During a debate with Tony Abbott at the University of Sydney last year, public health advocate Professor Mike Daube took us on an historical tour of “the Nanny State”.

He told us that while a Spectator column by conservative British MP Ian Macleod is credited for coining the pejorative term, Nanny’s spirit was around long before then.

In 1851, when the great sanitary revolutions of the nineteenth century were being debated, the London Times thundered in an editorial that the public was being “bullied into health by Mr Snow” and that “every man is entitled to his own dungheap”.

Dr John Snow is, of course, now revered as one of the fathers of modern epidemiology for showing the link between contaminated water and cholera outbreaks, and was once voted “the greatest doctor of all time”, out-ranking even Hippocrates.

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In modern times. Nanny most often finds employment whenever new public health measures are mooted. Her biggest employers, Daube said, have been the tobacco, alcohol and junk food industries and their friends, who ensure Nanny is invoked whenever policies are proposed that might affect their interests.

Croakey is thinking of beginning a campaign to put Nanny to rest.

And it seems there may be at least one person ready to help with this: Sarah Jaggard, the Community Mobilisation Policy Officer at the Australian Drug Foundation, is suffering a bad case of “Nannyitis”.

Sarah Jaggard writes:

If I hear the term ‘wowser’ or the phrase ‘nanny state’ again, I’m going to scream.

Last week in The West Australian (and as a former West Australian, yes, I am equipped to comment), Perth Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi claimed that liquor licensing restrictions are “strangling the city” and inhibiting its growth.

“I cannot believe the fact there are now restrictions on the sale of energy drinks!” Ms Scaffidi said.

Ms Scaffidi, that would be because a recent US study found that patrons consuming alcohol mixed with energy drinks are at greater risk of harm through drink driving, violence, and unsafe sex.  This study contributes to a growing body of literature indicating that mixing energy drinks and alcohol has negative health and safety consequences in young adults.

There’s more though.

Ms Scaffidi also says that steps to force some Northbridge pubs and clubs to close early could contribute to antisocial behaviour, rather than curb it.

Well, that’s easily refuted. 

Australian research has shown that extended trading hours for licensed premises (from as little as one to two hours) can increases violent assaults in and around premises by up to 70%.

The article goes on to say that “In WA’s nanny state, there is no having a quiet drink on Australia Day.”

Let’s face it – WA’s drinking culture is not one of ‘quiet drinks’.  Who can forget the mini riot on South Perth’s foreshore back in 2004?

But why are we punished, people bleat, for the actions of a few?

That would be because the bulk of alcohol-related harm can be attributed to the majority of the population who are moderate drinkers whom binge drink on occasion.  It can not be attributed to heavy drinkers who constitute a distinct minority.

The evidence is clear:  the most reliable and cost effective way reduce alcohol related harm, including violence, is to reduce the supply of alcohol.

If anyone has evidence to the contrary, I’d love to hear from you.


PS from Croakey: If anyone has a catchy pitch for the “Bury Nanny” campaign, please speak up…

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As a Crikey subscriber I always feel more informed and able to think more critically about issues and current affairs – even when they don’t always reflect my own political viewpoint or lived experience.


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