Conservatives and libertarians often moan about the ‘nanny state’ when it impinges on something they would like to do; smoke indoors, drink to excess, ride bikes without a helmet, driving a car without a seatbelt, driving as fast as you wish, drinking while driving, shooting all sorts of animals with lever-action shotguns or automatic rifles and all sorts of other things, including being a bigot, according to the Attorney General George Brandis1.
Libertarian Liberal Democratic Party Senator David Leyonhjelm has stated that “it’s embarrassing, frankly – it comes from this lobby who think we’re all too silly to know what is good for us”. He is correct in part: Many people are too stupid to know what is good for them. Who, in their right mind, would take up smoking these days, given what we know about the dangers of the addiction. In the 1950s an influential study presented compelling evidence that over half of smokers would eventually be killed by smoking-related complications. More recently, a study published in the peer-reviewed journal BMC Medicine asserts that up to two out of every three smokers will eventually die from conditions associated with their addiction2. While conservatives and libertarians will say: ‘that is the smoker’s right and it is their problem’, it is not solely, because, as a taxpayer, I have to pay for their treatment either through my Medicare levy, or higher private health insurance premiums. Every year 15,000 Australians die from the effects of smoking, and it costs the Australian economy as much as $31.5 billion annually in social (including health) and economic costs3. If libertarians and conservatives want to allow this to continue, then I am quite happy to let them, and them alone, pay for it.
It was Leyonhjelm who said, during the cigarette ‘plain packaging’ debate, that “the Liberal Democrats will fight for the right to choose to smoke and we will fight tobacco taxes”. Of course Leyonhjelm would say this, as in the past he has accepted donations from giant tobacco company Phillip Morris4. While the decrease in the number of smokers was not as significant as promoters of plain packaging would have liked (it is an addiction after all), it was estimated to have been the cause of about a quarter of the decline in smoking over the initial 34 months since implementation in 2012, the rest being due to increased taxes and other programs. This one quarter translated to over 100,000 fewer smokers. That has got to be a good thing, because a proportion of those will now not die of smoking-related causes, nor will they be an economic burden on the rest of us because of their smoking.
In school zones, you are now not allowed to drive at over 40 kph in New South Wales (NSW) in the time intervals from 8:00-9:30am and 2:30-4:00pm on school days. Some, but not all, libertarians (including the idiotic Leyonhjelm) are of the opinion that it is perfectly OK for them to drive up to 140kph on freeways, and that 40km speed limit zones should be abolished7.
It has been found that casualties amongst the 5- to 16-year old age group due to road accidents have decreased in school zones at a greater rate than in other locations, indicating that the 40kph limit is working. Not only that, but other age groups have also experienced large casualty decreases in school zones, but not as much outside them, indicating that the 40km limit is working for others as well (presumably including parents of school children). It is also thought that fixed speed cameras and flashing lights in NSW school zones have had an effect8, but these simply reinforce the school zone limits.
If people were allowed to do what they want because of some bizarre libertarian obsession with demolishing what they laughably called the ‘nanny state’, outcomes both medically and economically would be considerably worse than they are now. All this goes to show, is that some people are, in fact, too stupid to know what is good for them. Unfortunately some of these people are in parliament.