Monday, 3 February 2014

Throw me the instruction book please


Former Australian Formula 1 driver, Mark Webber, caused a stir in 2010 with his comments regarding the state of freedom in Australia.

"I think we've got to read an instruction book when we get out of bed - what we can do and what we can't do...put a yellow vest on and all that sort of stuff. It's a great country...and it's certainly a bloody nanny state...It's certainly changed since I left here. It pisses me off coming back here to be honest."

It's hard to argue against him. In fact, based on the poll on the bottom of this article, 72% of people agreed with him. All you have to do is walk out your front door and open your eyes to see that we live in potentially one of the most controlled countries in the world.

I was at the MCG on day three of the Boxing Day Test in December. I'm not sure what spent more time up on the big screens; the cricket score or repeated warnings to patrons for an array of behaviours.

"Patrons, please note it is a $7,000 fine if you run onto the arena."

"Patrons, please ensure you remember to slip,slop, slap." 

"Patrons, please be advised that you are not to smoke inside the MCG".

"Patrons, please be advised that anyone found to start a Mexican Wave will be ejected from the stadium." Yep, let's enforce a ban on fun.

My personal favourite: "Patrons, please ensure you are drinking plenty of water". 


I forgot I was a grown adult. I felt like throwing my sunscreen straight at the big screen.



Another example of our nanny state and one that I simply disobey; red arrows at traffic lights in light traffic. Straight ahead is a green light but if you're turning right, you have to sit there and wait for... nobody. What happened to sitting in the middle of the intersection and waiting for oncoming traffic to clear, then turning when it is safe?


I had this argument with a Police friend of mine. "Dom, red arrows save lives. So many accidents happen when people turn into oncoming traffic." Sure, but at midnight when I am the sole car at the intersection, the only accident that is going to happen is me waving at the red arrow as I sail straight through it.

In NSW jaywalking attracts a $67 fine. According to a spokesperson from Transport for NSW:

"Pedestrians are required to cross at a pedestrian crossing or lights if within 20 metres, or cross roads by the shortest and safest route. If more than 20 metres from lights or a crossing it is not an offence to cross mid-block on a busy city street..."
The fact I had to read that three times suggests it's ridiculous. Are pedestrians meant to walk out onto the street, and if not near a pedestrian crossing, step out 20 paces to make sure they can legally cross the street? How do you work out the shortest and safest route without a tape measure and a second opinion? Do you need to call a Town Planner to find out where the mid-block portion of the crossing is? Wouldn't the sensible and rational thing be to teach people to safely cross the road rather than setting rules on where and when you can cross?

Why did the chicken cross the road? Because it's the only one that can without getting fined.

How about the proposed ban on parents smacking their kids? Are we seriously going to criminalise parents bringing up their kids the way they think best? It is essentially saying, "parents you can discipline your kids however you want, but if you do it the way we don't like, we'll fine you."



Then there is the 40km/h school zones. I drive through one on the way to work everyday. It is a six lane road (three lanes each way) with a school on one side. Rather than teach our kids how to be careful around roads, or teach parents to watch their kids if they are too young to know any better, let's just slow every commuter to a walking pace instead. That seems sensible.

Oh also, next time you go out to a restaurant, make sure, before you sit down, you check the following, as provided by www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au:

"Check that staff use separate utensils and equipment for handling raw and cooked foods." Of course that is easy. Simply ask your waiter, who of course will say, "Sorry sir, I think you should eat elsewhere as we don't use separate utensils." If you don't trust your waiter, maybe waltz on into the kitchen and have a look yourself.

"Check that the toilets are clean, and the shop or restaurant is generally clean." Of course when I'm on a date with my wife and we are starving and thirsty, the second thing we do (after checking out the utensils in the kitchen) is to view the toilets.

"Hot food should be served steaming hot." Heaven forbid if it's only really hot, not steaming hot.

I could go on and on. Warnings on cigarette packets. Helmets on bicycles. Patrons being fingerprinted to enter certain pubs. Mark Webber you are spot on.

The argument for the excessive over-regulation is that it is needed to reduce accidents and deaths and to enhance safety. However, does an excess of rules actually achieve the desired result?

The MCG has banned people running onto the ground for years. Back in the day it was a $2,000 fine. Then it went up to $3,000, $4,000 and now $7,000. The increase in fine would suggest the amount of people ground invading is not decreasing.

What about speed limits. On the German Autobahn, there are no speed restrictions. You can do 300km/h if you're game enough. Based on Australia's obsession with speed limits, you'd think the road toll in Germany would be huge. After all, Australia enforces limits to save lives.

Interestingly, 4.4 out of 100,000 people died in Germany in 2012 from road related accidents. This was a substantial 18% less than the 5.2 per 100,000 people in Australia in 2013. 

Don't let all of this cloud your view that Australia is a free country. If you need more evidence, ask Corey Bernardi and Bernard Gaynor about freedom of speech. Or maybe have a chat to those that were attacked at March for the Babies last year regarding freedom of protest. You could also have a quick chat to Dr Mark Hobart in relation to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion while you're at it. 


It's no wonder Mark Webber finds it hard to come back to Australia. It's a surprise he hasn't been banned from re-entering the country!

