Australia’s shark-punching outlaw spirit is losing its battle with the nanny state

Last September, a 20-year-old man was retrieving a goose he had shot in Australia’s Northern Territory when a crocodile dragged him by his right arm into some wetlands with a view to eating him. Undaunted, the man poked the croc in the eyes and escaped. Covered in teeth and claw marks, he made his way to an outstation, medicated himself with Carlton Dry beer and was visibly intoxicated by the time the police arrived. Offered a lift to hospital by air ambulance, he insisted on driving instead.

Time magazine described this gentleman as the ‘world’s most Australian man’, but his no-nonsense outback spirit is becoming a remnant of the past in an increasingly risk-averse nanny state. A manically interventionist Labor government was removed from office in 2013 but the paternalism remains. Go to any Australian city and you will be surrounded by signs telling you what you can and can’t do. In Sydney, it is illegal to buy a shot of alcohol after midnight and those who want to smoke must not only go outside but also be seated. You can no longer buy a drink anywhere in Australia’s biggest city after 3am. Vaping is banned indoors in several states and it is illegal everywhere to sell e-cigarette fluid if it contains nicotine, which is rather the point of e-cigarette fluid.

It’s not just health and safety. In June, the Senate voted to tighten up the country’s notorious internet filter. Australia has the longest list of prohibited video games in the world (with the possible exception of China) and has banned more than 200 since March 2015. Other proposals that have not yet become law include breathalysing pedestrians and banning jogging at lunchtime.

One politician has had enough and has launched an official Senate inquiry into the nanny state. Senator David Leyonhjelm’s Inquiry into Personal Choice and Community Impacts will pay particular attention to alcohol, tobacco, e-cigarettes, marijuana, bicycle helmets, and censorship classifications, but he encourages Australians to come forward with information about ‘anything that restricts their personal choice’.

As the sole elected representative of the Liberal Democratic Party, the chances of Leyonhjelm’s investigation leading to far-reaching liberalisation are slim, but he believes that some reform is possible. ‘Australia has three levels of government, all of which like to meddle in our lives,’ he tells me, ‘so it’s no easy task to untangle all the legislation, but this is the first inquiry of its type in Australia and we are confident it will have a significant impact. The Senate inquiry will look at the impact of legislation restricting personal choices for “the individual’s own good” and make recommendations. This may lead to some legislation being repealed or amended.’

One man’s nanny state law is another man’s sensible regulation. How does he distinguish? ‘It can be a fine line,’ he concedes. ‘But broadly speaking, we define it as when someone restricts your personal choices — even though they affect no one else — for your own good. Australia and New Zealand are the only countries that have laws mandating the wearing of bicycle helmets, for example. Perhaps we need helmets, however, due to the risk of running into a sign telling us what we’re not allowed to do. People I know have been pulled over by motorcycle coppers with sirens blaring for not wearing helmets. It’s ridiculous.’

It is not just ridiculous, it is also counter-productive. After Sydney introduced a helmet law in 1991, the number of cyclists on the roads plummeted because many erstwhile cyclists couldn’t or wouldn’t buy a helmet. Research has shown that cycling becomes more dangerous when there are fewer bikes on the road and motorists tend to leave cyclists less room when they are wearing a helmet. The result? Fewer people got to enjoy the health benefits of cycling and there was a higher rate of accidents among those who remained.

Such unintended consequences are common, but the architects of the nanny state are never around to pick up the pieces. When the tax on alcopops was hiked up by 70 per cent in 2008, there was a wholly predictable rise in the sale of spirits and mixers. A few weeks ago, when the government of New South Wales banned smoking in outdoor dining areas of cafés and bars, owners responded by banning customers from eating outside, thereby turning dining areas into smoking areas. It is safe to presume that this was not the legislators’ intention, but then it wasn’t the intention of politicians in Victoria to spark a full-blown riot when they banned smoking in prisons a month ago. Nevertheless, that is what happened.

