In defence of ‘dumb Australians’
The Australian government is a world leader in nannying, nudging and nagging. The land supposedly home to understanding, sensible people, who know how to have a good time, currently finds itself the victim of increasingly trigger-happy rule-making.
Official attitudes toward the habits of the general populace verge on the disdainful. According to existing regulations, Australians cannot be trusted to drink shots after midnight in King’s Cross, Sydney, cross the road without waiting for a green light, ride a bike without a helmet, or enjoy a beer on the footpath outside of a pub.
Nudge-happy policies are hitting Australians in the pocket, too. Cigarettes now cost in the vicinity of one Australian dollar each – as in per cigarette – and all, of course, are sold in plain packaging.
Recently, a kickback against the illiberal status quo has started to gather pace. Journalist Tyler Brûlé addressed a sold-out event in Sydney in May, drawing cheers from the audience as he denounced the booze bans and petty regulations blighting Australia’s cities.
However, while it’s great that many Australians are starting to realise the extent to which their lives are being shaped by pointless and illiberal rules, the mainstream debate is often uninspiring. Too often, the argument is made that, as one writer put it, ‘Australians are idiots who bring these rules upon themselves’. Apparently, the reckless, boozy excesses of your average Aussie are forcing the government to regulate all our lives for our own good.
But this argument places the blame for the current predicament Down Under in the wrong hands. The problem is not untrustworthy, dumb Australians. Call me naive, but I think Australians can be trusted not to inflict undue harm on themselves or others, and to manage any risks that they may choose to take.
The real blame lies with the safety advocates and health campaigners in public organisations, alleged ‘charities’ and other government-funded bodies that are hell-bent on imposing their puritanical worldview on the rest of us. Rather than generate public support for their public-health cause, these people rely on often spurious evidence to cajole governments into adding more and more illiberal regulations.
It’s time to challenge the idea that Australians need a rigid and illiberal set of rules to live by, lest the country descend into a pen of unenlightened swine. Australians can be trusted to look after themselves. What we need is restrictions on those who claim to know what’s best for us.
Charlie Pearson is a writer based in London.