Backlash against the “nanny state” has reached parliament, with Senator David Leyonhjelm launching a Senate Inquiry into laws and regulations that restrict people doing things at their own risk.

Leyonhjelm is a Liberal Democrat senator elected to parliament in the 2013 Federal Election. The party was formed in Canberra in 2001, broadly based on classical liberal and libertarian principles.

Its introduction unopposed by other senators last Thursday, the inquiry will examine laws restricting personal choice for the individual’s own good – including the sale and use of products such as alcohol, tobacco, pornography and violent video games, and safety mandates such as bicycle helmets and seat belts.

Leyonhjelm proclaims he is a staunch defender of “the right to make bad choices” and will chair the inquiry, which he predicts will target the rise of so-called ‘nanny-state’ laws.

“It’s not the government’s business unless you are likely to harm another person. Harming yourself is your business, but it’s not the government’s business,” he said.

Although the terms of reference could facilitate recommendations on such well-established protocols as vehicle seatbelts, Senator Leyonhjelm differentiated laws designed to suppress crime and protect innocent people, such as those around firearms and drugs of addiction.

The similarly pro-choice Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) was quoted in The Australian as hoping the initiative would prompt a complete rethink of the role of Government, and Australia’s “paternalist democracy”.

“This is an important inquiry because it’s important to understand the relationship between citizen and state. What Senator Leyonhjelm is doing is to clarify that relationship,” said IPA senior fellow Chris Berg.

“I think all major parties in Australian politics support the idea that governments know better than the people they govern. I disagree.”

Conversely, the Public Health Association of Australia argues that the size and sophistication of marketing by industries such as tobacco and alcohol exert a lot of influence on consumers, and that it is cost-prohibitive for the health lobby to provide a balanced perspective to these consumers – thereby justifying restrictions on this kind of advertising.

But this motive would not seem to apply to the subject of trade restrictions, which effectively prevent product availability, as opposed to simply regulating its advertising.

A recent longevity study in Britain found that the relaxing of licensing laws ten years ago has seen a steady reduction in alcohol-related health problems and violence.

Britain’s Institute of Economic Affairs concluded that by relaxing the licensing laws, “the government allowed consumers to pursue their preferences more effectively”.

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