We’re facing a global paternalistic tide, and nothing is out of bounds. France has banned free re-fills of sugary drinks, while the UK introduced a tax on them. Scotland, Scotland of all places, now has a minimum price for alcohol, and happy hours are illegal in Finnish pubs.
And here in Australia, there is no shortage of paternalism, as evidenced by the crop of contenders in the Centre for Independent Studies 2018 Nannies ¾ the nanny state awards recognising the most absurd, irrational, and farcical attempts to mind the private business of citizens.
Given that we have the whole government, and many other organisations, working for us, there’s never a shortage of worthy nominees. The judges have laboured mightily and narrowed down the field to just three.
Third place goes to Arwen Birch, a self-styled “environmental educator” who wants to ban car advertising. According to Arwen, car ads always show beautiful, cool, sexy people gliding along empty streets. These ads dupe gullible fools into buying cars. When they experience the congested reality of city driving, they turn into road rage loonies. Ban the ads and there will be no more road rage.
And that’s not all. Car accidents cost the economy billions, their fumes are lethal, and they make you fat and lazy. If we banned car ads, no one would buy cars. This would make us all thinner and healthier because we would all walk or ride bicycles, instead of driving. For her deep insights into human behaviour, Arwen Birch is our second runner up for this year’s nannies.
Our first runner up this year is the Blue Mountains City Council which wishes to limit playground safety fences. The Council has published new guidelines regulating children’s play. (Did you know that councils have guidelines regulating children’s play?)
According to the guidelines, “Fencing a play space from the rest of an open space limits the scope and variety of children’s play; it effectively ‘cages’ play into a contained space. Fences keep kids from reaching their full creative potential.
In response to critics who say that councils should just let kids be kids and stop poking around in their lives, the Mayor has promised to review the proposals to ensure “that they do what they are supposed to do.” I cannot wait to learn exactly what that might be. In the meantime, the Blue Mountains Council can bask in the glory of coming second place in this year’s Nannies.
And now for the winner.
By a huge vote, the judges bestow this year’s Nanny Award on Sausage-gate, a nefarious plot to rob us of our favourite snack, the beloved, Aussie barbequed snag.
New research from The George Institute for Global Health, VicHealth and the Heart Foundation has revealed the humble snag served with white bread and smothered with tomato sauce contains 2.35 grams of salt – nearly half the recommended daily salt intake.
Clearly, something must be done. And according to Vic Health CEO Jerril Rechter “it shouldn’t be left totally up to the consumer to make healthy choices.”
Vic Health wants companies to reduce the salt in their sausages to approved targets. Ms Rechter also suggests we replace sausages with veggie skewers — corn works well she claims.
As if this was not enough, Bunnings, home of the sausage sizzle, has ordered that its snags must be placed on top of the onions rather than below them.
Apparently, when placed on top of sausages, onions fall out of the bun making the car park slippery and causing customers to slide into Bunnings on their backs, like greasy hockey pucks.
Onion toppers are angry. They insist that sausages must be on the bottom because, well … because that’s how they like them.
Meeting our current prime minister in Singapore, his New Zealand counterpart, Jacinta Ardern, brought up the trans-Tasman sausage-gate crisis.
She said that there was no greater international issue facing the two leaders. I quote her: “I think we should make a commitment, a joint commitment, that on our watches, the sausage sizzle should continue.” Mr Morrison was quick to agree. “Onions on top or underneath, however you like it,” he said.
At last, we have real leadership in Australia.
For the audacity to attack the beloved Aussie snag, this year’s Nanny Award goes to the Sausage gate plotters — Vic Health, The George Institute and the Heart Foundation and, for sheer silliness, to Bunnings.
You are right to laugh at these ludicrous ideas. But, there’s a dark side to the rising tide of paternalism. Taxes on alcohol, sugary drinks, and other so-called sins fall mainly on the poor. They force up prices, and they encourage black markets.
Excessive regulation also creates bureaucracy, which drains resources that could be used more productively. Worst of all, Nanny state interventions hardly ever work. Studies have found that health outcomes are the same in countries that control citizen’s diets as in those who don’t.
But don’t despair. There are bright spots on the horizon. Slovakian cyclists can now have a beer before setting off on their bikes. Finland has repealed its tax on ice cream, and Spain withdrew its sugar tax.
And while we have sausage-gate, it is instructive to examine what happened with Kebab-gate -– a plot by the socialists and greens in the European Parliament to ban the doner kebab. Can you believe it? No wonder the Brits voted for Brexit.
Headlines in the press such as, “Is the doner a goner?” or “For pitta’s sake” produced a strong public backlash, particularly in Germany and the UK. And I’m delighted to tell you that the movement has been defeated. The European doner kebab lives on.
And we can achieve similar victories here in Australia. We can save our sausages. All we have to do is to ridicule tyrants, meddlers and busybodies wherever we find them.
Let’s make 2019 the year they stop minding our business and start minding their own.
Professor Steven Schwartz is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies. This is an edited extract of the speech he gave in announcing the 2018 Nannies.
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