Nanny State

Health activists don’t like freedom, which is why they want to redefine it


Christopher Snowdon

An excellent article by Christopher Snowdon in The Spectator today:

Nobody wishes to be seen as being against freedom and yet the ‘public health’ lobby has an endless list of taxes, prohibitions and restrictions which implicitly assume that there is too much of it. The answer, as ever, is to redefine what liberty means.

He continues by looking at recent efforts by so-called health experts to turn true freedom into freedom from fear of such things as speeding drivers, exposure to cigarette smoke and the “fear that our children will be harassed by cigarette and alcohol advertising”:

That this all amounts to an assault on personal liberty should be obvious. The freedom to live your life as others think you should live it is no freedom at all. If it were freedom, it would not require a never-ending stream of new criminal offences to be created.

Continue reading here.


A costly venture into tobacco nationalisation

It has been reported by major press outlets today that the federal opposition plans to radically increase the tobacco tax burden, should it be elected to government. In the Australian Financial Review today:

The cost of cigarettes will surge to more than $40 a pack under a future Labor government and put Australia back in line with the world’s most aggressive anti-tobacco jurisdictions.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will announce on Tuesday Labor’s plans to increase the excise rate by 12.5 per cent for four years from mid-2017, raising an extra $47 billion over a decade for Canberra’s coffers.

According to World Health Organisation data, tobacco excise accounts for 49 per cent of the retail price of a pack of 25 cigarettes in Australia. With the GST adding another nine per cent, total taxes represent 58 per cent of retail tobacco prices.

With reports saying the proposal aims to set tobacco excise at 75 per cent of the retail price of a pack of 25 cigarettes, what we have here is little more than a cynical exercise in tobacco product nationalisation.

Governments in recent years have effectively taken complete control over the packaging attributes of cigarettes sold in formal markets, and are steadily exerting price control over the product itself.

Politicians paternalistically exhort Australians to give up their smokes, but not too many all at once because government itself is becoming hooked on tobacco revenue to close its overspending budget gap.

The continuing existence of smokers also gives health bureaucrats an alibi to control the features of tobacco products themselves, despite plain packaging proving ineffective in reducing smoking.

The irony of this situation would not be lost on most Australians.


Email: Freedom of speech under attack

The latest attack on free speech – this time in Tasmania

Freedom of speech is under attack in Tasmania after the state Anti-Discrimination Commissioner decided on 13 November that a complaint against Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous should proceed to a hearing.

In particular, the Commissioner has decided the Catholic Church has a case to answer in relation to a complaint made regarding a booklet outlining the Catholic teachings on marriage distributed to parents of students enrolled at Catholic high schools across Australia.

The IPA’s Chris Berg wrote in the Sunday Age yesterday:

To be offended by the booklet is to be offended by what was, until very recently, the mainstream view on gay marriage, and one still shared by a large minority of the population… For this reason if nothing else, the complaint ought to have been dismissed as laughably frivolous.

It should never be an offence to offend a person. This is particularly chilling in light of the proposed plebiscite on the definition of marriage. As IPA Executive Director John Roskam stated in October:

A vote in a plebiscite or referendum, in which one side is not allowed to present its case, is not a legitimate vote. That’s why both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage should be concerned by the complaint against Archbishop Porteous and the Catholic Church.

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The Nanny State: A failure of regulation


On 11 September, I testified on the lack of evidence in favour of regulation at a public hearing of the Senate’s “Nanny State” Inquiry at Parliament House in Canberra. As the Hansard transcript reveals, that led to a lively and good-natured exchange on the nature of regulation with the Chair, Senator Dastyari.

My testimony was based on my submission to the Inquiry (number 237) titled, “Regulating choice: The need for evidence“. I concluded from reviews of the experimental evidence on the effects of regulation, that the Iron Law of Regulation applies.

The Iron Law has been stated as;

There is no form of market failure, however egregious, which is not eventually made worse by the political interventions intended to fix it.

An honest belief in the value of regulation is presumably grounded in a faith that a wise and well-intentioned regulator could in practice increase total net welfare.

That belief is not obviously plausible, as it depends on a sequence of assumptions or conditions that are highly unlikely to apply in practice. Can you think of any regulation where the regulator has met all of the ten necessary conditions for successful regulation described on page 3 of my paper with Scott Armstrong?

