Giving up your citizenship is a hard thing to get your head around if you were born in Australia.
Generally speaking, being born in Australia is the Wonka Golden Ticket of citizenship.
I guess there are Australian’s that renounce their citizenship – Rupert Murdoch comes to mind, but Aussie’s choosing citizenship of another country over the green and gold isn’t something you come across or hear about.
Other people becoming or wanting to become an Australian citizen is much easier to understand.
Around this great southland, 13,000 people made a pledge to Australia and its people on January 26, 11 of those in Bega, people born at all points of the global compass.
Nationally, people of Indian descent were the second largest group to take part in citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day behind the British, something that was reflected locally.
Indian born Bega residents, Dr Krishnankutty Rajesh, Parvathy Rajesh, and Kiran Rajesh, along with Cobargo’s Pavan Tenali are now Australian citizens.
“This is a lovely community and very peaceful, a good place to stay,” Pavan says.
With Australian Crawl’s hit “Boys Light Up” playing in the background, Pavan tells me he has been in Australia for 10 years, in recent years working at the Cobargo Service Station.
“India is a good place too, but now I live here and the feeling is good,” he says.
Skype helps Pavan keep in touch with his large family in India, he says they are very happy for him and support his decision to become an Australian citizen.
“It was a big decision, but I am very happy, my family have peace of mind.”
India and the United Kindom weren’t the only nations represented in Bega, others pledging loyalty to Australia’s democratic beliefs, rights, liberties, and laws came from Thailand and the United States.
With the day’s soundtrack moving along to Men at Work, Saul Nightingale says his heart has always been Australian.
“I moved here when I was five, that’s forty years ago,” Saul smiles.
“Mum and Dad are from the UK and they just saw the way things were going there, they thought this is not a place to bring up a family, in terms of opportunity, safety, and employment.
Saul calls Bermagui home now and when he isn’t playing music he works for the not-for-profit training organisation – The Centre for Community Welfare Training.
“My earliest memory of Australia was pulling into Sydney Harbour on the P&O Canberra on a stunningly beautiful day, Sydney was showing off, Australia made a pretty good first impression,” Saul laughs.
While becoming an Australian citizen was a formality for Saul, it was something that came with a sense of duty.
“I have a responsibility to have a say politically, as all Australians do,” he says.
“It’s all very well to talk about politics and to support certain causes but if you can’t actually put a vote to that then there’s a level of hypocrisy there.”
Merimbula’s Brittany McConnell has been in Australia for six and half years with her Australian husband, her background is a jumble of the United States and England.
“It is a big decision to take Australian citizenship, but now I just feel so happy and proud, it feels amazing,” Brittany says.
Like Saul, this nurse from Pambula Hospital is looking forward to having her say.
“Back home you don’t actually have to participate [vote] if you don’t want to, so it’s quite nice to feel that obligation and be involved in decisions and feel like you have a voice,” she says.
As the band starts with Mondo Rock, I chat to Jason Badham who was born in the United States and has found love, life, and work in the Bega Valley.
Living in Wolumla, Jason is a website designer with 2pi Software.
“I’ve been thinking about taking out citizenship for almost eight years, but the final decision came at the end of January 2017, ” Jason says.
The Trump inauguration seems to have played a part in Jason’s decision but more so the influence of his Australian partner Kirsten.
“I was in the States and I discovered my wife here in Australia because she was breeding the same kind of parrots that I was, I found her website and it was an encyclopedia of information,” Jason says.
“One thing led to another, I helped her build a website, we started having a friendship and I decided to come over here – it’s the best choice I ever made.”
Australia Day remains a tangle of issues yet to be sorted, but the role the citizenship ceremony plays is beyond question. Those who already have Australian citizenship are reminded by those who are new to it why Australia is such a good place to be and why diversity makes us stronger.
FAN cites a series of scientific studies that point to negative health effects related to fluoride. Yet the World Health Organisation cites fluoridation of water as, “the most effective public health measure for the prevention of dental decay.”
The ingredients of this debate are a potent mix of conflicting evidence, with added fear, and a rather large ethical grey area.
It’s murky and hard to navigate.
Yet if you can familiarise yourself with this tricky landscape, you can start to make sense of the different perspectives people have on this issue, and perhaps take some of the fear out of the equation.
It turns out that scientific studies, the foundation stones of public health debate, are not always as rock solid as they seem.
While the fluoride debate touches on personal choice, welfare, and economics; scientific studies are a central part of pro and anti-fluoride argument.
A body of studies has been cited by the Fluoride Action Network pointing to potential effects of fluoride such as reduced IQ in children, obesity, and even cancer.
But with so much at stake, how do you navigate the conflicting “evidence” that we’re finding?
Where better to begin than Google Scholar?! Google’s search engine for published academic studies. What happens when you search for “fluoride and IQ”?
Looking through the studies that have linked fluoride to lower IQ in children, one thing stands out – most studies that popped up didn’t test for other factors that could affect IQ.
Many studies were from China, India, or Mongolia, and compared towns that fluoridated water supplies with those that didn’t.
However, they didn’t check for other differences between the towns – levels of poverty, nutrition, potential lead and arsenic poisoning, all of which can affect the IQ of children.
This is like blaming weight gain on exercise, without considering diet.
