Nanny state nonsense

Quality consumer law has changed our society dramatically – and for the better -over the past few decades but it has also opened the door to over-kill which is surely the only way to describe our first national product safety law.

As is so often the case, it started with a bunch of well-meaning bureaucrats sitting in a room together and deciding they could – and should – save the rest of us from ourselves. Sadly, their prescription is more likely to strangle hordes of consumers in messy red tape than it is to save someone from a poor quality product. Worse, and isn’t this so often the case, their indulgence in bureaucratic madness is bound to increase costs to consumers.

The sorry tale emerges from gathering of consumer affairs officers from all states, territories and the Commonwealth to re-make federal consumer law. They have decided that product safety needs an overhaul and they have devised a new measure which would require product makers to notify the federal government every time a consumer is seriously hurt while using a product they have sold.

Just think about that for a moment because the implications are vast and worrying.

Say you are using a hose to water the garden and you trip on it, fall and break a leg. If you make that hose and you happen to hear about the incident, you would be required to notify the federal minister. Or suffer the consequences (which have not yet been stipulated but which one can imagine will involve serious penalties). But such an incident clearly has nothing to do with the intrinsic quality or otherwise of the hose. It might just as easily be attributed to an ill-fitting shoe. So, the shoe-maker – if they heard about the incident – would be required to notify the federal minister. And so it goes. The possibilities are endless and could even start a new parlour game of Will The Consequences Never End?

As you might imagine, car makers and toy makers are having palpitations. But every other manufacturer across the country should be having cold sweats, too.

The essential concept of holding manufacturers to account for reasonable safety and quality standards is fine. These new regulations, however, seem certain to create a quagmire of red tape. They will require employment of another army of Canberra bureaucrats to prod, poke and record every notification and, as always, allow lawyers to get fat off the ensuing kerfuffles. Surely this will have to go back to the drawing-board?