Liberal Democratic senator David Leyonhjelm is a conviction libertarian. He loathes excess government regulation, bureaucracy and taxes.
He’d also like to see Australians able to carry concealed weapons, as allowed in six US states. This, he argues with his compelling logic, would help prevent the sort of gun massacres that occur so often in the United States, but have not occurred once in Australia in the 19 years since the 1996 post Port Arthur law reforms which banned the semi-automatic firearms favoured by those intent on killing many people quickly.
Leyonhjelm readily admits his place in the Senate is largely due to luck, having drawn the coveted first “donkey vote” place on the ballot paper at the last election. This political equivalent of Australian 2002 gold medal speed skater Steven Bradbury is currently enjoying the fruits of heavy duty courtship from the government, as it seeks to secure the cross-bench support essential for the passage of its legislation through the Senate.
Leyonhjelm has expressed great concern about the globally discredited health hazards of wind farms, but has grasped A$35,000 for his party from the Philip Morris tobacco company, the second-largest contributor to a global death toll from tobacco. Tobacco is predicted to cause a billion deaths this century.
Leyonhjelm’s libertarian philosophical footwork allows him to wave away any apparent inconsistency here. He subscribes to the J.S. Mill principle that people should be allowed to do anything as long as they are not harming others in the exercise of their freedoms. What he counts as harm appears to change from issue to issue.
On August 24, submissions will close on another Senate enquiry that Leyonhjelm will head as what he’s promoting as an anti-nanny state regulation clean out. Much of this is likely to be air cover for him to grease the political rails for his tobacco industry benefactors to break down barriers to market e-cigarettes in Australia, with a senior advisor Helen Dale (formerly Demidenko) having recently attended a small meeting of vaping activists in Poland.
Some focus will be given to bicycle helmets, cannabis, tobacco and pornography, but the terms of reference don’t hold back and include attention to “any other measures introduced to restrict personal choice ‘for the individual‘s own good’“.
Car seat belts and motorcycle helmets are the apotheosis of “for your own good” paternalistic health legislation, and so for consistency should be under threat too, as may be decades of hard-fought consumer protection legislation which keeps shonky and unsafe goods out of the charmed circle of free consumer choice.
Leyonhjelm’s veneration of choice naturally extends to the freedom to do dangerous and very unhealthy things. But his antibodies to corporate regulation and even to public warnings signs (on June 29 he told SBS TV that of nanny state intrusions “Probably one of the silliest ones is signs”) together form a toxic mixture of unleashed corporate indifference to health consequences together with efforts to minimise the information environment for consumers to make informed choices.
The social Darwinist philosophy here is that consumers who are stupid enough to make unwise choices, including those shaped by their economic disadvantage, just deserve what’s coming to them. The noble consumer is the intelligent one with the wherewithal to research health information unencumbered by annoying ingredient labelling, warning labels or imposed health and safety standards.
So let us climb briefly aboard a time-travelling tardis for a taste of what life in the future might be like in Leyonhjelm’s utopia. A couple of examples might give us the flavour.
Arriving at Bondi beach in the aftermath of a storm surge, a massive surf is running, but we notice that there are no signs about the beach being closed. A tourist is being resuscitated, clinging to life, while two others lie dead beside her. All warnings signs had gone in the Leyonhjelm utopia, including the age-old flagging of lifesaver patrolled areas.
But there were no lifesavers either. A Liberal Democrat spokesman explains:
We helped Australians come to see that lifesavers were the archetypal nannies: telling us where we had to swim and blowing their annoying whistles at people who were exercising their choice to swim where they pleased. We didn’t mind them rescuing people when they got into trouble, but we drew the line at them trying to prevent people getting into dangerous rips, so they had to go.
We learn that the burns and emergency units in all hospitals (long since privatised) had tripled in size to cope with the increased demand. Laws requiring maximum domestic water temperature regulation were repealed after the party’s spinmeisters began repeating an old but prescient tobacco industry line that “pretty soon these people will want to adjust the water temperature of your shower because they know what’s good for you”.
The repeal was soon followed by a spike in emergency admissions of bath and shower scalded children, many scarred for life. Cheap water heaters had flooded in and the victim-blaming rhetoric of slack parenting was given a megaphoned workout by fellow-travelling shock jocks.
The good old days of cheap non-safety glass shower screens were also back. The wealthy and intelligent could get the safety glass but the poor and ill-informed took their chances. Many suffered major injuries when slipping in showers.
My list of 150 ways nanny state legislation is good for us had become the legislative hit list. Much credit for the shredding of public health regulation went to Leyonhjelm’s senior staff member Helen Dale who got traction for her observation on Twitter that it made good economic sense for people to die early.
The party spokesman tells us:
Helen correctly pointed out that tobacco is a great commodity because it kills so many people toward the end of their working lives but before they start being an economic dead weight. But we soon thought, hang on, the very same reasoning can be applied to just about everything that kills people before they start to need serious health care. So we expanded our deregulatory vision and targeted anything that might help the state in this way. Someone unkindly pointed out that some nasty regimes in history took a pretty similar attitude to the aged, infirm and disabled. But we always need to be true to our principles.
Every person who has had their life saved or quality of life enhanced by the nanny state laws, regulations and standards should flood Leyonhjelm’s inquiry with personal accounts that will flavour those which will be submitted by agencies and experts who will flood him with data on why Australia is today among the world’s healthiest and safest nations, thanks to Nanny.
Simon Chapman is part of two teams which receive funding from the NHMRC to examine (1) unassisted smoking cessation (2) intervention research which is subsequently taken up in "real world" settings.
Authors: The Conversation