AUSTRALIA – THE NANNY STATE
Gone are the attractive and laidback days of ROG ² LQWURGXFLQJ D FRXQWU\ WKDW·V EHFRPH over-governed to the point of hilarity.
Picture your father in the 1980s. His shirt’s actually a singlet and his shorts ball-baringingly short – much like the shrift he gives to the idea of rules, regulations and moderation. He doesn’t wear a bicycle helmet (nor would he ride a fixie, or allow Lycra near his skin, frankly), he can drink where and what he likes, and he’d probably blow the smoke from a Winfield Red right in your face were you to suggest otherwise. It’s fair to say if you shoved him in a Tardis and dropped him into the Australia of today – say at the MCG in the middle of the Boxing Day Test – he’d be both baffled and bereft. For a start, the fluoro vests would hurt his eyes and he’d wonder why the bartenders are serving what looks like beer, but tastes suspiciously like water. You’d have to explain what the Responsible
Service of Alcohol is and that, yes, he’ll have to raise his sunglasses at the bar so they can see if he’s somehow become inebriated on light beer. Further, the security men’s penchant for attacking beach balls with knives would also give him pause. Fleeing this ruined remnant of a oncegreat Australian day out, he’d find a country that’s put its reputation for being laidback permanently to rest – a country where inflatable pools deeper than 30cm must have a fence built around them. With a self-latching gate. By law. Your dad would struggle with the simple fact that over 35 short years, we’ve surrendered our sense of personal accountability – that is, the right to choose the best course of action (and accept the consequences) based on experience, facts and individual preference. Instead, seemingly willingly, we’ve traded it for intrusive levels of government regulation. We’re now one of only a handful of nations that mandates helmet-wearing by cyclists of all ages. Depending where you live, drinking on public land is either illegal or requires a permit. Despite incredible technological and mechanical advancements that have made cars safer than ever before, speed limits continue to be cut, while dogs can no longer rest their heads out a car window when travelling. Playing games of schoolyard tip, meanwhile, alongside performing cartwheels and handstands, is increasingly being prohibited. In Victoria vacuuming is banned after 10pm, and, in May of this year, a group of Queensland residents were told they’d be fined if they continued to cut the overgrown grass of a local park – which they were doing to avoid increased numbers of snakes. Over in Perth, recent laws were passed that see residents of Gosnells face fines of up to $350, should they fail to “prevent the emission of offensive odours” from their garbage bins. In many public parks, picnics for more than 20 people now require a permit. In state and national forests, firewood must only be sourced from a “designated domestic firewood collection area”. If you’re still smoking (well, you’re an idiot), recent changes to NSW strata laws have seen entire blocks ban the habit, while others are governed under strict regulations with fines of up to $1100 should smoke from a cigarette, or barbecue, drift onto a neighbouring property. And, back in Victoria, kite-flying (or playing ball games) can be an offence should it be done to the “annoyance of another person”.
Senator David Leyonhjelm is many varied things to many different people – though he was recently elected for a second term, largely due to his love of civil liberties and furious hatred of ‘Nanny Laws’. “Historically, we were a relaxed place – many of us can remember a time when we were pretty laidback and governments tended to leave people alone. But that is absolutely no longer the case,” Leyonhjelm tells GQ. “It’s embarrassing, frankly – it comes from this lobby who think we’re all too silly to know what’s good for us.” Nowhere else has the Nanny State phenomenon affected more Australians than in the areas of drinking, driving and childhood development. At the time of publication, NSW continued to live under so-called ‘Lockout Laws’, as it has done since February, 2014. It means CBD venues, stretching from “parts of Surry Hills and Darlinghurst to The Rocks, and from Kings Cross to Cockle Bay” can’t let anyone in after 1:30am, while patrons already inside are not allowed to order alcoholic drinks after 3am. Some sections of these new laws, however, seemed less even-handed, like the decision to shut bottle shops, right across the state, at 10pm. Many is the bloke in Bourke who’s wondering how preventing him from buying a few take-away tinnies at night is going to stop someone from being ‘coward punched’ in the Sydney CBD. It’s worth remembering, however, that the law wasn’t foisted on us – at the time of its implementation there was palpable outrage over late-night violence in Kings Cross and Sydney city. Kids – and they were children, teenagers only just starting to taste adult life – were dying, and there was, rightly, a demand that something be done to curb the violence. But it remains to be seen if the legislation that followed addressed any of the obvious Australian demons about drinking culture, which run deeper than curtailing a person’s ability to grab a glass of wine or schooner/ pot/middy at a certain time. Australian Medical Association vice-president and emergency physician, Dr Stephen Parnis, believes