Monday, July 20, 2015

Monday Forum - the Nanny State Inquiry

Sponsored by Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm, the Australian Senate's Standing Committee on Economics is carrying out "An inquiry into measures introduced to restrict personal choice 'for the individual's own good'" also known as the Nanny State Inquiry.

The terms of reference read:
The economic and social impact of legislation, policies or Commonwealth guidelines, with particular reference to:
a. the sale and use of tobacco, tobacco products, nicotine products, and e-cigarettes, including any impact on the health, enjoyment and finances of users and non-users;
b. the sale and service of alcohol, including any impact on crime and the health, enjoyment and finances of drinkers and non-drinkers;
c. the sale and use of marijuana and associated products, including any impact on the health, enjoyment and finances of users and non-users;
d. bicycle helmet laws, including any impact on the health, enjoyment and finances of cyclists and non-cyclists;
e. the classification of publications, films and computer games; and
f. any other measures introduced to restrict personal choice 'for the individual‘s own good‘.
For reasons that partially escape me, I found myself promising Leyonhjelm staffer and now retired fellow blogger Helen Dale that I would put in a submission. Although the terms of reference are more circumscribed than I would like, I can probably provide a useful submission. I am not a Libertarian and do not necessarily oppose restrictions on personal choice. However, I have written multiple posts on what I see as unnecessary restrictions on personal choice in the name of the common good. For that reason, I can at least delineate some of the principals involved and the conflicts built into them.

My biggest reservation about the terms of reference is that they seem to exclude measures that restrict personal freedom for other people's good. This is especially true for number f. Still, I may be able to skirt round this.

The closing date for submissions is 24 August. To help me refine my views, I have thrown the Nanny State Inquiry open for comment on this Monday Forum. As always, feel free to go in whatever direction you like. I would like broad ranging comments.     


marcellous said...

What about compulsory voting? Not for the individual's own good?

Hang on, were it not for compulsory voting it is difficult to imagine Senator L would ever have been elected.

Jim Belshaw said...

Nice example, marcellous. Growing up, I accepted that compulsory voting was simply a fact of life.Then I became exposed to alternative arguments and had to ask whether compulsory voting was a good thing. I concluded that it was on moral and practical grounds, although I recognise the arguments against.

TerjeP said...

Leyonhjelm thinks voting should be optional. So do I.

2 tanners said...

I hate agreeing with Leyonhjelm. I don't accept that smoking, drinking and marijuana should be unregulated as the direct costs to government and the indirect costs to others who have no choice in breathing the smoke or being crashed into are justified. These are externalities, much the same as living near a coal powered station are.

Bike helmets? I don't think there is much evidence for this one except in competitive riding. The argument against e-cigarettes is also pretty weak. Various other measures are also nanny statism.

I live in a (relatively) non-nanny state - sometimes the laws are there but not enforced, other times they simply don't exist. There are lots of deaths, particularly on the roads. Many should not have happened and are due to alcohol or reckless driving. However, when I come back to Australia, I often feel strait-jacketed. Sorting our what's what before August 26 will be a challenge.

Anonymous said...

Jim, I am familiar with that old saying about 'never have an inquiry unless you know what the outcome will be' so am wondering just what is specifically hoped to be achieved by this latest make-work exercise? What sort of additional regulation will be introduced to curb this over regulation? Alternatively, which specific laws will be amended or removed?

The combined talents of the Senate Committee manage to nominate tobacco, alcohol, maryjane, bike helmets, censorship, and 'other'. Some of these 'nanny' examples are in fact state responsibilities, yet here we have the resources of a quite powerful Senate committee being diverted to some sort of overview - so what are they? - the creche managers? Also, is 'other' just code for gun legislation?

Submissions close in a month, yet the 'due to report' date is June 2016? What can they possibly be doing in the intervening 9 or 10 months? Leyonhjelm may be a wonderful vet, and he certainly holds the present record for the number of fucks he doesn't give, so why the need for yet another review which is bound to produce the occasional tut-tut but little else worthwhile.


ps there are presently 4 submissions, the first 3 of which are 1 page efforts, including one which is actually coherent, but I digress. Anyway, how come submission #3 by Jefferson is 3.5 Mb for his single page? They could look into that complete waste of my computer time (never mind the national grid) for a start :)

Anonymous said...

