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Socialism By Stealth

Weekly Opinion Piece by Dr Muriel Newman

The shock closure of the Trentham Rifle Range to live firing signals another step in New Zealand's inexorable march towards a socialist-driven vision of utopia, where regulations dominate our every action. For over 100 years, Trentham has been used as a firing range not only by the army but also by a variety of local, national and international sporting groups. However, as a result of spurious British research which indicates that bullets may be able to ricochet over mountains, the Army, without consultation and without warning, has decided to close Trentham to live fire.

It does not appear to matter that there has never been an accident. Nor does the lack of concern expressed by the handful of families who live on the other side of the mountain - who are supposedly being protected by the closure - appear to be relevant. The Army, in its wisdom, has apparently decided it's better to be safe than sorry and close the range.

But questions are now being asked as to whether safety is the real motive, since there is a view that it has been used as a front to progress the present government's anti-gun agenda. New Zealand's half a million shooters, already concerned about the threats to their sport by the government's proposed increases in regulations, will undoubtedly be watching developments with interest.

Regardless of whether the Trentham closure is really the result of an anti-gun plot - rather than a matter of safety - there is no doubt at all that our increasing obsession with safety is responsible for a steady erosion of individual liberty. The growing number of regulations being introduced to protect us in the name of safety, health and other lofty ideals, are eroding our freedom, choice and personal responsibility. The whole process appears very insidious in that each small regulation, taken on its own, seems trivial. Taken together, however, they amount to a wholesale attack on our independence: what is deemed to be unhealthy or dangerous is banned, and what is considered healthy or beneficial is made compulsory.

There is a growing raft of state agencies - Occupational Safety and Health, Commerce Commission, Land Transport Safety Authority, Fire Service, Ministry of Health, Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand, Maritime Safety Authority - charged with keeping us safe. They are looking at banning smoking, baby walkers, and genetically modified substances. Lowering speed limits is in their sights, as are means for workers to down tools if they think a piece of machinery or a process is unsafe. They are also aided by an active legal profession, which is seeking lucrative outcomes by such things as class actions against tobacco companies and now airlines that have enticed people to travel economy class.

We appear to be heading towards a society where dangerous sports will no longer be permitted, where risk taking will be illegal, and where it is almost not worth getting out of bed in a morning.

Sir Robert Jones, an outspoken critic of regulation, recently wrote in the Standards New Zealand Magazine of the great myth regarding New Zealand's so-called fifteen years of massive deregulation. He believes nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of less regulation, he describes a "rule-writing fervour", which has produced an "orgy of social engineering", replacing personal responsibility with an enormously costly and often totally unnecessary set of rules covering every contingency.

Meanwhile in Parliament last week the safety crusade continued. An Alliance bill to make self-extinguishing cigarettes compulsory was sent to a Select Committee. Another committee is considering whether to make it illegal for school buses to carry children who are standing, even though there have been no more than a handful of serious accidents since 1924 when school bus runs started.

When we compare the raft of regulations that control our lives today with the freedoms that we once enjoyed, we realise the fight against regulation by stealth is an important one, one which is fundamental to our liberty.

A friend of mine who has recently returned from Italy remarked on how envious she was of the freedom of the Italians - they can smoke where and when they want to, they can walk their dogs in town, cafés do not need local council consent to put their tables on sidewalks, and the list goes on. She reminded me of comments by the Italian economist Antonio Martino: "Regulation is for today's socialists what public ownership of the means of production and central planning were for them half a century ago. No-one has to nationalise industries anymore, because the extraordinary growth of regulation has given effective control to the government without its having to assume the hassle of ownership. Socialism has effectively re-invented itself."


View the archive of columns at http://www.act.org.nz/action/murielnewman.html

Visit ACT New Zealand's web site: http://www.act.org.nz


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