The Law’s An Ass – Part 1

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.

NYE in Sydney Harbour and fireworks next to national parks - (source: NSW Parks Website)

NYE in Sydney Harbour and fireworks next to national parks – (source: NSW Parks Website)

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.

Queen Victoria Market Melbourne - (source: Australian Traveller)

Queen Victoria Market Melbourne – (source: Australian Traveller)

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).

Following the sheep - Bindi Victoria

Following the sheep – Bindi Victoria

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?).

Brumbies - Nunniong Plains Victoria

Brumbies – Nunniong Plains Victoria

High Country Camping (smoke and all) - Nunniong Plains Victoria

High Country Camping (smoke and all) – Nunniong Plains Victoria

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).

Enjoyment, safety and good health in the High Country - Nunniong Plains Victoria

Enjoyment, safety and good health in the High Country – Nunniong Plains Victoria

Quiet enjoyment in the High Country (waiting for wood to dry) - Moscow Villa, Bentleys Plains Victoria

Quiet enjoyment in the High Country (waiting for wood to dry) – Moscow Villa, Bentleys Plains Victoria

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.

Pizza (delicious and potentially offensive aromas) - High Country Victoria

Pizza (delicious and potentially offensive aromas) – High Country Victoria

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.

2 thoughts on “The Law’s An Ass – Part 1

  1. David Ruether

    Ah, and here I thought we likely agreed on most things, and then you just had to go and prove me wrong! Darn!;^) Past evidence of your clarity of thought and of expression just got a “bashing” with this piece, alas. One would almost think that if you lived here in the US, you would likely be one of those closed-minded nasty Republicans who ignore the lessons of history and the need to protect the future, all in the name of “quick-profit” and “individual-freedom”, and whose interests appear to be most in synchrony with the rich, white, male, and powerful extreme minority rather than with the bulk of the population. Not unexpectedly, this leaning (and the Republican-conservative majorities) tends to reside in the “wide open spaces” in the central and western parts of the US (plus also in the southern parts, for racial-history reasons…). Near the coasts and in the more densely-occupied parts of the US, the leaning is more in synchrony with the wider needs of people, the various lessons of history, concerns with the future well-being of the planet’s inhabitants, and even with an interest in affairs outside of our borders (in other words, Democratic-liberals). I’m beginning to suspect that the same sort of geographic demographics regarding political leanings exist also in Australia…;^)

    As for public smoking, it can affect those around it. Whether encountered while walking in a public area (and having to stop breathing while passing, for those of us who dislike it as much as the smell of cut raw onions), while driving behind a smoker (who, for the sake of a non-smoking passenger, often holds the lit cigarette outside the car window – for the smoke to be breathed in by me), or while walking in a woods or other natural area (and having the subtle smells of nature overwhelmed by an inconsiderate smoker), I find these experiences distasteful, and I applaud the laws here that ban smoking in public buildings (including restaurants, bars, workplaces, etc.) and also in public exterior spaces. As for safety, the causes of fires are investigated thoroughly here, and the exact causes are generally known – and I remember when it was common practice to toss a finished lit cigarette from a car or while walking – and I also remember the frequent grass fires (and worse) that resulted during dry seasons. The high public cost in both money, poor health, and deaths resulting from smoking is also well-documented (my first employment in the early 1960s was as a photographer in a cancer research institution – and at that time the connection between smoking and lung cancer was becoming obvious). No one here denies the smoker the right to indulge in the practice in private, but I have a right to not have it forced on me in the form of “second-hand smoking”!

    Oh, and I generally regard what you call “a more sensible era” as a time of relative ignorance of many important issues (the saying, “ignorance is bliss”, comes to mind…;-), and it was a part of the long struggle to become more aware of the needs of others, and of how to address them.

    –David Ruether

    1. Ray Post author

      If everyone agreed with everyone else, it would be a very boring world indeed. 😉

      That said, I don’t like, or condone, smoking in public places where people congregate in numbers, especially restaurants, bars, public building and the like; however, in wide open spaces, I simply don’t see the point of further demonising those who smoke. As I alluded to in the photos of the camping scenes, someone having a smoke in such a situation (as they did), simply doesn’t affect anyone else. It’s the degree of government intervention that I feel is sometimes going to the extreme, there’s no flexibility in the legislation. Funnily enough, when I first studied photography, the instructors and a number of students used to ‘light up’ in the darkroom while some process or the other was being shown. There were times that I simply had to leave as the room became choking. The day they banned smoking in offices, much later, was one of the best days ever. So I think that we’re more or less on the same wavelength, though perhaps we only differ by degree.

      I live in a very fire prone area and there is no absolute certainty on what causes every bushfire, many are confirmed deliberate, others an act of nature, but no one can place a figure on how many are started by inconsiderate smokers. That was why I also referenced roadsides outside of national parks, as they cover a far more extensive area than roads in national parks. But also, for all practical purposes, these laws will not stop people from smoking in national parks. I don’t think that park rangers will have the ability to conduct body and vehicle searches for cigarettes (especially as possession hasn’t been banned).

      My reference to a ‘more sensible era’ is to a time when people were responsible for their own actions, did the right thing and respected others and public property. Those days have sadly passed. Far too many people expect governments to take responsibility, and be responsible, for people’s actions and outcomes, but that’s another story entirely.

      I might point out that the legislation was enacted by what would be Republicans in the US.

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