Friday 6 June 2014

"The self-reinforcing taxpayer vortex of control"

Tomorrow I'll be flying off to Denver to speak at this conference so blogging will be light or non-existent for a little while, but I'll leave you on an uplifting note by quoting from a speech from George Christensen in the Australian parliament this week.

Australia, you see, has been quietly getting on with the job of stripping illiberal, whinging, grant-addicted, authoritarian, 'public health' lobby groups of their funding since Tony Abbott was elected prime minister. It is doing exactly what Britain should be doing by cutting away the parasitic sock-puppet state and making the health service focus on health and medicine rather than lifestyle regulation and political activism.

Amongst the agencies that have been effectively demolished by the government is the Australian National Preventive Health Agency, the de-funding of which led to this peerless explanation of how the sock puppet state operates...

I strongly support the Australian National Preventive Health Agency (Abolition) Bill 2014, because it is a removal of duplication and expense that is an unnecessary drain on taxpayer funds and I question why we need to have an agency that tell us exactly what to do. Before the election the Liberal and National parties said that we were going to remove unnecessary red tape and regulation [sound familiar? - CJS], and that is what we are doing. We are doing it here today because the Australian National Preventive Health Agency is a redundant agency. It is funded by the Commonwealth, funded by taxpayers, in addition to the Commonwealth Department of Health, despite the fact that most of its functions actually overlap the functions that are in the Department of Health.

In addition, a range of other Commonwealth research bodies have been funded to work in the same space: the Australian Research Council, the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Productivity Commission and the Australian Law Reform Commission. None of these bodies, though, were ever specifically tasked by government to actually lobby government, but this agency that we are abolishing here today was. One of the legislatively defined functions of the agency is to lobby and advocate for public policy change. The agency is a taxpayer funded lobby group—government giving money to an agency to then lobby the government for particular changes. How crazy is that?

I read a lot from the Institute of Public Affairs. They put out a lot of good stuff. One of the reports they had, which was called The biggest vested interest of all: How government lobbies to restrict individual rights and freedom, said: 'One-third of the submissions to the Preventative Health Taskforce—which established the Australian National Preventive Health Agency—were from bodies which received large amounts of taxpayer funding.'

So, there you go: taxpayer dollars going to agencies that are going to another taxpayer funded agency to recommend that an agency be created that recommends back to government programs that have to be funded out of taxpayer dollars. It is absolutely crazy.

The method of this self-lobbying works something like this: (1) Taxpayers fund an agency to come up with a health-first paternalistic policy; (2) taxpayers fund research to justify the policy; (3) taxpayers pay for the agency to lobby the government to impose the policy; (4) the policy is then introduced; (5) the policy is then measured and evaluated; (6) if the policy was ineffective, a stronger policy is then proposed, because the earlier one failed; and (7) if the policy was effective, a stronger policy is proposed because the earlier one succeeded. And round and round we go on that taxpayer funded merry-go-round. We end up with a self-reinforcing taxpayer vortex of control.

It's good to see that somebody gets it. Let's see some of this in the Westminster parliament please.

Christensen also had something to say about plain packaging, which is rapidly being exposed as the counterproductive farce that some of us always thought it was...

Ultimately, the individual is responsible for their own actions. That is why, when the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government legislated plain packaging for cigarettes, I spoke against that bill. I did not believe then and I do not believe now that inch by inch encroachment into our personal lives is what our society should be about. We, as Australians, have the right to make our own choices and every time the government makes that little bit more regulation to force a particular world view onto the choices we make, our personal freedoms are eroded. At the time I said that, if the regulators and the Labor Party felt so strongly about telling people what they can and cannot do, they should just ban it. If we honestly believe that smoking is that evil we should have the guts to ban it. If we do not feel that strongly about it, then get out of people's lives, let them make their own choices and let them live the way they want to live. We have seen regulation after regulation applied to the tobacco industry and still people smoke. I talk to local shops. They report that the number of people buying cigarettes is increasing.