These studies simply don’t meet the criteria needed to inform sound decision-making, yet they are published online alongside studies of higher quality.
Twenty low-quality studies that link lower IQ and fluoride, alongside only one quality study that finds no link, can look like strength in numbers and cast the wrong impression.
Assessing evidence doesn’t work like that. It’s not like voting. One study is not necessarily worth the same as another.
The problem is that scientific investigations can be carried out and published (particularly online) by any scientist, from any organisation. Most are carried out with noble intentions, but even noble intentions can be fed by bias – if you’re passionate about a cause, or feel that you’ve found an important link, established scientific practices might fall by the wayside.
Dr Wakefield and his colleagues felt that they’d found an important link after reviewing the cases of eight people who’d been diagnosed with autism within a month of receiving the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine.
The investigation was found to be riddled with problems; their medical assessments and analysis of results were described as incomplete and biased.
Much of the criticism of Dr Wakefield’s study suggested it ignored statistical significance.
Given that 50,000 children per month were vaccinated with MMR in England at the time, eight presentations of autism were not enough to establish a link.
Statistical significance is needed for a scientific result to have meaning. Where health is concerned, this usually means two things – that a lot of people were tested and the results were strong enough to discount coincidence and other confounding factors, such as nutrition and lead in the IQ example.
Dr Wakefield’s study was discredited, and wide scale, high-quality studies were carried out that found no link between autism and vaccination. But his study was already fuelling the fears of parents across the globe.
When something appears to threaten the health of children, it can achieve notoriety.
It’s important to carefully examine the information you are given or find yourself, but how do you sift through the jargon, the publications, the conflicting evidence?
Putting your fear aside, how do you know what and who to trust?
“While I’d love to say that I have the capacity to truthfully assess the veracity and rigour of all research that’s available online, I simply don’t have that capacity. In fact, no one does,” he says.
“Instead we’re all forced to use the decision-making heuristics we’ve always used, typically though not exclusively, trusting a variety of voices in our networks that know better.”
Dr Grant says that we rely on institutions to process this information for us.
“But if I’m a person who doesn’t trust these institutions – and the number of people who don’t trust the central institutions of society is growing globally – then I’m going to trust other things,” he says.
Other things might include organisations like FAN, who question the reliability of institutionalised knowledge.
The FAN website claims it, “develops and maintains the world’s most comprehensive online database on fluoride compounds.”
Despite making this claim, they don’t give you a comprehensive review of the quality of materials in their database.
The Australian Government’s National Medical Health Research Council (NHMRC), is a not-for-profit research organisation that draws on the expertise of people tied to the University of Melbourne, Royal North Shore Hospital, The Cancer Council, Alfred Hospital, and Monash University, among other organisations.
Firstly, it assesses the quality of studies looking into the effects of fluoridation on dental caries (decay) and other symptoms from 2006-2015, and walks through them bit by bit, weighing up their value without apparent bias.
Secondly, its conclusions reflect the “greyness” of this debate. The NHMRC says the evidence appears to indicate that Australian water fluoridation standards are safe, while also suggesting there are gaps in the research.
The recommended level of fluoridation is shown to give a 35% reduction in dental caries. This is a significant number, as it means that more than a third of dental decay can be prevented by adding fluoride to a water supply.
This has knock-on effects for the rest of a person’s health and reduces financial pressure on individuals and the economy by cutting down on visits to the dentist.
The report also shows that recommended fluoride levels can increase the incidence of tooth discolouration due to fluorosis (a chronic condition caused by excessive intake of fluoride compounds, seen as mottling of the teeth) by around 12%.
The NHRMC document also gives many of the scientific reports presented in this debate a confidence grading.
The low overall confidence grading of the reports that raise concerns about cancer and IQ perhaps take some fear out of the equation, as the ratings are low enough to discount many of the studies altogether.
The presence of studies of higher quality (ie more thorough and more reliable) have tipped the balance of evidence away from such matters of concern.
However, if the NHRMC also suggests there are gaps in the research, why can’t we just test for the negative health effects that fuel much of the fear in a robust credible way?
In Australia, people are exposed to fluoride in a number of ways, including in toothpaste and tea, and it naturally occurs in the environment around us. This means that a person’s previous exposure to fluoride is very difficult to determine. To find a bunch of people who have never been exposed to fluoride as a control group, and then to test the effects of drinking fluoridated water on them, is extremely challenging.
And as the studies linking fluoride and IQ in China, India, and Mongolia show us, these studies are problematic because there are so many other factors that can contribute to influence a person’s health.
Finding the fluoride link is not easy.
The NHMRC review gives us an indication of which way the evidence is swinging – and it’s telling us that fluoridation of our water supply will give us healthier teeth and that the only side effect of significant concern is discolouration caused by fluorosis.
It also tells us that other side effects are most likely not going to happen at Australian levels of fluoridation.
Our personal views on fluoridation are important and varied and can’t be discounted.
But it is important that we are able to critically assess the information that is given to us. If we can’t do this on our own, we can at least have a look at how others have reviewed it and make sure that we’re satisfied with how they’ve done it, which perhaps takes some of the fear out of the equation.
*Kate Burke is completing her Masters in Science Communication through the Australian National University