Trying to be more positive, every time there's a rock fishing death there's a push for life jackets being made compulsory. What rubbish.

And then there's the current case of a hang glider claiming against some Sydney council for banging into a cliff. Unbelievable.

Obvious targets for this Senate review, floating in their backyard pools, from August to June next year.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi all. Brief comments.

TerjeP. I indicated in my comment to marcellous why I supported compulsory voting. Happy to debate in detail.

2T. Thought I would draw you. Just where do you do you draw the line? AS a smoker, if you just exclude the the normal tax elements on cigs and take the value judgement elements and add in interest, I have paid for a hell of a lot for smoking related illness. In the last twelve months alone, my tax paid would cover a major op and is well above the health insurance payments I have made. I now pay in combination close to $20 per day.

kvd, linking to my draw the line point, if I could force people to consider real costs and benefits, unlikely I know, that would be a nice advance.

Anonymous said...

if I could force people to consider real costs and benefits

By which I assume you are referring to the cigs, booze, and mj - not something actualy measurable - like the inquiry itself?


2 tanners said...


AMA and others report that the medical costs borne by the state resulting from cigarettes are more than the revenue drawn. A major op is one thing, long drawn out emphysema therapy is another. Some of those medical costs are imposed on folks who have never smoked except by drawing in lungfuls of others' effluvium.

I will weigh my value interest of the enjoyment of a smoke-free restaurant against your enjoyment (say) of an after dinner cigar. Trouble is, I get no choice in the matter and for you, spoiling my meal is not a major cost. Don't forget, I am a former smoker and know the enjoyment of a good cigar. However, as a policy response I am not sure that completely banning smoking in restaurants is rational - you could have smokers' restaurants etc. Banning smoking in certain places is pretty weak-kneed as responses go. If it's uneconomic, ban it.

The argument about e-cigarettes is that it models smoking behaviours. I haven't seen the proof of it, to me e-smokers look totally dorky and if it helps them not smoke and doesn't hurt anyone else, where's the problem?

My understanding (I have never seen a medical paper on it) is that smoking (note the verb) marijuana may be more damaging than smoking tobacco.

I am quite content for nicotine and THC to be administered in less damaging ways - patches, pills, hash cookies etc. In the case of THC, reservations about drug driving still apply. Ditto alcohol. I'm also content for age restrictions to apply, preferably outside the family home. Hard to teach kids judgement if they don't know what they are handling. Easier to teach young adults to approach things with sense than teenagers.

I'm in favour of licensing drivers. Traversing a road of unlicensed drivers is nothing short of terrifying. And yes, I can tell - apart from their behaviour it's also marked on their bikes or cars.

This inquiry isn't there to produce a foregone result, it is to provide free publicity for the libertarian standpoint, and perhaps to whip up some support for it. I'm just waiting for the huge, last minute submission from Big Tobacco, who are current suing the government on plain packaging.

Jim Belshaw said...

A lot of these things are measurable, kvd, like the cost of NSW driving license changes or new swimming pool legislation as compared to the maximum possible numbers of lives saved. This is important because many of these changes are justified on the grounds of benefits.

Anonymous said...

Here we go again with the reformist zeal of the reformed smoker. tanners if you would enjoy a smoke free meal why not set one up? You gladly sit there consuming vast amounts of exhaust fumes from passing traffic, consuming food no doubt produced from farms using human and animal waste as fertilizer, but oh how horrendous it is that somebody else in my vicinity is enjoying themselves.

Save him, from himself - so that I might be saved from myself?

Exactly how does licencing drivers actually reduce the road toll? Anybody can act like a fool on the road, including myself. Would you somehow feel better about it if you were run over by a licensed driver? What a nonsense.

And if "this enquiry isn't there to produce a foregone result, it is to provide free publicity for the libertarian movement" - then I object to having their 'fumes' foisted upon me, at public cost - by people who seem to take great delight in telling anyone who disagrees with them to "fuck off".


TerjeP said...

I think compulsory voting is a minor thing. But still wrong. New Zealand does fine without it.

Anonymous said...

TerjeP these are all minor things. But unfortunately that seems to be the major point.


2 tanners said...

