The Right – speaking monolithically, of course – is exercised, no pun intended, by the Government’s legislation for a National Preventive Health Agency.  The bill has been delayed by the Senate while it awaits the provision of a related report by the Government.

And no they’re not exercised by the fact that it is bloodywell preventative not preventive, though they should be.

No, it’s the Nanny State thing.  Bureaucrats – shiny-arsed pencil-pushing latte-sipping faceless Canberra bureaucrats – telling Aussies what they should and shouldn’t do about their health, about what food they eat and how much exercise they get.

Just out of pure contrarianism, I’m with them – them being those who consistently apply the Nanny State objection even on issues where they’d like to take a positively Stalinist line on behavioural regulation, and that narrows the field quite a bit –  on the Nanny State thing.  I object to being harangued by bureaucrats or non-bureaucrats alike about how much I drink and eat.  I can look after my own health, thanks very much.  Judging by the obesity I see around me whenever I go to my local shopping mall, I’m not so sure too many other Australians can look after their own health, but that’s not my lookout.  In any event, if we had some price signals in our health system, people might be motivated to looked after themselves a bit better.

Though I can only maintain that idea as long as I don’t look at the American experience. So let’s not go there at this point.

But the Nanny State thing isn’t the real reason to object to the National Preventive Health Agency.  In fact it’s not really a reason to object to anything, because it’s a slogan rather than a coherent argument.  No, the reason to block this witless bill in its tracks is pithily summarised in the Parliamentary Library’s Bill Digest, which gives the financial impact of the Bill.

As the table shows, the bulk of the $100+m that will be spent by this agency will be directed to “social marketing campaigns”.  Social marketing campaigns are those annoying ad campaigns designed to change your behaviour and make you, say, not binge drink and wind up sprung by your friends having sex with a dag.


The $30m a year will basically go to market research companies who will sit round focus grouping ad ideas, ad executives who will design the campaigns and use the money to buy more cocaine, and the media – mainly television.

In the scheme of things, $33m a year isn’t actually all that much.  It certainly won’t buy you a hell of a lot of airtime.  A good television-focussed social marketing campaign will cost north of $50m to research, design, make and broadcast when people will actually see it.  The only virtue about the NHPA wasting money trying to change behaviour is that it won’t be wasting as much as it really should.

Still, if you’re an ad exec, or a television network desperate for more revenue, the NHPA will be just your ticket.