there’s a real problem with Australians and alcohol: “We’re dealing with a cultural problem where alcohol is a core aspect of Australian life. There’s still significant pressure, not just to drink, but to drink to excess.” Robert Cavallucci, former LNP Member for Brisbane, where new lockout laws are also in effect, agreed in a recent interview. “Does Australia have a problem with our drinking culture? Or is the issue with societal norms around anti-social behaviour and interpersonal violence?” questioned Cavallucci. “We appear to have acceptable norms for sober behaviour and a more lax set of the same rules when drunk. Some behaviours while drunk are tolerated when they’d be inexcusable if sober. “Growing up in Australia means experiencing a culture that has normalised binge drinking to the point where in some cases it’s almost glamorised under this second set of social norms.” In any case, the tale of Thomas Kelly was one that led to the new laws, after the 18-year-old lost his life on his first-ever outing to Kings Cross. In the wrong place at the wrong time, he came across a drunk and aggressive Kieran Loveridge – whose unprovoked ‘one-punch’ led to Kelly’s death. This tale runs beyond tragic – the teen’s death cruel, senseless and with lasting effects – Thomas’ younger brother, Stuart, taking his own life in July 2016, four years after his brother was removed from life support. A parent should never experience that kind of pain, let alone twice. Sadly, the fact remains that Thomas was struck by an addled, callous and clearly violent person just after 10pm. And Loveridge had been drinking, legally, from 5pm – consuming vodka mixers at a rapid rate on his one-hour drive into Sydney. The public called for change. The AM airwaves, tabloids and TV outlets agreed, launching campaigns to stop the violence, which included a 1am lockout in the style of Newcastle, on NSW’S central coast. “The police at Kings Cross are dealing with what is on many nights, particularly Saturday nights, effectively a war zone,” said then-mp Malcolm Turnbull at the time. “As a society, and I am speaking to [former NSW premier] Barry O’farrell here directly, he needs to do more, and the State Government needs to do more, to support the police and support the community in that area.” So O’farrell did more. In the days following the introduction of the new laws, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the regulations “send a clear message that drug and alcohol-fuelled violence in Sydney will not be tolerated”. Even Sydney bar king Justin Hemmes weighed in: “Without doubt, these measures will create a safer environment for all.” Today, the Kings Cross party strip is a shadow of its former self. Gone are the busy pubs, clubs and bars, in their place 24-hour gyms, upscale restaurants or ‘closed’ signs. By the middle of 2016, the simmering discontent had bubbled to a boil, with vocal outrage from public and industry luminaries. Australian recording artists like Flume, Art vs Science and Gang of Youths decried the death of Sydney’s live music scene as a corollary of lockout laws. Even those previously aboard the lockout ship leapt overboard, having spotted a political iceberg. Today, Moore explains, “It was a sledgehammer when what we needed was a well-researched, evidence-based, flexible response using transport, planning, licensing and police.” Hemmes, meanwhile, has warned that Sydney is “regulating itself into oblivion”. In February 2016, Matt Barrie, CEO of Freelancer, a company that connects freelance workers with publishers, penned a scathing review of the laws, which quickly exploded on social media. “A special little person has decided that there is a certain time at night when we are all allowed to go out, and there is a certain time that we are allowed into an establishment and a certain time that we are all supposed to be tucked into bed. There is a certain time we are allowed to buy some drinks, and over the course of the night the amount of drinks we are allowed to buy will change. The drinks we buy must be in a special cup made of a special material, and that special material will change over the course of the night at certain times. The cup has to be a certain size. It cannot be too big, because someone might die. Over the course of the night, this special little person will tell you what you can and cannot put into your cup because someone might die. It is now illegal to buy a bottle of wine after 10pm in the city of Sydney because not a single one of us is to be trusted with any level of personal responsibility.” In the same month, Canadian Tyler Brûlé – the publisher who launched Wallpaper* and Monocle magazines – continued the onslaught, highlighting lockout laws as a policy that had Australia on the road to becoming “the world’s dumbest nation”. “If you want to be globally attractive, you do need to have bars open until whatever hour of the day. And I need to be able to open a pop-up shop in Surry Hills and walk on the pavement with my wine glass. To me that’s actually important. It’s not going to bring about the collapse of society because you do that,” said Brûlé. Most telling, though, is that even the NSW Government – many from the same team O’farrell led when the laws were introduced – is now making noises about changing the legislation. Former High Court judge Ian Callinan recently came back with his independent report into the effectiveness of the laws.