I think you misunderstand me, kvd. I am a former smoker, not the ex-smoker stormtrooper type fired by born-again zeal and jealousy. Did I not mention smokers' restaurants? Turn it around if you like and try having smoke free restaurants. I did say that bans should either be total, on economic grounds, not limited to particular places.

But if your cigar makes me sneeze my pasta vongole onto my wife's white dress, you've doubled the cost of the meal to me, halved my enjoyment and possibly contributed to a later ailment, all without compensation. I actually don't give a stuff about the smoker, unless they are costing me net tax dollars. I am saying that the smoker incurs no cost whereas I do. They are free-riding by interfering in my right to equal enjoyment without payment. Save them from themselves? The only ones who could be put in that class in my previous post are those too young to decide and who should be educated.

On the topic of unlicensed drivers, a young man was killed on my street yesterday. Turns out his brother or a mate always had to start the bike for him and then he was off. He stalled and tried to restart it before the truck, braking hard, jack-knifed and hit him. He wouldn't have gotten his licence here or in Australia. I've seen several such incidents, not usually fatalities, but smoking, driving and starvation are the commonest causes of death here. Smoking, because the kids start at about 8.

I'm not sure where your comment about food came from or is going to, so I'll assume it's about smell. If I'm wrong, please correct me They keep pigs, chickens and dogs on my street for consumption. Pigs, as it happens, smell the worst but not nearly as bad as traffic. I go walking every week amongst the goats, cows and deer. I know what preslaughtered meat smells like.

And on the topic of fumes (and road dust) as I can't drive, I walk and do what most of the locals do - bear with it for most of the time and cover my nose and face when a diesel lorry, bike with crap exhaust or something else which stirs up the dust goes by.

If you think I live an existence free from the smells of human and animal excrement, choking smoke in bars and restaurants, diesel fumes, open sewers and backyard slaughterhouses then you have the wrong bloke. I don't like any of these but I choose to live here.

I think you think I'm a delicate flower and intent on trampling on others' rights. I'm not and I'm not. Instead, bans should be based on economic reasons, taking into account the costs of black markets and police enforcement, but imposing the effects of one's habit on another amounts to an externality situation - again, an economic problem which includes utility.

Finally when I said 'free publicity' I should have put quotes around it, to indicate sarcasm. It is not free and you and I will be paying for it for years.

Anonymous said...

tanners everything you write just confirms my (completely free of any judgemental opinion) understanding of how you choose to live your life - and more power to you, quite sincerely!

I just find it hard to reconcile the picture you so evocatively paint with a somehow need to zero in on smoking as a point of irritation? You take my unknowing (but somehow roughly accurate) description of your environment as criticism; it was not meant as such, except as comment upon the almost minimal effect that second hand smoke might add to same.

I am very sorry for your wife's white dress; but maybe choose to eat in a smoke free facility in future? I mean you no personal harm, and certainly do not view your chosen life in any way as less than desirable.

But then you go and try to change others' enjoyment of theirs - with a nonsense appeal to economic argument in a chaotic, vibrant environment, with so many other more directly deleterious aspects?


Tim Q said...

Cigarette tax revenue massively outweighs the costs of smoking. Like 18 times the cost.
The fantastical "studies" that suggest otherwise do so by massive, blatant fraud.
Like smokers die, but everyone else lives forever.

marcellous said...

Jim: I am OK with compulsory voting but not with the compulsory allocation of your preferences according to the choice of the recipient of your first preference if you vote above the line.

Jim Belshaw said...

I am enjoying this comment thread. In responding at this point, I want to pick up just a few issues.

kvd asked about the value of the inquiry. Regardless of sponsor or lines that might be pushed, regardless even of impact, this is the first inquiry to my knowledge that allows restrictions to be challenged. In all the others, you have to try to respond to proposals to increase specific restrictions. So I think that the inquiry is important even if the terms of reference are poorly crafted.

Like kvd, I checked the initial submissions. There are only four so far. Of these, the attachment on bike helmets to Colin Clark's submission is the most rigorous. On the submissions to this point, the Committee has very little to work with. I'm sure that will change.

I have no objections to the most Libertarian submissions because it adds to depth. But in a practical sense, we are dealing with the question of where you draw the line and on what basis. To my mind, the place where the line should be has long been over-run.

