Making laws for other people

What’s that American saying? “Nobody’s life, liberty or property is safe while Congress is in session”? You can feel for some Muslims in Belgium who now find it illegal to wear the full face veil in public.

Closer to home, Schütz’s own life-style is being challenged. A new excise on tobacco came in today raising the price of a packet of cigarettes more than $2. I don’t smoke cigarettes – I smoke a pipe – and have yet to find out how the new excise will affect a packet of pipe tobacco. I am not “addicted” to tobacco – I smoke my pipe because I enjoy it. I have been known, usually while travelling on holidays with my family, to go up to five days quite happily without a pipe, but I do enjoy at least one pipe a day, if not two. If I don’t smoke at all on any particular day, it is because I have been too busy or because it has been too cold and wet outside to enjoy the experience. Many have heralded the new excise (and plans for radical repackaging) and the Opposition is now committed to supporting it. But – like the burka in Belgium – it is a case of people making laws for other people. Smokers are a minority among our law makers, and easily scape-goated as piranas on society and public health, and so we are easy targets for new laws and taxes.

But it doesn’t end there. This morning I read in the paper about the Henry review of our tax system in Australia – many of the proposals of which seem set to become law before too long. Most radical is a proposal for a “flat tax” on alcohol, which will result (absurdly) in a bottle of Grange Hermitage being $133 cheaper and a cask of red wine rising from $15 to $35. A bottle of Johny Walker Red Label scotch is supposed to drop from $43 to $35 dollars. Now, I have often complained that Scotch is too expensive in this country – but when a bottle of Scotch costs the same as a cask of red wine, (or rather, vice versa) you know that things have gone completely crazy. My standard drink is cask wine (although lately clean skin bottles have been about the same value), with the occasional small whisky as a luxury. This new tax proposal will rewrite my drinking pattern radically – most predictably in the downward direction. Now some might think that a good thing, but again: like my smoking, I drink wine because I enjoy it. Mr Henry and Mr Rudd might look forward to saving a bit on high-end price wines and on their next bottle of Scotch because they can afford it and probably wouldn’t touch cask wine in a blue fit. On my salaray, I don’t have that luxury. God knows that the pleasures of life are few and far between for middle and low income earners in this country. (God also knows, incidentally, what all this will mean for our Australian wine industry.)

I really don’t expect much sympathy from readers of this ‘ere blog, since I don’t expect much approval for my smoking and drinking habits. All I am saying is that as long as our law makers are bent on this program of making laws “for other people”, it seems that the American saying about life, liberty and property has more than just a bit of truth to it.

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