MP an Associate Minister of Health, Ayesha Verrall. It's set to have its second reading this week.

Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall at the Covid-19 media update.

Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall has taken over the fluoridation bill Photo: RNZ / Sam Rillstone

The bill proposes to transfer the decision making power for fluoridation of water from local councils to District Health Boards (DHBs) but in April the Government announced the country's 20 DHBs would be disestablished and replaced with a central health authority, Health NZ.

To change the Bill so it transfers power to the Director General instead, a supplementary order paper (SOPs) will be attached to the bill.

SOPs are used by MPs to suggest or make changes to bills and are normally dealt with at the Committee of the Whole House stage which is where the House turns into a committee and works through the details of the bill. It's one of the last chance to make changes before a bill has its third and final reading in the House.

The SOP means the Bill would affect water supplied through a local authority supply which includes the infrastructure and processes that:

  • are used by a local government organisation to abstract, store, treat, transmit, or transport drinking water for supply to consumers; and
  • are controlled by a local authority

The Director-General of Health would have to take into account the oral health of a population group or community where the local authority supply is situated when making their direction.

A select committee process took place in 2017 which allowed experts, officials, and members of the public to submit and share their view on the bill to Parliament but the Bill has sat on the House's to-do list since then.

"It wasn't progressed during the last Parliament, we weren't able to reach agreement on it," said the Leader of the House Chris Hipkins who is in charge of deciding the order in which MPs will work on business while they're in the debating chamber.

Hipkins said the significance of the change that the SOP will make means they will ask the Health Select Committee to take another look at the suggested change.

Chris Hipkins speaks in an urgent debate on the travel bubble

The Leader of the House Chris Hipkins Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

"We won't be referring the whole bill back to them. The Minister will write to the select committee and say 'can you look at this specific issue, here's a copy of the supplementary order paper' and effectively ask them to conduct an inquiry into the supplementary order paper and report that back to the House before the bill goes through its remaining stages," Hipkins said. 

After its second reading the Bill will stay on the order paper while the select committee looks at the SOP. Hipkins said there will be an opportunity for the public to submit their view.

"It's a new and novel process, it's not something we've typically done before but it does mean that there will be public scrutiny of what is a reasonably substantial change to a bill that's been kicking around for awhile now,' he said.