Yesterday’s National Preventative Health Taskforce’s report is a monument to why elites think the average Australian needs a nanny to hold their hand through daily life.

The three core chapters of the report analyse the great sins of our time — obesity, alcohol and smoking — and recommends Australians need help to stop making the wrong choices about what they put in their mouths.

The problems and solutions are entirely predictable. According to the taskforce, people get fat because they eat too much and don’t exercise enough. The taskforce’s solution — the government needs to make sure people eat less and exercise more. I could go on, but you get the picture.

Any taskforce member would be rightly offended if another Australian recommended they needed many of the measures they included in their report. But it hasn’t stopped them paternalistically arguing that we don’t know to exercise or eat chocolate responsibly.

For example, the taskforce has recommended that the government should legislate to introduce healthy workplace programs and phase out vending machines that dispense afternoon treats.

The taskforce could have been creative, but instead they are just rehashing the same measures for food and alcohol that were used to attack cigarettes — advertising ban and tax increases.

And by recommending tax increases on alcohol and tobacco, the taskforce is clearly on the same wave length as our parliamentarians.

After the report’s release, some Opposition MPs argued that volumetric taxes should be introduced so a magnum of champagne opened for a family celebration attracts a higher tax rate than those piccolos that people drink on the train on the way to the horse races.

But if the taskforce has its way, tobacco won’t just face tax increases, but the removal of all forms of advertising, including on the packets.

The taskforce’s recommendations steal the thunder of Family First Senator Steve Fielding, who recently introduced the aptly titled Plain Tobacco Packaging (Removing Branding from Cigarette Packs) Bill 2009.

The Bill stipulates the exact size of a cigarette pack — 69-72 millimetres wide x 87-90 mm high x 21-24 mm deep — and also requires the removal of any branding images and that a pack can only be wrapped in a wholly transparent plastic. That stops pesky cigarette companies putting branding on the plastic surrounding it.

But the most absurd measure in Fielding’s Bill is that a plain packet cannot even be white. It has to be Pantone 154 known in layman’s terms as poo brown.

Considering the Australian Parliament isn’t known for its gym-junkie, teetotalling MPs, it seems a bit rich that they are now going to legislate to make sure we are.

Understandably, the report isn’t being sold because of its economic benefits, but that its recomendations could help save up to 800,000 Australians from an early death. The taskforce has clearly decided it would be better if we all had long, dull lives, rather than somewhat shorter, but more interesting ones.

But the real shortcoming of this report isn’t what it recommends. It is what it doesn’t. Rather than 316 pages of nanny-statism, it could have had one simple recommendation — Australians should take responsibility for their choices and should accept the consequences.

But that’d be too hard for the Government to legislate.

Tim Wilson is director of the IP and Free Trade Unit at the Institute of Public Affairs

Peter Fray

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