We are dealing with patterns of control. We are also dealing with conflicting rights.

I would like to let the discussion run before summarising issues and raising questions. Hopefully, that will happen.

2 tanners said...


I believe you have profoundly misinterpreted an important part of my rant. It's not about smoking, it's about weak-kneed responses. If, as the studies I have read indicate, smoking's costs far outweigh the revenue, then a complete ban should be evaluated. Banning it in some places but not others (like restaurants but not crowded footy games) is stupid. Other options can also be considered like increasing the revenue until it does cover costs or exempting smokers from state supplied medical benefits. 1111111101014 010410nn

The same argument could apply to other drugs, to begin with. I'm sure that presently mj law enforcement totally outweighs the cost to society of its use and on those grounds, mj should be legalised. Alcohol, despite my love of red wine, might be a tough one to call. I suspect the Wine Equalisation Tax and spirit and beer excise and levies MAY get near to covering costs. Haven't seen a study.

And you'll see from my first point that I also covered driver licensing, bike helmets and more. And I might havennnnn my personal space threatened by a smoker, but much more so by a drunk. I'm not all about smoking, or smell.

The strait jacket feel I get when I come home is stifling, and I don't like it at all. Tree preservation orders. Windfarm bans. Heritage orders by others on your personal home. It's all part of the nanny NIMBY state, and saving people from themselves is a far lower order issue than saving the helpless and powerless from others. Preferably WITH the agreement of those being rescued. :)

Always good to talk to you.

2 tanners said...

BTW, the bit about the finances of smokers, drinkers and others really goes up my nose. That one is purest choice. It will be made up of two parts supposition, 1 part assumption and mixed well with wild prognostication. Statements regarding the effects on the finances of non-users won't be nearly so accurate.

Anonymous said...

Hi tanners. We run the risk of monopolising Jim's wider query (which has elicited several new respondents, which is good) by continuing this, but nevertheless:

A total ban seems like prohibition to me, therefore you cannot be serious? This would remove a very significant sum from present government revenue (and I actually disagree that the costs outweigh the revenue btw) and would also add to the expenditure side with added costs of any such prohibition. Simply put, it would not work. Therefore I cannot see your logic.

This same comment re the non-feasibility of prohibition applies to other drugs, gambling, et al. This approach just does not work, and I'm wondering just how many times it must be proved to you before you would abandon prohibition as a viable approach? Cigs, drugs, gambling, prostitution - point me to any society where authority has successfully implemented a 'complete ban', as you term it.

I acknowledge you also commented upon other issues. I accept the 'strait jacket' feeling you must have; you are not alone. And it is always good to 'talk' in this space.


2 tanners said...

Leaving it wide, I did suggest alternatives - raise revenue, lower costs. I think this applies to all restrictions. You are quite right, bans are pretty much unenforceable and the cost of them is usually high both in monetary and moral (corruption etc) terms. Prohibition in Canberra's past was a great example of non-workable, ideology-driven policy. Bans were a pretty dumb suggestion on my part.

This pretty much brings me back to my core feeling, and this discussion has helped to refine it, for which I thank you. People should be free to harm themselves at their own expense. If they impose costs on others - including wrecking the quiet enjoyment of a meal, increasing their tax burden or killing them - and do not face the consequences, that seems unbalanced.

The costs of smoking to the taxpayer have reduced markedly and are now relatively small - about $320 million per year (net), which surprised me, according to this Treasury tax consultation paper. A tax increase on cigarettes totalling $1 billion would wipe out the differential, as the elasticity is 0.4 to 1. The key question for me is, just as smokers, drinkers and mj users should be allowed to enjoy their habit, do they have a right to override my enjoyment? A bit different from bike helmets, I feel.

I'll also leave it there so others can participate. I put in a hyperlink above - if it doesn't work let me know.

Winton Bates said...

Hello All,
There is something about the health cost argument re smoking that seems to me to be wierd.

For the sake of the discussion I will accept the argument that smoking adds to public spending, even though that may be debatable because people who smoke don't live so long on average and hence have less years to be a burden on the taxpayer.
The wierd aspect of the argument is that Nanny State imposes a health insurance system on us that is so poorly designed that it doesn't charge higher premiums to people who engage in activities that are likely to damage their own health. Then we have people arguing that we must restrict liberty in order to make the silly health system affordable. Why not just adopt a more sensible system of health insurance?