The previous Labor government attempted to drive smoking underground, so much so that sellers are not even allowed to display their little olive green products. It does not appear to have made any difference because in the three years since the legislation was introduced, the nanny state advocates have produced no evidence to suggest it has changed smoking rates in Australia. That seems a bit odd, given there has very likely been some surveys done in the course of those three years. Surely there are teams of wowsers waiting for the opportunity to tell us, 'I told you so.' Given that smoking rates in Australia have been steadily declining since 2001, even business-as-usual decline could have been twisted into some kind of 'proof' that interfering with people's lives actually works. It is not news the nanny state wants to hear but there is at least some feedback on the Australian experience being presented in the UK. The Times reported on 3 February this year:

'Cigarette plain packaging law a failure, tobacco industry tells UK. Putting cigarettes in plain packs has failed to cut smoking in Australia, led to record levels of smuggling and could be illegal in the UK, the tobacco industry has warned a British government review of the measure.'
Was there an outcry about the claims? No. The usual suspects argued the toss about the sale of illegal tobacco. An article in The Age, on 12 April 2014 read:

'Last week, Fairfax Media visited several retailers in Melbourne's west including gift shops, milk bars and liquor stores, with the ex-Purana Taskforce detective employed by British American Tobacco. Illicit tobacco products were freely available upon requests for 'cheap cigarettes' and pre-rolled 'tubes' of loose tobacco or 'chop chop'. Illegally imported cartons of Marlboro Red and Dunhill Red cigarettes were sold at half the legal retail price, while other brand-named packs of 25 cigarettes cost as little as $8, compared to the normal price of almost $20. One Asian grocery store in Sunshine was asking $90 for a 10-pack carton of Manchester cigarettes—a fake brand manufactured in the Middle East for the black market. None of the illicit cigarettes were sold in the plain, olive-green packs required by Australian law, and many had no health warnings.'

So what is the score on plain packaging? I will tell you what it is: free choice 1, nanny state nil.

This reflects all the evidence that has been reported on this blog in recent months, including the rise of counterfeit tobacco in Australia, rising smoking rates, and open support for plain packaging from cigarette smugglers. And now we have confirmation that legal sales of tobacco have also risen. Is there any amount of real world evidence that can destroy this Teflon-covered, nanny state nonsense?

Reporting the rise in cigarette sales, an editorial in The Australian had a revolutionary thought for puritanical times....

It’s time for a grown-up approach. We don’t support smoking. But if adults wish to indulge, that’s their choice.

Indeed. But let's leave the last word to the splendid George Christensen...

Society is not determined by some herd of hand-wringing heifers and steers in a departmental subcommittee's focus group. Culture is not ordered off a left-wing menu like some half-strength double decaf soy latte in a recycled paper cup. Society and culture are about people. Our culture is the function of our people—all the people, not just a select few. It is a combination of the lives, the actions, the thoughts and the choices of individuals. Some individuals will choose to drink alcohol. Some will choose not to. I do not believe the non-drinkers have any moral right or obligation to enforce their view and their personal choices on to anyone else's. This is not your culture; it is our culture. And our culture evolves individual by individual. We do not need a pseudo health agency to manufacture a culture for us; we need a health department to look after health.

And, sure, there are a lot of things that affect our health—drinking, smoking, eating, sugar, salt, caffeine, fat, carbohydrates, protein, gluten, wheat, vitamin supplements, water and air. If anyone holds strong convictions about any one or more of those things, that is fine. They can choose to consume or not consume. If they have scientific evidence to support it, that is fine. They can report those findings. But if we listened to every bit of advice about what not to consume, we would all be dead. Somewhere in the middle there may be a truth, but the question is this: for whom is it a truth and who has the right to impose their interpretation on everyone else?

A few years ago, Australia seemed to be beyond hope. Now, on this issue at least, it's starting to lead the way.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant! Bring him over here alongside uncle Phil. Pity we didn't see more of the clown at the end who started with "he's entertaining but wrong". Would love to hear why.

nisakiman said...

Yes, I would have liked to hear what he had to say. Probably a lefty rant about how 'Public Health' is much too important to be left to the vagaries of personal choice, and that people like him should be the arbiters of personal lifestyle. Well, it's for the cheeldren, innit? We can't sit back and let people make the 'wrong' choices, can we now...?

Anonymous said...


Seeing as you're speaking at an obesity conference, this is on topic. Driving to work this morning, I heard a rent-seeker describing how we are now living in an "obsesogenic environment". That's a new one!