Rebecca Huntley Columnist

Rebecca is a director of The Mind & Mood Report, an author and social commentator with a background in publishing, academia and politics. She holds degrees in law and film studies and a PhD in Gender Studies.

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Nanny state: Are Aussies finally growing tired of being told what to do?

Published 27 August 2013 07:28, Updated 27 August 2013 12:13

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Nanny state: Are Aussies finally growing tired of being told what to do?

We are finally becoming intolerant of the growing intrusion of the nanny state. Photo: Reuters

We like to thing we are a nation of iconoclasts. Beneath the tanned breast of every Aussie beats the heart of a Eureka Stockade-type insurgent.

But, as has been constantly pointed out by professional observers from Donald Horne onwards, we are actually a very compliant society, comfortable with rules and regulations and being told what to do by three tiers of government.

Yet I wonder whether this may be changing. In recent reports we have conducted, participants have question whether we are becoming too much of a nanny state.

While there is broad support for initiatives like plain packaging for cigarettes, Australians have been more sceptical about other schemes such as pre-commitment technology for poker machines and a “fat tax” on junk food.

Will this actually work to curb harmful behaviour? And what’s happened to personal responsibility? Has common sense has been replaced by a reliance on rule books and guidelines for an array of circumstances and settings?

Some example comments from our research:

“Why do we have to have a written agreement for everything? Do we have to have a policy at work that says it’s unacceptable to swear at people over a two-way radio?”

“Lily’s teacher sent home a behaviour contract for all the children in her class. What is the world coming to?”

“We order [dinner] and then this thing was left on the table . . . and it’s rules for the children to come into the restaurant. The children need to remain seated at all times while in the restaurant. The only time they may get up is to go to the bathroom.”

Interestingly, in a study we did recently on city versus regional living, one of the perceived benefits of living in Australia was freedom to do what you wanted: skinny dip in the sea, light a fire on the beach or a BBQ in your living room.

Conversely, city dwellers lamented what they saw as the rise in “rules gone wild” which they felt were going too far and spoiling their fun.

“The city is too safe. We are becoming a nanny state. Or a granny state. Too many rules.”

“The bars go overboard with the responsible drinking thing. I got kicked out of a bar for yawning.”

Perhaps we are slowly but surely becoming less tolerant of heavy-handed rules and regulations. Whether this shift is accompanied by a parallel move towards greater acceptance of personal responsibility for destructive behaviour remains to be seen.

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