Our research has investigated the effects of government regulation of speech (by way of mandatory disclaimers in advertising), corporate social responsibility and of the environment. We could find no evidence that regulation increased welfare – in most cases it caused harm. We have not found a regulation that would meet even one of the ten necessary conditions for successful regulation.


Self-managing, anti-bureaucratic, minimal government: Cycling fits well with the liberal philosophy


IPA member Nigel Withers had this interesting response to Karalee Katsambanis’ (another IPA member) piece about cyclists in WA Today a couple of weeks ago, featured here in Hey… What did I miss?:

Cyclists on the whole don’t ask for much – apart from a bit of bike infrastructure in places where they’re likely to be killed or injured if they ride on the road. As a transport option, cycling is the spiritual home of liberty, low taxation, minimal regulation and small government. It is a sanctuary from the intrusions of the Nanny State.

We don’t need a multitude of bureaucrats to create and update bus, train and ferry timetables – we ride where and when we like. We don’t cause grief when timetable updates are published or when underused, uneconomic services are abolished.

We don’t need an army of well-paid, unionised workers to cart us around on trains, buses and ferries – we move ourselves at our own expense.

It doesn’t cost the taxpayer $9.45 every time we hop on a train (that’s from the NSW State Infrastructure Strategy). Instead, we spend thousands of dollars of our own money on supplying ourselves with a private transport option.

We don’t threaten to strike every time we don’t get what we want.

We don’t have government departments creating standards and regulations governing bicycle design (such as vehicle regulations which govern how high above the road headlights must be positioned).

Hordes of Police are not required to ensure we are abiding by an ever increasing set of laws. Traffic control centres aren’t required to manage our movement. CCTV cameras are not installed all over the place to watch over us as ride from A to B.

Apart from mandatory helmet laws, the Nanny State has largely ignored cycling – and even then, the laws are applied in an infrequent and unenthusiastic manner by the Police. Riding a bicycle is so simple, we don’t need a government agency to ensure we do 120 hours of mandatory training and pass numerous tests before we can go for a ride. I can sell my bike without paying stamp duty on the transaction, and informing a government body that I am no longer the owner.

I can ride to work all year without the taxman putting his hand in my wallet to extract fuel excises that are then wasted on useless pet projects. My bike is not subject to government mandated annual safety inspections.

We spontaneously come together in groups when we want to ride – we can manage ourselves without the government requiring a grant to create a “community group” that is of no use to anyone.

Liberty. Individualism. Self-managing. Anti-bureaucratic. Minimal government. Low taxation. Antipathy to the Nanny State. Cycling is actually a much better fit with a Liberal philosophy than a Green one.


Tobacco control measures still not having the desired impact


The above graph is taken from the KPMG’s latest report into the Australian illicit tobacco market, which was released today. It shows the volume of illicit tobacco consumption, and the proportion of the total tobacco market which is attributable to that illicit consumption.

As you can see, in recent years, where the federal government has become even more active in the tobacco market, mandating certain rules of packaging and frequently increasing taxes, the illicit tobacco rate is steadying after a sharp increase between 2012 and 2014.

Since the same point 12 months ago, total tobacco consumption in Australia has decreased 0.1 per cent, while the share of that market attributed to illicit tobacco is steady at 14.3 per cent.


When you consider that long term tobacco trends show declining consumption, and the federal government’s annual 12.5 per cent excise increases, a total decrease in 0.1 per cent must be very underwhelming for those public health experts who for too long have applauded the “success” story of artificial government controls in the tobacco market.

Illicit tobacco maintains a significant proportion of the Australian market, and total consumption has remained practically unchanged. Some success.


If you don’t like it, don’t watch it


Tom Elliott’s article in the Herald Sun today on the calls to ban Ultimate Fighting Championships events in Victoria is well worth reading:

Worried that violence in the ring leads to anger in the streets? Well, if MMA must be banned on that basis then surely the Grand Prix must go as well.

Day in and day out we’re told by earnest police officers that “speed kills”. Because of that, motorists are routinely fined huge sums for exceeding often arbitrary limits by just a few kilometres per hour.

Yet every March our State Government spends more than $60m of public funds subsidising the Melbourne Formula One Grand Prix. And what is it that drivers do in this race? Routinely travel at speeds over 300km/h in an effort to win. That is five times the legal limit around Albert Park.

… Footy is another contest several aspects of which are banned away from an oval. If you hold on to the ball in a game of Aussie rules, I can legally tackle you to the ground (and probably receive a free kick for my efforts).

