13 July 2015
by Ben Groundwater
Australia nanny state: Australia, the Land of The Idiot
Here's the thing I've come to realise: Australia has too many idiots. We don't have a lot of idiots; we don't even have a middling number of idiots. But we still have enough idiots to reach a tipping point where things are being ruined for the rest of us.
This realisation came to me recently in Europe. Now, I don't want to be one of those people who goes to Europe for the summer and comes home saying everything is better over there – but I've just been to Europe for the summer and everything's better over there.
It feels freer. It feels more fun, more relaxed in places like Italy and Spain and France and the Netherlands. It feels like you're given the right to make your own decisions there, and you're given the trust to not stuff those decisions up.
You can ride a bike without a helmet in Europe, and you are trusted not to fall off (similarly, drivers are trusted not to run into you). You can wander freely onto public transport, and you are trusted to buy a ticket. You can drink a beer in the park, or on the pavement outside a bar, and you're trusted not to act like a drunken fool.
You can't do those things in Australia because we live in a nanny state with a lot of rules, and we live in a nanny state with a lot of rules because there are some people out there who really need to be nannied. We don't all need it. But we have to put up with it because others do.
Europe, of course, isn't an idiot-free wonderland, but there does seem to be enough personal responsibility – particularly when it comes to alcohol – to negate the need for many of the rules that hold non-idiotic Australians back over here.
People don't go too crazy in Europe, so they can do things like drink in public places. Go to the Englischer Garten in Munich and you'll see people dropping entire crates of beer into the river to keep them cold for the day, helping themselves as the long afternoon unfolds, having a nice time, not bothering others. There are no idiots.
In Australia, meanwhile, harsh lockout laws are needed to stop violence on the streets. Strictly policed council approval is needed before bar patrons can move out onto a street. And even then they are roped off, tightly controlled.
No one can stand around in a town square in Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane and sip drinks in the afternoon sun. Compare this to the scene in Seville, or Rome, or Berlin, where people of all ages gather in plazas and piazzas to drink a few beers and eat a few snacks. It's peaceful; it's fun. There are no idiots.
Or try San Sebastian, where bartenders will serve you food and drinks all night without ever asking for a single cent of payment, because you're trusted to own up to your bill when you decide to leave. This system works, because there are no idiots who walk out without paying.
Australia, unfortunately, has idiots. It has enough people who will abuse the system, who will make drunken fools of themselves out on the street, who will get violent, who will be too noisy, who will steal things, to warrant ruining the fun for the vast majority who wouldn't dream of doing any of that.
It's not just the drunks, of course, who ruin the fun. There are other, lesser idiots around.
Consider those who move to trendy, lively neighbourhoods and start making complaints about the noise. It seems to happen constantly – music venues shut down; bars close early.
In the Roman suburb of Pigneto recently I sat at a bar on a pedestrianised street and listened to an eight-piece jazz band busking on the pavement next door. They played until midnight. People danced on the street. No one complained. Where can you do that in Australia?
There are those here, too, who complain about any daring or contentious public artwork, things like the rainbow pedestrian crossing we once had on Oxford Street in Sydney. Those complaints are inevitably heard and acted upon, rendering our cities free of the weird and interesting and amazing sculptures and murals you see all over almost every Western European city.
There's a danger in Australia now of everything becoming too bland with overregulation. In catering for the idiots, in stopping them from doing any harm or anything that could offend, we're ending up with cookie-cutter neighbourhoods and soulless suburbs, places that lack a sense of individuality and a sense of community within.
We have so many rules here that seem to stifle creativity and spontaneity and fun. And unfortunately we can only blame that on the few. The idiots.