Australia’s intolerance of e-cigarettes is another example of paternalistic regulations backfiring. ‘There is a real problem with treating e-cigarettes in the same way as combustible tobacco,’ says Leyonhjelm. ‘Many people have been able to quit smoking using e-cigarettes, and a lot of public health advocates maintain that e-cigs are better quitting tools than patches or gum. Unfortunately, Australia’s public health establishment seems immune to evidence on this.’ As for smokers, they have become ‘pariahs who have virtually nowhere to smoke. Due to exorbitant taxes, Australia has the second most expensive cigarettes in the world after Norway. This can be a very significant burden for poorer families — it’s a regressive sin tax.’

How has it come to this? What happened to Australia’s shark-punching outlaw spirit? ‘Australians like to present themselves as rugged individualists, but the fact is it’d be against the law for Crocodile Dundee to use a knife to protect himself in Sydney. Australian governments at all levels suffer from the belief that whenever something bad happens that “something must be done”. We also have very effective lobbyists of all kinds who are always telling politicians that “something must be done”. There have always been libertarians in Australian politics, but no united voice to suggest that something need not be done. The result is that successive governments have done many things we don’t need and that restrict our personal choices.’

Leyonhjelm may be fighting a lost cause, but he is not alone in having become weary of his country’s relentless intrusion into personal lifestyles. A 2010 survey found that 55 per cent of Aussies thought their country had become a nanny state and 73 per cent felt that the government was too busy controlling people’s daily lives to deal with important issues such as crime and education (British public opinion is much the same). Leyonhjelm’s inquiry may or may not not lead to legislation being repealed but by putting the issue under the microscope, he will require advocates for greater regulation to justify themselves. Agents of the nanny state jump from one campaign to another without making any serious attempt to assess the costs and benefits of the mountain of legislation they have already created. Thanks to Leyonhjelm, they will now be asked to reflect on what they have done.


  • d’Beer

    Only when the last authoritarian MP is dragged from office, hissing and thrashing about violently in a fetid pool of negative press and public opinion can the Australian people liberate our nation and fulfill the Honourable Senator Leyonhjelm’s prophecy of repealing unnecessarily restrictive legislation.

    The paternalistic ideology must be torn from the soft heart of Australia with the cold, implacable determination of a skilled surgeon.
    Bring forth the glorious new dawn under which our people can reconquer this country with the firm benevolent hand of tempered libertarianism and individual accountability.

    • LoggerheadShrike

      You fruitcakes can keep your firm benevolent hands to yourselves.

      • “Fruitcakes.” Oh, how original for a socialist useful idiot. Not. Ding-dong: it’s Pavlov’s bell – if you believe in freedom, national sovereignty, profit from business and personal responsibility you are a “fruitcake”.

        It is, of course, normal now for a grown man or woman to still want a nanny, I suppose.

        Do you still wear nappies/diapers? Does a state employee change them for you then feed you with the “hear comes the train; choo-choo” thing?

        Just playing with you, cobber, but do have a more thorough think about these things. Name-calling is for the playground, but I suspect you have to get out of diapers first…

  • d’Beer

    Only when the last authoritarian MP is dragged from office, hissing and thrashing about violently in a fetid pool of negative press and public opinion can the Australian people liberate our nation and fulfill the Honourable Senator Leyonhjelm’s prophecy of repealing unnecessarily restrictive legislation.

    The paternalistic ideology must be torn from the soft heart of Australia with the cold, implacable determination of a skilled surgeon.
    Bring forth the glorious new dawn under which our people can reconquer this country with the firm benevolent hand of tempered libertarianism and individual accountability.

  • JRushnik

    The terrifying thing for me is I’ve spent a number of years in mainland China – where I had *far* more personal freedom than in Australia. There’s something wrong when people under the control of the Chinese Communist Party have more personal freedom than under both parties in Australia (a so-called democracy!), and something even more wrong when no one wants to admit it.

    • LoggerheadShrike

      Manufacturing was always key to a middle class. Plentiful jobs means workers can demand better wages and press for more rights. We let our elites sell them all our manufacturing for beads and blankets – and so our economies are failing, our nations are turning into police states, our middle class is disappearing. The West is going to start looking like Latin America. It’s inevitable now, but certainly wasn’t before the neoliberal coup in the late 70s. There is no acceptable reason why this happened.