Anonymous said...

according to this Treasury tax consultation paper - net cost of $320M - based upon the work of "Collins and Lapsley (2008)"

Meanwhile, back here in the real world (circa 2015), the cost of a packet of cigarettes has well over doubled since those stats were produced - and all of it tax, unless you think the producers have somehow gotten less efficient?

tanners, "sin taxes" are a milch cow, and you will not be thanked by anyone in charge of spending our tax dollars for seeking to reduce any of the sins.

But I agree with your second para.


Anonymous said...

Ha! Went looking for stats I recorded about cigarette prices well after tanners' 2008 paper, and stumbled upon this - which is something I wrote in response to something SL (Helen Dale) wrote a few years ago:

SL you can spend time deciding the relative ‘worth’ or ‘evil’ of various political systems, while here in Australia we live with one of the most controlling of political regimes, all done in the name of “what’s good for us”. What is worse: Lenin cold bloodedly knocking of a percentage of his population, or a country seeking to control the habits and life choices every day in the smallest of ways of every one of us?

If you want to smoke, or gamble, or eat fatty foods, or play violent video games, or surf the web, or drive a fuel inefficient vehicle, (or even go rock fishing without a life preserver ffs!) you have gentle Big Brother now deciding what’s “good” for you, and punishing you if you depart from the acceptable mean of what has been decided for this society. None of these activities is illegal; I dare say some of these activities may reduce your lifespan. But all of them should remain the choice of the individual – for better or worse.

There’s lots of ways to murder people. One of the most insidious ways is to gradually remove their freedoms to do what they wish, when they wish, for as long or as short as their resulting lifespan is.



Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks for the link, 2t. Helpful.

Discussion has, I think, come to a present end so I thought that I would pull together some of the issues to this point.

2t does not like the straight jacket feel he gets when he comes home. "It's all part of the nanny NIMBY state." 2t makes a distinction between saving people from themselves and what he sees as a more important issue, saving the helpless and powerless from others, preferably with the agreement of those being rescued. This distinction is an important one. A lot of controls on individuals are based on harm to others of which the weak and helpless form a special class.

When we move from the general case, 2t's nanny NIMBY state, to specific examples, things immediately get muddy. Again, I will use 2t and tobacco as an entry point. 2t provided three reasons for controls over smoking: self harm from smoking and the costs that imposed on the community; harm to others from passive smoking creating health damage to individuals plus costs to the community; and reduced amenity to non-smokers. These are very different arguments.

Things get even messier when we look at details. 2t started by referring to the economic costs of smoking. I challenged this, as did other commenters. Based on the information provided to this point, the case is unclear, especially (and I made this point)if you take into account the extra taxation paid by smokers over their smoking period.

2t also put forward a general argument based on externalities, controls were justified where there were net costs to the broader community. This gets to be messy, but is certainly arguable.

2t did suggest alternatives such as smoker's restaurants. We actually had these. They were called under cover or outdoor dining areas. Many were created to accommodate the smoker market. They have just been abolished in NSW on generalised health grounds including the risk of passive smoking. One of the problems, in fact, was that non-smokers wanted to use them as well and objected to smoking. Passive smoking has also been used to justify the banning of smoking within 4 metres of an open air bus stop, while smoking is also banned on country railway platforms with little or no covering at all.

One of the real problems is that Health Departments in combination with lobby groups such as the Cancer Council are determined to stamp out smoking no matter what the cost in terms of individual freedoms or even the pain and punishment inflicted on individuals. This combination of official attitudes with vested interest groups is one of the main drivers of the nanny state across multiple fields.

Now, and this bears upon some of 2t's arguments such as smoker's restaurants as well as Winton's point on health insurance, in all these cases there are many different ways of handling things when you break them down into their components. Application of controls is one way, the easiest and often most popular way, but rarely the most effective way.

Consider the NSW driving license case. The learning rules introduced with the support of the road safety lobby were justified on the grounds of lives saved on the on the roads. In fact, if you looked at the economic cost of the additional requirements relative to the likely number of lives saved, the cost per maximum life saved was incredibly high. Worse, the rules were such that a significant proportion of the younger age cohort could no longer afford to get a license, at least without cheating. The rules were unworkable and were finally amended.

