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Regulation for regulation’s sake

Ideas@TheCentre – The CIS newsletter (Sydney), 28 August 2009

Regulation is supposed to encourage good behaviour and control it to maximise the public good. But regulation has become an entity unto itself. Regulation for regulation’s sake means we are increasingly being burdened by nonsensical rules. In Australia, some of our perplexing regulations must strike foreign visitors as very odd indeed.

Take the strange laws applying to clubs in this country: When you go to a registered club, you either have to be a member or live at least five kms away from it to be able to be a temporary member. At least this is what the Registered Clubs Act 1976 demands. But this must be one of the most violated laws in Australia. Nobody can really verify this accurately and thus the rule cannot be enforced. This may be one of the very few cases where you can easily get away with lying – simply because staff at most clubs these days don’t really bother checking the addresses anyway. Be that as it may, the 5-km rule seems unique to Australia.

Why is it that every raffle and prize competition needs an official permit? While listening to any commercial radio station, you will be bombarded with permit numbers after almost every second commercial. Who benefits from this bizarre practice? In other countries, they also have prize competitions but you don’t need a seal of approval to run them. And if they are fraudulent, you can still take the organisers to court. In any case, most advertisers would not wish to jeopardise their hard-earned reputation by running fake competitions. So if other countries don’t require permit numbers for sales promotions, why does Australia?

Another strange regulation is in the form of water saving labels. When you buy new taps for your bath tub, there is a little label on the tab informing you how many litres pass through it in a minute. The fewer litres, the more water efficiency stars it gets. But think about it for a second: If the task is to fill your bath tub, the total number of litres you use depends on the bath tub – not on the speed with which the tub is filled. Again, if no other country seems to be putting water efficiency labels on bath tub tabs, why should we?

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