All the best,
Dom Meese

4 comments:

  1. Hi Dom,

    Very interesting article and I must admit that I agree in principle with your arguments. I think as a society, common sense has gone out the window and in its place over bearing governments and legislation has come to the fore. I also believe that this is partly a symptom of legislators feeling that they have to be seen to be doing something (I think that all elected officials should receive a lecture about not rocking the boat when sworn in). The introduction of the 40km speed limit is a prime example and was a knee-jerk reaction to one week when two children were hit in close proximity to schools.

    The one issue I do take is your last argument about freedom of speech. As I am sure you are aware, the Australian Constitution makes no specific mention about such a right. This is in part due to the absence of a bill of rights within Australia’s legal/political framework (this is a whole issue in itself and something that Australia should seriously look at as having a Westminster system based on conventions can cause chaos just ask Whitlam). Furthermore, if you are going to put forth inflammatory private opinions when you are an elected representative in a public forum, you must expect a public backlash as they can very easily be confused with your public role. Whilst not endorsing any personal attacks, I find some of Bernardi’s views as abhorrent and highly offensive.

    I think politicians get confused on what their role is. They are not elected to promote their own views but that of the citizens they are elected to represent. Whilst a minority of his constituents would no doubt have agreed with his comments, the majority were not so supportive. As we live in a democracy, Bernardi should therefore take head of his electors and keep such comments to himself until a time that he does not occupy a public position of prominence.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment. I agree common sense is largely out the window when it comes to policy making.

      Regarding freedom of speech in Australia, you are quite correct. The UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes freedom of speech, however Australia has not formally recognised it in it's Constitution (with the exception of political speech - could argue Bernardi's comments were political?) However, given it is universally accepted, as well as the fact that the majority of Australians believe in equality when it comes to everyone being allowed an opinion, I believe Bernardi's comments attracted unfair criticism.

      As you said, politicians are elected to serve the people. However, isn't there an argument to say that the people elected Bernardi as he is? It's a bit rich to elect someone and then tell them not to be themselves.
      Re your point of him not being able to air his personal views in a public forum, the comments were made in his personal book, not in his public role as a Senator. He has every right to say what he wants in his own book surely.

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  2. Pt 1..
    Hi Dom,

    May I take issue with a number of points your Anon respondent made here, as follows?
    Anon wrote; “The one issue I do take is your last argument about freedom of speech. As I am sure you are aware, the Australian Constitution makes no specific mention about such a right. “
    So what? The Constitution never attempted to list or formalise such “common-sense” birth-rights as ‘Free Speech’ past writing; “..humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland..” The Constitution, as is the case for Great Britain, set out to determine the relationship between various democratic institutions and if approved, limit, the rights and duties of individuals as sought. In other words we all have equal rights under God (no-one else) unless the constitution (as voted on by the people) determine otherwise. Bernardi has a right to opine whatever, even if it offends (but not defames) just as Anon has a right to complain at being offended. We don’t need a bill of rights especially if the motivation for such is to limit those opinions with which we disagree; the “fascism of political correctness”, plain and simple.

    Anon wrote: This is in part due to the absence of a bill of rights within Australia’s legal/political framework (this is a whole issue in itself and something that Australia should seriously look at as having a Westminster system based on conventions can cause chaos just ask Whitlam).
    Anon is showing his/ her colours here. No Parliamentary system exists without reliance on conventions but more to the point, Whitlam was arrogant and legally had *no* leg to stand on – as he was advised from within his own party. His ambition and stupid arrogance should be the last reason cited for any change to our Constitution or the introduction of a Bill of Rights.

    Anon wrote: Furthermore, if you are going to put forth inflammatory private opinions when you are an elected representative in a public forum, you must expect a public backlash as they can very easily be confused with your public role.
    I am absolutely sure that Bernardi was expecting a public backlash .. and his publisher was thankful for it! Where’s the problem?

    Anon wrote: Whilst not endorsing any personal attacks, I find some of Bernardi’s views as abhorrent and highly offensive.

    Now that’s interesting.. is the measure here what someone finds abhorrent or offensive, indeed, “highly offensive”? Perhaps if we could put our biases to one side, we would prefer measures like “Truthful” or “objectively critical”; something which would promote the necessary debate, a fully informed debate, instead of the PC media led insult to one’s intelligence that we get now, too often.

    Anon wrote; I think politicians get confused on what their role is. They are not elected to promote their own views but that of the citizens they are elected to represent."

    This is an example of the cart before the horse. It is said that we get the politicians we deserve. What comes first is that voters should realise and welcome politicans who vote consistent with their stated value system; they are the ones we need, assuming some competence of course. The system is not sustainable otherwise and voters should not naively think politicians don’t work for what they or their donors want. Voters need to have and then choose a workable and trustworthy value system.

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  3. Pt 2

    Anon wrote: Whilst a minority of his constituents would no doubt have agreed with his comments, the majority were not so supportive."
    What evidence is there for that comment?

    Anon wrote: As we live in a democracy, Bernardi should therefore take head of his electors and keep such comments to himself until a time that he does not occupy a public position of prominence."
    The understanding of “Democracy” here is completely wrong. Apart from the *duty* Bernardi has to represent all electoral views, Democracy has never been about limiting debate or even free speech. Anon argues for something more suited to North Korea… politically correct maybe, but neither true, sensible, legal or democratic.

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