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While you were power-napping

Ideas@TheCentre – The CIS newsletter (Sydney), 15 January 2010

Strange days indeed at the beginning of the New Year. With many colleagues still on holiday and your favourite TV shows on their summer break, it almost feels as if time has frozen. The impression is reinforced when colleagues return from multi-week trips to Africa or America and ask what happened at home while they were away. The honest answer has to be ‘Nothing much.’

It is as if the whole country had been taking a collective power nap. I certainly would have if only I had paid closer attention to the government’s advice.

While driving back to Sydney on the Hume Highway after a short visit to Melbourne, I started questioning Visit Victoria’s legendary slogan ‘You’ll never want to leave.’ Judging by the road signs along the way, they should have instead said, ‘You’ll never manage to leave.’

Although the highway was in pristine condition, the traffic was light, and most of my fellow travellers were disciplined drivers, I must have been on a killer of a road. Every two kilometres, some government agency or other kept reminding me of the dangers inhabiting the roads of Victoria.

That I am never too far away from a random breath test, they told me: ‘You won’t know where, you won’t know when.’ And I just didn’t know why that needed to be repeated again and again.

That speeding drivers were always under the vigilant eye of a road cop who would stop me from ruining someone else’s Christmas. By the time I read it, it was too late for that anyway.

But best of all were the urgent pleas to ‘Powernap now!’ I guess if I had followed only half of them, I would still be dozing somewhere between Baddaginnie and Wangaratta South.

How we managed to get back to Sydney in one piece despite ignoring most of the roadside warnings and using common sense instead remains a mystery.

A few days later, I met two Swedish MPs on a fact-finding trip to Australia. No, really, they were. And although they were impressed with some of our economic reforms, they were equally irritated. ‘We drove around a bit, but why are there so many signs telling us what to do?’ one of them asked. ‘Why is there so much nannying in Australia? In Sweden, we wouldn’t have any of that.’

You know you’ve got a problem when even the Swedes think the state just got a bit too intrusive. How did we allow the nanny state to dominate our lives?

Maybe it happened while we were all power-napping.

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