A series of laws largely introduced in the interests of public safety are under review. (ABC News)
Laws relating to bicycle helmets, pool fences, electronic cigarettes and even life jackets are being assessed against the perception that Western Australia is a nanny state.
The state’s Parliamentary Select Committee on Personal Choice and Community Safety is conducting a broad review of laws that were largely introduced in the interests of public safety.
Committee chair Aaron Stonehouse from the Liberal Democrats said his goal was to reduce regulation in people’s lives.
The 26-year-old was elected to the Upper House in 2017 and announced he would use his position to advocate for legalising cannabis, e-cigarettes, the use of Tasers for self defence, and relaxing restrictions on paintballing.
Aaron Stonehouse says people should be free to make their own choices. (ABC Radio Perth: Gian De Poloni)
“I think we should be wrestling back a little bit more control over our lives rather than relying on government constantly to coddle us and wrap us in cotton wool,” he told Nadia Mitsopoulos on ABC Radio Perth.
“We should be free to make our own choices and we should bear the responsibility for those choices.
“We should also bare the costs of our actions as well; I don’t think the government should bail us out if we’re being foolish, but for the most part if you’re not hurting anybody else, you should be free to do more or less whatever you like.”
Bike helmets in the firing line
Many of the 100 public submissions received by the committee call for the relaxation of state laws requiring people to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle.
Mr Stonehouse said he believed the mandatory helmet laws introduced in 1991 discouraged people from cycling.
“It’s actually normal people that want to cycle to the shops or cycle to the beach calling for the relaxation of mandatory bike helmet laws in low-risk scenarios,” he said.
Laws mandating the use of helmets have their share of supporters and detractors. (ABC News: Cate Grant)
“If you’re riding on a road that is a 50kph zone or less or on a bike path, it seems rather unnecessary to have a helmet there.
“Ultimately you’re not putting anyone else at risk — you’re really only imposing a risk to yourself.”
Dr Simon Chapman, a professor of public health at the University of Sydney, said while many people didn’t like wearing a helmet, the laws were in place for a reason.
“I’ve never seen anything that suggested if we somehow took the bike helmet away that cardiovascular health would go flying down even further in a positive direction,” he said.
“Although I have seen people who have had their head split open by falling off bikes and having brain injuries — it’s a massive, massive cost to them.”
ABC Radio Perth listeners were generally happy to see helmets stay.
Anne-Maree: “As a nurse and having seen it all, I agree with these protective laws. ‘Nanny state’ is such an ill-informed way to think and speak. Not everybody cares about their own safety or others.”
Peter: “The concrete is just as hard when your head hits it at 50 kilometres per hour or 100 kilometres per hour. The front of motor vehicles are pretty hard at any speed. The costs for a parent with para- or quadriplegic offspring is impossible to calculate.”
Should ‘vaping’ be legal?
The committee is also assessing whether the use of electronic cigarettes should be made legal in Western Australia.
E-cigarettes heat liquid containing nicotine into vapour for users to inhale and there are various bans on sales of those products across Australia.
Dr Chapman said the legal status of e-cigarettes was not an issue of government regulation but rather one of public health.
“Vaping is probably going to be safer than smoking, but that’s a bit like saying Mount Everest is a lot taller than the Matterhorn, which is also a tall mountain,” he said.
“Both are pretty dangerous mountains to climb.
“We don’t really know what the long-term consequences of vaping are going to be because people haven’t been doing it for long enough.”
Mr Stonehouse said people should be able to have the legal choice to use e-cigarettes if they wished.
“We should assess vaping on its merits and on its applications on how it helps people quit smoking,” he said.
“Just because some supposedly evil corporations want vaping [to be legal] doesn’t mean we should throw the baby out with the bath water.
“People should be able to make their own choices.
“The role of government should be small in our lives — it should primarily prevent us from harming others, but to prevent us from doing harm to ourselves is a rather illegitimate use of government force.”
ABC Radio Perth listeners had mixed opinions on e-cigarettes.
Pete: “E-cigarettes have a whole new set of problems that they cause and they certainly don’t stop the habit effect that keeps people smoking.”
Morro: “The government that governs least governs best. There is no question that WA is a nanny state and also turning into a surveillance state. If you tell people how to live, you end up with a narcissistic, brain-dead society and we’re well on the way.”
The committee is set to table its report by August next year.