… Yet if performed against an unwitting pedestrian on Collins St, [a tackle] would garner an assault charge. Sport is often and rightly different from everyday life.

The same is true for MMA. Most adults are smart enough to differentiate between fighting in a ring controlled by a referee and a drunken brawl outside a pub.

Just because some people enjoy watching two willing participants battle it out according to a pre-agreed set of rules doesn’t mean the same spectators will return home and commit an act of domestic violence.

Continue reading here.


Is a sugar tax such a bad idea?


Nick Cater takes down the ‘sucrophobes’ in his column ($) in The Australian today:

The first thing that should trouble us about the sucrophobes is the simplicity of their proposal. The social, psychological and physical causes of obesity are complex. Unwanted kilos of body mass do not succumb to miracle cures, raising the price of sugar ­included.

Equally revealing is the fact its advocates seldom talk about revenue. It suggests their proposal is not principally about collecting money but has a far more lofty purpose.

Rest assured, the Obesity Policy Coalition tells us in its submission to the government’s tax review, a sugar-sweetened beverage tax would raise “considerable revenue” while increasing demand for water and low-fat milk. Yet neither proposition is backed by evidence; we are expected to take them on trust.

Fat tax proposals, like so many public policy blunders, are driven by the imperative to do something in the face of an imagined crisis. We have been struck by an “obesity pandemic”, we are told. Health costs are not just rising, they are “spiralling out of control”.

The sucrophobes back their arguments with scareynomics — the use of terrifyingly big numbers in an attempt to persuade us that their absurd proposal makes ­perfect economic sense.

If we are to believe a recent report from Obesity Australia, for example, obesity costs Australia $58 billion, a figure equivalent to 40 per cent of the health budget.


Another lazy tax grab

A9X9B5 Tax Rate button on calculator

Latika Bourke at the Sydney Morning Herald reports on a Labor commitment to increase the tobacco excise if elected:

Labor is planning to raise taxes on cigarettes if elected to pay for the so-called Gonski education reforms, potentially pitting a slug on smokers against any Coalition plan to increase the GST rate or impose it on fresh food.

Sources have told Fairfax Media that the federal opposition is considering another round of three 12.5 per cent increases, which sources said would net $40 billion over 10 years.

The increase would push up the cost of cigarettes in Australia to well beyond $1 per stick, making Australia’s tobacco among the most expensive in the world.

This is mindless policy from an opposition that has offered very little by way of substantive ideas for reform. Instead of engaging in a thorough discussion about taxes, revenue, spending, and the size of government Labor has opted for rank intellectual laziness in the form of yet another attack on smokers.

On the plus side, Labor has handed the Liberal Party a great opportunity to stand up for its values.


Email: Senator Eric Abetz the 14th senator to support freedom of speech

Parliamentary support for free speech continues to grow.

Liberal senator Eric Abetz (Tasmania) has encouraged his party to throw their support behind amendments to remove the words “offend” and “insult” from section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

See the full list of current senators who are on the record in support of changes to section 18C here.

The damage to science from global warming


On Thursday, an important essay by Matt Ridley was published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, categorically detailing the distortion of scientific debate, and the damage to science itself, brought about by global warming alarmists.

He says:

At the heart of the debate about climate change is a simple scientific question: can a doubling of the concentration of a normally harmless, indeed moderately beneficial, gas, from 0.03% of the atmosphere to 0.06% of the atmosphere over the course of a century change the global climate sufficiently to require drastic and painful political action today? In the end, that’s what this is all about. Most scientists close enough to the topic say: possibly. Some say: definitely. Some say: highly unlikely. The ‘consensus’ answer is that the warming could be anything from mildly beneficial to dangerously harmful: that’s what the IPCC means when it quotes a range of plausible outcomes from 1.5 to 4 degrees of warming.

On the basis of this unsettled scientific question, politicians and most of the pressure groups that surround them are furiously insistent that any answer to the question other than ‘definitely’ is vile heresy motivated by self-interest, and is so disgraceful as to require stamping out, prosecution as a crime against humanity, investigation under laws designed to catch racketeering by organized crime syndicates, or possibly the suspension of democracy.

You can find this must-read essay here. Matt Ridley also delivered the 2013 CD Kemp Lecture for the IPA, ‘Freedom and Optimism: Humanity’s Triumph.’ You can watch the video of the lecture here and his Q&A session with Bjørn Lomborg here.

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