Finally, I have a fair bit of sympathy for kvd's repeat of his earlier comment.

2 tanners said...


Don't bother with bike helmets. The science appears in retrospect to have been flawed and it's unfortunate that it was legislation first, science second. I'd love to feel the wind in my hair again. And that may be all that comes out of this investigation.

I didn't touch on smoking in the workplace where attendance is compulsory. That opens another can of worms.

What about the Big Brother surveillance measures without warrant for our own protection from an undefined threat? That is a truly gross invasion of our rights. The Lindt episode occurred (in part) because although the police and others had the information beforehand, they were incapable of responding. Ditto 'you might be a terrorist' legislation.

What about TPP secrecy for our own protection?

I agree that on smoking Health Departments have moved from the demonstrable to the ideological with the exception of plain paper packaging. Big Tobacco's first argument was that it was ineffective - and yet they complained on the basis of intellectual property rights. They are suing the Government on international trade grounds, from Singapore. The right to buy and use the product is unaffected.

thoughts for your submission only. Must fly.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks for the further comment, 2t. I will respond later today.

Anonymous said...

it's well known that Leyonhjelm derives his campaign funding from tobacco companies

Anonymous said...

Jim, while my first reaction to this investigation was mostly negative, I can see a benefit to be had if they were to set aside picking over old arguments about smoking and bike helmets (for instance) and instead concentrate their efforts upon emerging trends such as Uber and Airbnb.

These are economic 'disruptive' trends, with powerful entrenched interests demanding those interests be 'protected' against the usurpers. Not to mention the interests of the State in potential loss of revenue.

I can see some benefit in an examination of regulatory responses (including fiscal) to these emerging industries - i.e. where to draw the regulatory lines, to use your phrase. But rehashing old, now settled, tobacco laws not so much.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi anon. I don't mind if he does, so long as it's on the public record.

Thanks, kvd. That's a new and important angle.

Anonymous said...

Well it's certainly hotting up at that Senate enquiry - 34 submissions now, with roughly 30 of them about bike helmets, 2 for guns, 1 drugs, 1 ecigs and censorship. Maybe we could ease the gun laws provided the shooter was required to wear a helmet?


Jim Belshaw said...

And, possibly, make them smoke an ecig at the same time?

Interesting that bike helmets should dominate. I browsed some of the subs, most short, most making similar points. It seems clear that mandatory bike helmets are a no-no for a considerable group.

2 tanners said...

I think gun laws are clearly meant to protect others, not protect gun owners from themselves. Same for AirBnB and Uber - the kerfuffle never really talks about protecting users, except as a red herring. It's about protecting taxis and hotels from competition, with AirBnB in particular already subject to a star rating from users that inserts it into a real marketplace.

We need to stay focused on measures which wrap society in cotton wool principally to prevent harm coming to potential users of a service, not to others as victims.

Totally agree that censorship should be on this list, at least for inquiry. We can still show children people being murdered on TV but not video games, and be forbidden from showing loving, honest sex. What's with that? I'll make my own moral judgements as to what my kids can see, thanks.

Maybe look at the drugs restricted to pharmacists as well?

Jim Belshaw said...

On pharmacies and drugs, DG would (I think) totally agree with you.

The dividing line is not quite as easy, I think. Cotton wool applies especially in cases where actions are perceived to damage others.

Jim Belshaw said...

Another piece on the nanny state trope -

Anonymous said...

Jim, apologies for way off topic, but just wanted to record somewhere the following two links re the recent BRICS summit:


Again, by linking I am not endorsing the stance of the particular writers, but I just think it's interesting that such a potentially important grouping seems to have had little or no press exposure here. Plus, I remember your musing on the importance of the Silk Road, and it is mentioned in the Diplomat piece.


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi kvd. Second ink, first. That was a bit back to the future. In tone, I felt that I was reading something from the 1950s! There was some BRICS summit coverage here, but not a lot.

The Diplomat piece was more substantive and, as you say, it focused on the Eurasian theme. If you take the two pieces together, they are signs of continued reshuffling in global power arrangements.