The late Kerry Packer once suggested to legislators that each time a new law was passed some other law should be taken away to compensate.
The plan may not have been completely serious, but the underlying gripe certainly is. All too often our elected representatives yield to the perennial itch of their legislative trigger finger.
Since 2000, an average of 100 pages of new legislation has been passed every day that the Commonwealth Parliament has sat. The Commonwealth Government's spending has increased by $17 billion in real terms since 1996, and in that time $1 billion has been spent on advertising.
A year ago I wrote a paper on how government bans and regulations have crept into parts of our daily lives where they have no right to be. A low point was debating a parents' lobby group that wanted bans on lollies at supermarket checkouts, all because the poor souls struggled to say "no" to their children's nagging.
Unfortunately, the regulating mindset continues to thrive.
Take, for example, the number of deaths on our roads this holiday season. After large amounts of government advertising, speed cameras, double demerit points in some states and reduced speed limits, there has been no significant reduction in the road toll.
The answer, according to some, is even more advertising, speed cameras and penalties, along with even lower speed limits. Various road authorities have become fascinated with physics - citing "research by the University of Adelaide", the Victorian Transport Accident Commission (TAC) has discovered that a car travelling at 65km/h takes longer to stop than a car travelling at 60km/h.
Riveting, and probably something a Year 3 science class could have told us, but the TAC's "wipe off 5 to stay alive" slogan is as patronising as it is mistaken.
Wouldn't you prefer to be in a car travelling at 65km/h with a driver who is paying attention than in a car travelling at 60km/h - or for that matter at 40km/h - with a driver who is not?
Dr Alan Buckingham of the UK's Bath Spa University College argues that road safety is ensured by having capable drivers, safe cars and safe roads. Any government action should be directed at these goals.
Having low speed limits does not do much, because in some conditions even low speed limits may be too fast, while in many other conditions, low speed limits serve only to frustrate and distract drivers. They may also erode relations between the public and the police.
More generally, there is a risk that increased regulation will spawn a generation of drivers who are incapable of handling a car at speed (assuming that such a generation does not exist already). A kind of learnt helplessness sets in.
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