We should be thankful for the ‘nanny state’
My grandmother wasn't well educated but she exuded a certain quiet wisdom and a boundless concern for the well being of her family.
One of my last and abiding memories is of her, largely chairbound, using her walking sticks to shepherd one of our toddlers away from some mischief or danger.
She was always known as "nan" which is why I find the pejorative "nanny state" vaguely offensive.
The term is of British invention, with childminding, hand-smacking family retainers in mind, and is usually defined as a government overprotective or interfering unduly with personal choice.
I prefer to think of it as a duly elected representative government collectively protecting us from our individual stupidity or apathy.
Like my nan, the state has grated on my nerves and infringed on my liberty, but overall it has been pretty good and has saved me a lot of grief and, possibly, extended my life.
Early manifestations of that were such things as signs warning us not to spit (or expectorate, as they called it) and public toilet cautions against unwise sex (specifically with "loose women"). Why? Because people did spit (a lot) and sexually transmitted diseases were
almost in plague proportions. Loose women, not so much, to the distress of a hormonally charged teenager.
Nobody except angry and spoiled sportsmen seems to spit these days and, according to official reports, we're at least holding our ground when it comes to STDs.
I fidgeted and threw lolly wrappers during the grim anti-tuberculosis shorts that were routinely shown at the movies but, indisputably, the whole business (complete with compulsory chest X-rays), made TB comparatively rare. Notifications have plunged from 40 per 100,000 in 1960 to a tad under 6 per 100,000 today and most of those among overseas-born people.
As a younger man I smoked like a chimney (60 a day) but public health campaigns (plus escalating costs and a corset-like tightness of the chest) convinced me to give up.
Buckling up a seat belt is now as routine as zipping up my fly and, even among my more dissolute mates, drink driving is pretty much a no no.
Our public health and safety programs have a record of success of which we should feel proud.
Its top of the pops reads: Folate (reduced neural tube defects), immunisation eliminating infectious disease, containing the spread of HPV and its related cancers, reduced dental decay, reduced incidence of skin cancer, reduced deaths caused by smoking, reduced road death and injury toll, gun control, containing the spread of HIV, and preventing deaths from bowel and breast cancer.
I wouldn't know folate if I found it in a cereal packet and gun control is the ultimate nanny edict in some minds, but this is a pretty proud record.
Sadly, instead of building on these achievements we seem to be turning our back on them with PHA boss Terry Slevin reporting that public health investment in Australia has been in decline since at least 2001 and is now less than 2 per cent of the national health budget.
Such short-sightedness should bring shame to our governments but our public health campaigns are being undermined by a current of apathy, cynicism, crackpotism and obstinate scientific denial.
Apathy comes with its in-built wake-up call, usually in the form of someone being laid low by a disease we thought had been eradicated or underestimated. Not so easily combated are human follies such as anti-vaccination crusades, craven government cave-ins to anti-fluoride campaigners, mindless hysteria over Big Pharma and squint-eyed suspicion of everything that springs from government.
They are nurtured by a torrent of false, misleading or criminally mischievous fiction that slips through the net without the filter of commonsense or scientific challenge. And, I cringe to say, they are too often propelled by a thoughtless and alarmist media.
It all seems analogous with the vexatious campaigns that have addled great chunks of the collective British mind against the European Union.
The union has doubtlessly had its problems but the well has been poisoned by a non-stop diet of nonsense about rules banning curved bananas, mushy peas, double-decker buses and bouncy barmaids. Google "euromyths" for an eye-goggling taste of this blather. And, sometimes these myths have been traced back to lobbyists trying to strongarm the European bureaucracy while lining their own pockets.
We should cast the same suspicious eye over those who poo-poo every government health or safety initiative, get their knickers in a knot over the slightest suggestion of regulation, try to present their individual interests as the will of the majority, and attempt to subvert gun and tobacco laws for their own profit.
Nanny does occasionally act a bit dotty but she means well and generally she does well.
Terry Sweetman is a columnist for The Courier-Mail.