      • JRushnik

        Read a book called Culture and Empire by Pieter Hintjens, google for it you can find it for free.

  • Tom Ormond

    Much of it is the Australian ego, of “punching above our weight” and believing we are so good and so right. Therefore, why not attempt to control everyone and everything? Even in the face of contrary evidence (like no other countries except NZ followed us turning cycling into a crime), we’ll say to hell with everyone else, and carry on. You see this manifest with pompous media scribes, drunken violence and our spoilt brat sports stars. Check google for “Australia Estonia backwards” for a good blog. Here’s the link: https://warriorfactor.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/compared-to-estonia-australia-is-so-backwards/

  • Tom Ormond

    Much of it is the Australian ego, of “punching above our weight” and believing we are so good and so right. Therefore, why not attempt to control everyone and everything? Even in the face of contrary evidence (like no other countries except NZ followed us turning cycling into a crime), we’ll say to hell with everyone else, and carry on. You see this manifest with pompous media scribes, drunken violence and our spoilt brat sports stars. Check google for “Australia Estonia backwards” for a good blog. Here’s the link: https://warriorfactor.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/compared-to-estonia-australia-is-so-backwards/

  • jude

    I whole heartedly welcome this inquiry, as a former smoker who quit smoking because of the extortionist taxes, but who quit ,(the non state sanctioned way) by switching to vaping. I quit smoking in a country, that for all the propaganda put out by the tobacco control industry, and the useful idiots in the government, is desperate for people to keep smoking, at the same time as they promote hatred and vilification of those same smokers.

    The government makes a huge amount of money from tobacco taxes, $10 billion AUD per year, off a declining base. So they placate the public health lobbyists by allowing the hate campaigns and pretend they are doing something for public health by bumping taxes, and preventing those who want to move to the safer alternative of vaping, from doing so, or making it incredibly difficult to do so. If vaping took off with the same popularity it has in countries with less draconian and stupid laws, the government would lose an incredible amount of tobacco taxes.

    Bicycle helmets are something that adults should be able to make up their own minds about, it is a law the is pretty much ignored by adults in my town, apart from the mamils. Most adults who simply use a bicycle to go to the shop, or down the street, don’t bother.

    People have been brainwashed by those in public health, whose jobs and funding rely on coming up with ever more draconian policies, lobbying for stupid laws, and removing the freedom to make a personal risk assessment from adults. I fear it will not change in this country until the public health zealots put forward one prohibition too far. That time is coming, and I suspect it wont be long now.

  • Vinny Gracchus

    The totalitarian control furthered by the ‘nanny state’ is the antithesis of a free nation.

  • tsport100

    Don’t forget the ridiculous levels of OH&S regulation in Australia! I openly wonder how much of that is driven by Insurance companies lobbying for regulation upon regulation to reduce potential claims while simultaneously increasing fees in an effort to ‘grow’ profit margins. It’s the same insidious mind set that hires private contractors to operate speed cameras in the name of “freeing up police for more important work” like….. stationing a fleet of fully equipped Highway Patrol police cars on urban expressways with the sole purpose of scanning license plates looking for drivers who have failed to kick in the minimum $1,000+ a year it now cost to keep a private car registered in NSW. Are the highway patrol now also working for the Insurance industry alongside OH&S law makers >> Most likely!

  • ScottEwing

    Zero proven deaths from secondhand
    smoke. That’s right, zero. All these ‘numerous studies’ come from a
    computer program called SAMMEC. This program is owned and programmed
    by paid anti-tobacco shills. If they like the result, it gets
    published with great pomp. If not, it goes in the trash. As far as
    programming goes, you might as well ask a computer ‘if pigs could
    fly, how many a year would crash?’ It would dutifully run its program
    and spit out ’47’. Enter some busy-body legislator, who demands
    government action on the terrible number of deaths from flying pigs.
    The lib-tard news channels pick up on it and discuss this epidemic
    every hour on the hour, until the dumb sheep of society are wearing
    umbrella hats to protect themselves from the crashing pigs. (most
    likely made out of tin foil) Anti-smoking is a multi-billion dollar
    industry, paid in large part by Big-Pharma, that has some snake oil
    to sell you!

