01 May 2012 in Jamie’s View
Fun police drunk on over-regulation, Australian Financial Review
The Adelaide hills apple producing community recently hosted its annual harvest festival on the oval at Lenswood. It was a magic autumn Saturday and a substantial crowd enjoyed the festival, which is a terrific opportunity for local producers to showcase their products in a relaxed picnic-style atmosphere.
Among the stalls were emerging apple and pear cider producers and small wineries, along with a variety of local food producers. The setting encouraged people to purchase a bottle of wine or cider, lay out a picnic, and enjoy the autumn sun.
However, just before the festival the organisers were informed that their liquor licence had been approved subject to a condition that stall holders would not use glass during the event. The wine and cider had to be sold in plastic cups like it was some dingy nightclub at 2am, running completely against the atmosphere of the festival.
This condition consequently prevented the community association from raising money through the sale of glasses for the event, as it had done the previous year when this regulation was not applied. This revenue raised by the sale of wine glasses on the day helps ensure that the festival can occur.
Apparently the “no glass” requirement was applied because the bureaucrats implementing the rules decided that the oval was a “public place” and that if a glass were broken on the oval, it could remain on the ground after the clean-up, posing a risk to others using the oval in the future.
You have to wonder about the logic of this decision given that this was not the first time the festival had taken place and that there had been no reported complaints or apparent problems.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and another local festival, this time 15 kilometres away in Stirling. This festival had 150 stalls and about 30,000 visitors.
Again, when the organisers approached the relevant authorities to access a liquor licence, they were told that not only would the event require an overall licence, but so would each of the stalls that sold alcohol. So rather than one licence, there would need to be at least 15 liquor licences for the same event.
The point of these examples is to give an insight into the level of hidden regulation that ties down our society at all levels. Often the debate about red tape focuses on regulations that affect business, particularly small business.
But what many do not realise is that Australians are increasingly subjected to regulatory creep that infects all aspects of life.
This regulatory culture has arisen in large part through demands, when unfortunate events occur, for governments to “do something”. This is driven by the idea that governments can somehow prevent bad things from happening by regulating to prevent future accidents.
The “something” is nearly always a new law, bylaw, approval process or bureaucratic form. It rarely fixes the problem it sought to address, but rather adds another layer to an already heavy regulatory burden.
It empowers bureaucrats at the expense of the community.
Worse still, governments at all levels have become hooked on attaching fees to regulatory applications. For instance, surely requiring about 15 separate applications (and fees) for the same community festival is more about government revenue raising than it is about achieving a public good.
Regulation has an important role in a modern society, but it must be limited to where it is genuinely required. Its main purpose should not simply be to prop up bottom lines of overspending governments, as often appears to be the case, or to pretend that somehow regulations can always protect people from bad events.
Rather than just accepting the need for greater regulation, governments must ask what a proposed new regulation will achieve.
Next year I hope that sanity prevails in Lenswood and people can picnic in the sun, enjoy some fine produce and contribute to a worthwhile cause without offending the fun police along the way.