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The Latest Deadly Sin - Oppressive Government

The Latest Deadly Sin - Oppressive Government

Hon Heather Roy, ACT Deputy Leader
Saturday, May 8 2010

Wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony - the Vatican's latter-day interpretation of "six things the Lord hateth, and the seventh His soul detesteth" are familiar warning labels to most - if only because of their familiarity with the Hell Pizza menu. The virtues opposing these vices are patience, charity, diligence, humility, chastity, kindness and temperance.

I realise that there have been other suggested updates. If I wasn't a PPP (Palmerston Presbyterian Politician), I'd probably write to the Pope suggesting an update to the list based on the tendency of Governments to assume they know better than individuals about how they should live their lives. Although it's a long shot, it might just cause some politicians to contemplate the relative merits of using the power of the State against law-abiding dog and firearm owners, drinkers and smokers versus the certainty of themselves going to Hell (not the pizza version).

Freedom and responsibility are two words we take for granted. Of course, they are more than words - to some, they are concepts; to others, ideals or aspirations. We give little thought as to how freedom and responsibility have been gained, how they affect our everyday lives, and what impact they really have on us personally and on our society.

Freedom, the ability to go about your business without interference, is defined by some as the right to make mistakes. Freedom is hard won, but easily eroded. Responsibility is the flipside of the coin; the price of freedom. Sadly, I think we've lost sight of the real significance of these ideals. At an individual level we don't tolerate the interference of others yet, when it comes to Government interference, the gloves come off and any amount of restriction is acceptable.

Take last week's increase in tobacco excise tax and the release of the Law Commission's archaic proposals to address the 'bad' aspects of alcohol consumption by restricting shop trading hours, increasing by an average 50 percent excise tax on alcohol and lifting the drinking age to 20.

Why do we seem to need the heavy hand of bureaucracy to tell us how to handle tobacco and alcohol, hamburgers, fried chicken, cold and flu remedies, and which light bulbs we can buy - protection from ourselves? Are we so irresponsible that we can no longer be trusted to drink, smoke, and eat for ourselves? Even some journalists commented this week on this increasing interference in our decision making. Finlay MacDonald in the 'Sunday Star-Times' said:

"Despite the rhetoric, the government's first instinct is to distrust the individual and his or her ability to make sensible choices - be it to take folic acid if they feel like it, not because it's in every loaf of bread they buy, to avoid using their cellphones voluntarily in cars rather than be ordered to, or to buy over-the-counter pseudoephedrine cold remedies without being suspected of manufacturing P."

Of course there will some who will eat, drink, and smoke to excess - but when hasn't this been the case in society? Once, people had to answer for their own weaknesses. They had the freedom to make their own choices, and had to face the responsibility when it turned to custard.

The State increasingly seems to feel it has no choice but to take responsibility for those who are not prepared to take responsibility for themselves. Government has assumed the role of saving people from themselves.

The inevitable result - an unintended consequence of State meddling in people's lives - is that those with diminished responsibility have been given the right to be picked up and cared for by the State at the expense and inconvenience of the majority. And the majority seems expected to acknowledge and understand this - even to respect it when, in fact, it should be the reverse.

Our society is slowly being turned on its head. The minority rules - or at least the rules are made for the minority, but imposed on all. The minority must be saved from itself by the State, and the only way the State can do this is by loading increasing impositions on the responsible people - taking away their freedom and choice. How is that right? Well, it's not.

I don't want to go to extremes, but think about it: an honourable man who has raised a good family, paid taxes, loved and been loyal to his wife now needs a heart operation. He waits for months, sometimes years (don't ask, that's another column) and finally gets a surgery date. He's prepped and ready to roll when in comes someone injured in a P lab explosion. Suddenly the heart operation is off.

Hippocratic Oath aside, is this right - or, perhaps more accurately, is it fair? Is it fair to raise alcohol and tobacco prices to protect people from themselves?

Smokers know the dangers associated with smoking. They have freedom to choose to smoke. But with that goes the responsibility to be aware of, and acknowledge, the dangers - and most do. Smokers more than paid for their share of the health bill in the excise taxes they paid before tobacco tax went up last week by 10 percent, with two more rounds to go. The suggested increase by 50 percent of alcohol excise taxes proposed by the Law Commission is another example of hitting everyone to tackle the few who abuse it. It's also a fact that increased excise tax punishes the poor the hardest.

We don't need small shower heads, food bans for children, eco light bulbs, tax breaks for fruit and veges. We need to rekindle the previously held and understood beliefs of personal freedom and responsibility as it related to choice. Eat bad food, you get fat; get fat and you almost certainly have a diminished lifestyle. If that's your choice it's your responsibility to deal with the consequences.

The State's responsibility is to make sure that, in life, parents are well-educated and know the best way to bring up their children and teach right from wrong. The State's responsibility is also to ensure that everyone is given the freedom to access a good education. From those two sources we should have learned enough to grow responsibly in society.

But somehow we seem to have lost sight of this. Sickness Benefit numbers have gone through the roof - are we really sicker now than ever before? DPB numbers have grown exponentially. Family and income support is soaring. I bet if you told our grandparents when they were young that, in time, families with combined incomes that put them in the top five percent of earners in the country on around $100,000 a year would qualify for income support, they would have said you were crazy. Or that a State-controlled education system, developed with the loftiest goals and the best intentions would after 70 years result in a system that fails one in five students.

There is a pattern here. It's the heavy hand of the State assuming responsibility for everyone. But we live in a free society. Individuals must have the freedom to make their own decisions and politicians should not impose State control simply because they don't agree with those decisions. While lack of State imposition may make life tougher for some, it's a tough world out there and people learn from their mistakes. This learning has traditionally been a generational thing.

It's time to allow this generational learning again. It's time for Kiwis to again be more responsible for their decisions and actions. It's time to better impose the societal laws we already have, not introduce more Nanny State meddling.

The original 7 vices each have an opposite virtue. What is the virtue that offsets oppressive Government? I think that it is best described as Trust - Trusting and empowering fellow Kiwis to make their own choices about their life. Regulatory reform will help but we need a mindshift across society that views the passage of laws which erode personal liberty as socially and politically unacceptable as domestic violence or drunk driving. People shouldn't fear the government. Governments should fear the people. We have a long way to go.

Lest We Forget - ANZUS Comes Into Force
By the 1940s, the US had become the dominant power in the Pacific and the British surrender of Singapore to Japan in 1942 had left New Zealand uncertain about Britain's ability to protect the far-flung parts of its empire.

Australia, New Zealand and the US recognised that an armed attack in the Pacific endangered the peace and security of the others - especially after the Pacific battles of WWII. ANZUS was an agreement that, if such an event came to pass, all three would 'act to meet the common danger'.

The treaty remained in force until the mid-1980s. Following the Lange Labour Government's ban on nuclear ships, however, US-New Zealand relations became strained and New Zealand was effectively frozen out of ANZUS.


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