Monday 9 December 2013

A welcome turn

A NZ Herald editorial last week rightly criticized the country's growing nanny state. 
In themselves, the Government's proposed amendments to the Fencing of Swimming Pools Act contain a reasonable degree of common sense. What can be wrong with changes that aim to reduce the risk of children drowning? And if the new law would mean even portable or inflatable pools need to be fenced off, isn't it right to encourage parents to adopt best practice and empty them after each use?
The only problem is that the proposal is a further sign of a Government regulatory itch that is now of eczematous proportion. It is an odd situation for an administration that places much importance on personal freedom, prides itself on reducing rules and regulations, and criticised its predecessor for a nanny-state approach.
The extent of that regulatory itch was outlined in the Weekend Herald. Examples include the ever-decreasing speeding tolerance threshold, the reining in of bars' happy-hour promotions, a ban on using cellphones while driving, prohibiting the sale of wine in dairies, and making beneficiaries immunise their children. Each was appropriate in its own way but each would also have engendered claims of social engineering if it had been the work of the previous Government.
Indeed, with both cellphones and immunisation, the Key Government has ventured where Labour declined to go.
The proposed swimming pool regulations, I suppose, crossed a line for the Herald's editors. A year ago, the Herald on Sunday described itself as "campaigning" for lower drink-driving limits and regularly runs features on the horrors of alcohol.

They're right now though.

The Herald's Isaac Davidson enumerates National's nanny moves:
• Can't buy beer and wine from dairies and convenience stores.
• Bars no longer allowed to advertise discounts over 25%.
• Can't buy beer from bottle stores after 11pm and in bars after 4am.
• Minors need express consent from parents to drink.
• Plain packets for cigarettes (proposed).
• Speed tolerance cut to 4km/h.
• Breath-alcohol limit lowered.
• Mobile phone use banned in cars.
• Licence to hunt specific types of game animals.
• Snapper catch reduced (proposed).
• Fines for not fencing permanent paddling pools (proposed).
Health and welfare
• Raising age for child booster seats from 5 to 7.
• Harder to get cold medicine with pseudoephedrine.
• Beneficiaries' non-school-age kids must be enrolled in early childhood education and doctor's clinic.
• 16- and 17-year-old beneficiaries have an adult assigned to them who pays their bills and handles their money.
I support a few of these. Requiring that beneficiaries have their kids enrolled with a GP (free in NZ) seems the kind of regulation that has the potential to do much good while imposing little cost. And I wouldn't rule out that having youth beneficiaries get a bit more guidance on managing their money might help. Snapper quotas and hunting licences can be an important part of overall conservation management; I expect that the regs here are to ensure a sustainable harvest rather than to run people's lives for them.

But the others do grate.

Maybe I'm a terrible driver, but I have a hard time keeping within a 5 km/h plus-or-minus range around the speed limit. I'm there 95% of the time, but New Zealand is a very curvy and hilly driving environment. It's easy to miss that you've started onto a decline until you notice that the speedo's hit 110. And that's fine, when you're allowed a 10 kph tolerance. But at a 4kph tolerance, I'll have to double the frequency of speedo checks to make sure that I'm not over the limit. Or, get a radar detector for highway travel. In the former case, I'll be driving less safely because I'll be diverting attention from the road. In the latter case, well, I might be tempted to go a bit faster than I otherwise would have. I also expect that others might start targeting 95 kph to avoid going over 104 kph, which will also be rather annoying in places without adequate passing lanes.

I suppose that the best that can be said for the proposed pool regs is they'll encourage more people to come around to my way of thinking about government.

We live on Estuary Road in South Brighton. If you cross Estuary Road, you go through a park leading to the Estuary. The Council maintains paths leading right up to the water's edge. Before the earthquake, a dock went out into the water, with no particular railing to keep people from mistakenly going over the side; steps at the end led right into the Estuary. If you go East instead of West from my house, you cross Pine Street, then cross Marine Parade. Then you'll come to a wonderful set of sand dunes. The Council maintains an easy footpath to climb over them. On the other side is the Pacific Ocean, with nary a fence nor a lifeguard in sight. Gorgeous. Council did a lot to enhance the natural amenity value by easing access for everyone.

In my backyard, there's a swimming pool. My back yard is entirely fenced, so nobody can get to the pool without passing a barrier into my back yard. The pool area is fenced off from the rest of the back yard. When we purchased the house in 2005, we specifically requested that a Council zoning guy come in and assure us that the pool was completely compliant and that we'd have no issues in buying the house. He said it was all good.

In 2009, we had a half-dozen visits from a different Council pool compliance person. Each time, something different was wrong with the pool fencing. Each visit was followed by a threatening letter. Nothing had changed in the regs. Nothing had changed in the fencing. Different pool inspector, different result. Once we had demonstrated sufficient obeisances, she signed off on it. I suspect that some Council officers just get off on making people prove submissiveness and enjoy making people do stupid pointless things just for the sake of it. For now, it's best to know how to lose. Come the revolution....

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