For some time I’ve felt that governments nowadays are interfering too much in our daily lives (which has given rise to the term Nanny State) and all too often introduce legislation that makes no real sense, achieves little of significance and which usually doesn’t consider the unintended consequences. On a recent trip with some friends to the Victorian High Country, we had a discussion about ongoing changes to Victorian parks legislation, which I’ll talk about in another post, but this post is about something that’s already a fait accompli and reinforces that old saying that ‘the law’s an ass’. To wit, New South Wales (NSW) recently introduced legislation that bans smoking in all national parks. The reasons given for the ban are:
- increased community enjoyment and safety in green open spaces
- reduced littering and accidental fires
- health benefits for the public
Often, such laws will also deliver associated irony.
However, no matter how many times I read the reasons given for the ban, none of them make any practical sense. But clearly, making sense was not the aim of the legislation, the seeming was obviously the priority. Now I don’t know what the majority of NSW national parks look like (as, from memory, I’ve only visited two – Jenolan Caves and Mount Kosciuszko National Park while driving through along the Alpine Way), so maybe they are significantly different to Victorian ones, with compressed spaces where visitors are crammed shoulder to shoulder like shoppers at Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. By the sounds of it, national parks must be a pretty cramped affair if smoking is deemed such a serious issue even in a car and, if it is, I pity New South Welshmen and their lack of open space.
Now I’m not a smoker and I don’t support smoking, but it is still a legal activity despite smokers increasingly being turned into pariahs, so making it even harder for smokers is not always the answer. Also, I live in Victoria, so this legislation doesn’t directly affect me; however, the reason these things are a cause for concern is because all too often others wish to promote and emulate stupid ideas with the ‘It’s for everyone’s good’ attitude and before you know it, you’re in the same boat. Governments and vocal do-gooders lobbying governments can be like sheep following each other, for no other reason than that’s the direction one of them is going and we sure as hell don’t want to be left behind. But the other effect is that when something is not available in one place, people look for it in another, and that’s already happening in many places in Victoria with an increasing influx of NSW travellers to the High Country in peak seasons. This is not because of smoking laws, but because NSW has effectively closed off national parks to all but the select few, to protect the parks (another story entirely).
I would have to assume from the NSW legislation that no one would be able to light a BBQ, campfire or even a fuel stove in a national park under these rules (for the sake of consistency); or was this even considered? So it’s refreshing that in Victoria we can still have quiet enjoyment, safety and good health in national parks without resorting to a ban on smoking (amongst other things). On a recent camping trip to Nunniong Plains Scenic Reserve, it’s clear that the Victorian approach reflects something considerably different to that of NSW; offering wide open spaces where rabbits, kangaroos and wild horses (brumbies) can accommodate campers and campfires (smoking or non-smoking), as well as mountain horsemen trying to catch those brumbies. Life here is relaxing and rewarding, even with minimal government intervention (who would have thought?).
But the stupidity of this sort of legislation is that it very likely achieves nothing, other than giving a bunch of dull witted politicians and their supporters a buzz. Community enjoyment and safety? If you’re in the wild away from other people, or sitting inside your car driving through a national park, how is having a smoke going to affect other people’s enjoyment? Littering? Is banning smoking going to prevent people leaving other types of litter such as plastic and glass drink containers, McDonalds wrappers (one day someone will find a McDonalds wrapper in the antarctic) and all manner of horrid waste that you invariably see strewn all over the countryside? Fire safety? Even their web site can’t put a figure on causes of fires, only guesses, and does NSW have no grassy plains along roads that aren’t part of a national park, yet subject to the same risks? Health benefits? Want to be a world leader, ban the sale and smoking of cigarettes in NSW entirely (more unintended consequences would follow).
You can just imagine the NSW politicians working on their next grand idea that might involve banning alcohol or unhealthy foods in national parks (all for the good of the community and environment of course), making NSW a world leader in public health. Who knows, that sandwich or packet of chips may well offend the sensibilities and interfere with the quiet enjoyment of other visitors and, at the very least, contribute to littering. For all the well meaning intent that this legislation is perhaps supposed to deliver, it more than likely will deliver nothing, except possibly revenue from fines and anger from visitors. Just imagine the incredulous disbelief from overseas visitors, especially those from countries where smoking is almost a universal activity. Fundamentally, laws need to be sensible, rather than a harridan approach imposing the narrow ideals of a minority and in an inflexible manner.
Unfortunately, one thing is for certain, inane government rules and the Nanny State are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Sadly, I suspect that we have a long way to go before the pendulum starts to swing back the other way, back to a more sensible era.
Update: The comment raised here posed an interesting situation. Let’s suppose that overnight, for whatever reason, every smoker suddenly gave up smoking, permanently. Who would be the biggest losers, the tobacco industry or government? Many people would suggest the tobacco industry, but I don’t think that would be the case at all. The tobacco industry, growers, manufacturers etc, would adapt, claim tax losses etc and move on. However, the government would be confronted by unemployment, a loss of significant tobacco tax revenue, as well as income tax and general tax revenue from other industries (all those that support the tobacco industry directly and indirectly); this would be an absolutely frightening loss for any government.