Australia “Nanny State”

Essay: Why do governments interfere with personal liberties? Can Australia be seen as a ‘Nanny state’? Governments across the world interfere with personal liberties, some on a higher level than others. Some governments prefer to sit back and let society function by itself, with little interference, whereas others interfere greatly with the aim to help society in one way or another. The government in Australia has recently begun enacting legislation, which could be seen as violating personal rights and liberties.

These are basic individual rights and being free within a society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority, such as freedom of religion. This has earned Australian the title, the “Nanny state”, meaning a government is being over protective of its citizens and making them conform far too often than necessary. Governments interfere with personal liberties for numerous reasons, all of which are fairly agreeable incentives.

They interfere in order to improve the standard of living, protect those whom are vulnerable or disadvantaged, to ensure resources are used efficiently, and to protect ourselves. An overall benefit to society, though sometimes it does not work out quite in that manner. In order to achieve the overall benefit to society, the government must address the issues that currently need to be revised and when needed, enact new legislation.

The problem with addressing certain issues is that society can have a bad reaction to the new legislation, or however else the government is dealing with the issues. Smoking cigarettes has been considered a major issue in society for numerous years. Smoking-related diseases killed 14,900 Australians in 2004–05.

To put into perspective, there were 40 preventable deaths every day. Some major tobacco-related diseases include cancer, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Each year in Australia, the government spends $31 billion on health related facilities and programs educating people about the health risks in smoking. Due to tax, the government receives only $6.5 billion from cigarettes, which is by no means enough to balance out the cycle. Nicola Roxon, the Minister of Health and Aging says “If cigarettes were a new product, no country in the world would legalise it.”

A plain packaging legislation has been introduced and is to become effective mid next year. It has been introduced not in an attempt to stop current smokers but to avoid large numbers of potential future smokers of all ages, in particular adolescents.

A recent new online trend is ‘planking’ which consists of laying face down in unusual public places. Although a 20 year old from Queensland died from planking a seven story apartment building and falling, it has not appeared to concern others whom ‘plank’ but certainly caught the government’s attention. The South Australian government in particular is looking into making this act illegal. Society has not had a very promising reaction to this proposed legislation. Ambulance Service of NSW said, “Whilst it may seem like some harmless fun, the idea of ‘planking’ and outdoing your mates can be fraught with danger.” Morry Bailes, a lawyer with a private legal firm says to the ABC news “I think the government is overreacting if it’s trying to legislate to stop people exposing themselves to a risk of harm.”

The South Australian government has the majority of society to work against if they wish to enforce this legislation, and although the reasoning behind this decision is agreeable, it does not mean that it will stop people in society putting themselves in risky situations. In Victoria, the government has recently introduced a new legislation against swearing in public areas. Effective on the 1st July 2011, police officers can issue on the spot fines of $238.90 to people caught using language deemed to be indecent, disorderly, offensive or threatening.

While this legislation is new, a current legislation under the Victorian Summary Offences act 1966, section 17 (1) (c) states; the use of profane, indecent or obscene language or threatening or abusive words can be penalised by ten penalty units, or imprisonment for two months. Most of society is not aware of the current legislation as it has not been enforced strictly, as police resources are better spent attending to crimes of higher priority.

The reaction to the new legislation has not been positive from most people in Australia as many disagree claiming they are entitled to freedom of speech. The use of solariums in Australia has recently been recognised as an issue that needs to be addressed. There is a 98% increased risk of developing skin cancer for those under the age of 35 using solariums, and 281 melanoma cases each year are linked with the use of solariums. 43 deaths each year are also associated with solariums.

The government has acknowledged this issue and has put forward a legislation to minimise the damage done due to the use of solariums. The NSW government has introduced mandatory safety requirements for commercial tanning units, including new age and skin type restrictions. People under the age of 18 or those with fair skin can no longer used tanning beds. This new legislation hasn’t had as much a reaction as other legislations recently introduced, though legislating such things as tanning could certainly be considered taking it too far.

Legislating plain packaging for cigarettes is one thing, but legislating swearing in public or the ability to ‘plank’ has taken government interference too far. It certainly proves why some people have called Australia the ‘Nanny state’. It shouldn’t be up to the government to impose moral values on its citizens.

Moral values come organically from the citizens. Families should have the right to solve their own issues without the government interfering at such a level. Governments interfering with personal liberties are ultimately to benefit the whole of society, but in the process of legislating certain things, the government has taken it beyond a reasonable amount of government interference. Due to this, the Australian society has reacted in a negative way, to recent legislations introduced. Australia can certainly be seen as a ‘Nanny state’. By Nicola Griffiths