Still with the Baird government at the time of publication, his recommendations include a two-year trial that would push back lockout and last drinks from 1:30am and 3am to 2am and 3:30am for live entertainment venues. O’farrell hasn’t spoken on the topic since leaving office – until now. “Am I surprised that life has moved on? No. In part, because since January of 2014, we’ve been seeing, on average, 43 fewer assaults a month, over two years,” he says. “It means you’ve seen a reduction in what used to be the staple for Sydney’s newsrooms on too many days. Let alone the impact it had on families and individuals across this city and across the state. “Often there is the case that when you seek to apply some measures to solve a problem, a year or two later society has moved on and that problem is no longer in the news, no longer top of mind, and if they’re asked again, they might start to chafe about some of the measures that have been imposed.” However, O’farrell accepts the financial effects the laws have had on hundreds of inner-city establishments. “I get the fact that there are some people out there hurting. I get the fact that venues have closed. Some might have closed as a result of lockouts; others have closed as a result of economics. But as someone who goes out at night and gets out of places at one or two in the morning, I can tell you I still see people. I’m not seeing ghosts. I’m seeing real-life people walking the streets of Sydney in better shape than they once did.” But wouldn’t an international tourist be a little surprised they couldn’t buy a bottle of wine to take to a restaurant at 10.01pm? “[Freelancer CEO] Matt Barrie is talking out of his fundamental orifice when he does this, because all of the tourist figures for Sydney – international and domestic – show strong growth,” adds O’farrell. “To look at bottle shop legislation – bottle shops can open at nine o’clock in the day. I reckon 13 hours a day, seven days a week is enough time for anyone to ensure their cellar is stocked.” With hindsight, though, would he do anything differently? “Faced with the same set of circumstances again, and faced with the same advice, would I do the same? Absolutely... it was the right response at the time. And what gives me confidence about that is not just the comments I get on the street when I visit Potts Point and stray into the Cross, but the changing nature of that community,” he claims. “Do I welcome any business shutting its doors? No. But I make the point, restaurants open and close every week in the city, they’re probably one of the most risky ventures to get into.” Other than O’farrell, finding someone who’ll publicly say these laws are a good idea is a lot like getting someone to proclaim they voted for Pauline Hanson. Parnis, who’s seen what a bottle can do to a face, and worse, is one. “We don’t live in isolation, we have a collective responsibility to each other, that’s what living in a society is all about. And ‘Nanny State’ is a wonderful throwaway term people love to use, but no one ever complains about the Nanny State when they’re in a public hospital and I’m trying to save their life,” he says.
In 2012, a primary school in NSW’S Drummoyne banned handstands and cartwheels – unless carried out under supervision of a gymnastics teacher. Schools in Brisbane and Melbourne have since outlawed ‘tiggy’ or ‘tag’ – in the case of Mt Martha Primary School, this was part of a no contact policy, which also banned high-fives and hugging. One Adelaide primary school banned “mixed-sex consensual hugging” for its Year 6 students, because it set a bad example for younger children, while a Gold Coast state school threatened students caught hugging friends with detention. Other schools in Victoria have banned running, and any games involving leather footballs “to avoid head injuries”. Most recently, multiple Sydney state schools moved to cancel ‘muck-up’ day. As for British bulldog, aka red rover, Jim Cooper, former President of the NSW Primary Principals Association, says it’s one of many childhood games to have been banned the past decade. “In many schools now, they don’t allow children to play red rover because of the level of physical contact,” he says. “It goes too far. There’s a certain roughand-tumble that should be a part of childhood, where you’re working out your limits,” says author and former Wallaby, Peter Fitzsimons. “If, occasionally, somebody gets hurt in a high-five, I’m prepared to live with that. I’m a traditionalist – I think kids should be running into each other, climbing trees and scraping their knees. I do wonder if the coming generation will have lost resilience or a certain toughness.” So who’s to blame for all this coddling? Just about everyone, according to Cooper. “Schools have to put these things in place – it’s a matter of law,” he says. “It goes back to a combination of things – the helicopter- parent syndrome, decisions made by coroners and the ombudsman.” Professor Anita Bundy, from The University of Sydney, says physical play is important to help kids learn to take responsibility for themselves, and their actions. “By stretching yourself and doing some kinds of physical activity – that’s the way kids learn those things,” says Bundy. “If they don’t learn to take responsibility at school and as young children at home, do they suddenly wake up on their 18th birthday and say, ‘I know how to be responsible and vigilant, and how to pay attention’?” But that’s probably a moot point. It won’t matter if kids have learned how to be responsible adults by the time they turn 18. Their decisions will still be made for them, whether they like it or not. Because that’s the scary thing – try to picture a time, in Australia, when you’ve grown up and had kids of your own. If we continue down the path of caution and legislation, what sort of country will it be? The logical progression would be a country in which the drinking age is raised, speed limits are lowered, lockout laws blanket the nation and plain packaging extends beyond cigarettes. Perhaps we should enjoy what freedoms are left, before Nanny comes to put us all to bed. Early.
By the middle of 2016, the simmering discontent had bubbled to a boil, with vocal outrage from both public and industry luminaries.