    • Phil Morris

      zero deaths from marijuana ….but it’s still illegal , back in the 70’s Richard Nixon had a study done on the harm caused by smoking weed ….the result of the study …..we cant find any problems Mr. President ……. he was furious

      • ScottEwing

        All things go in cycles. Anti-smoking was a big deal in the late 1800’s in the US. By 1900 43 of the then 45 states had smoking bans, but by 1923, the last one had fallen. We are currently in the ‘reefer madness’ stage of anti-smoking, while pot is becoming more accepted.

  • twi5ted

    The compulsory voting sets the tone. Gives the big government a strong mandate to interfere. Scrap the compulsory voting and watch the political system struggle.

    • cassarjon@hotmail.com

      Voting is actually NOT compulsory, despite the wide-spread furphy. Registration to vote IS mandatory. Once registered a person is free to destroy his ballot paper, send in an empty absentee form or doodle rubbish on it. I haven’t voted in 40 years, ever since my vote for Whitlam was overturned and he was dismissed by a Governor-General.

  • David davis

    Does anyone remember a Libertarian book from about 40 years ago called “Rip Van Australia”? It was by some blokes called John Singleton and Bob Howard. I think they worked for DDB, a large 70s international advertising agency network. I have just rooted out my Library copy, published by Cassell-Australia in 1977. All Australian and New Zealand People ought to read it as should we here in Britain.

    All the problems caused by “political correctness” and restrictions on individuals’ liberties to do what they will subject to not harming others, will be solved in these pages.

    • David davis

      I expect people may be able to buy used copies on Amazon for (almost) no money, plus postage.

  • Jack Butler

    Its quite disingenuous of Leyonhjelm to put himself forward as the poster boy for Libertarianism, while he is currently heading a senate enquiry/witchhunt into the dangerous health effects of wind farms. Leyonhhjelm knows there’s nothing to investigate, but hes using the Australian senate as his bully pulpit. If there is a nanny state in Australia, I wouldn’t hitch your wagons to Leyonhjelm to fix it.

  • Jack Richards

    After 50 years of self-appointed saviours attacking and taxing cigarette smoking we should now be seeing the real dividends in greatly reduced numbers of lung cancer, emphysema and so on. In 1965 when the anti-smoking Saints really started in on something they didn’t like about 60% of people smoked – now it’s about 20%.
    Statistically lung cancer and emphysema and everything else they claim is caused by smoking should be in clearly measurable decline.
    Where are the statistics?

    • Adam

      “he death rate for COPD has declined over the last three decades, particularly among males. The death rate among females however increased between 1970 and 1990 and remained steady thereafter, although recent data has indicated a slight fall in the rates. The differences in death rates for COPD among males and females reflect changes in patterns of tobacco use over the decades.

      https://www.cancerwa.asn.au/resources/2009-12-22-facts-on-COPD-and-smoking-fact-sheet.pdf

  • Dave Tierney

    Too bloody true

  • billyoblivion

    Ultimately the problem is that everyone is a libertarian where their hobby is concerned, but a utter fascist[1] where everyone else is concerned.

    Liberty for ME but not for THEE.

    [1] Well, yeah, fascist is technically incorrect there but you got the point, right?

  • James

    Oz is not only over regulated but is bordering on being a Police State. Arbitrary arrests, forced confessions to non-existent crimes in sham, juryless courtrooms are now the norm as a consequence of “family court” activities. We’re now forced with the spectacle of various states building new “super” jails, just so they can fit us all in. It’s a bloody disgrace and can only lead to civil unrest. These repulsive flunkeys not only claim the right to steal out children and assets but to jail us if we don’t acquiesce. Strangely enough, I haven’t heard Leyonhjelm saying too much about this. Now where’s my book on 1789.

  • cassarjon@hotmail.com

    I gave up riding my bike in Canberra after many years of doing so. Reason being a cop threatened me with a fine for not wearing a helmet. I just quit riding, at an age when shortly after I was diagnosed with Daibetes Type 2.
    I’d rather have continued risking my safety (on quiet bicycle paths riding my old clunker) than getting Diabetes.
    But it’s too late now. Scrap that dumb law completely!