The USA was colonised by the Pilgrim Fathers, as dour a collection of black-clad, rule-obsessed party-poopers as was possible to crowd into a single, leaky boat. So it should be no real surprise that the government they spawned saddled their kids with prohibition, the war on drugs and a tax code that would bring any reasonable person out in hives.
Here in Australia, we started on a different tack. Our early colonists were a ragtag bunch of Irish Catholic convicts, thieves and rogues, with the occasional sheep-shagger thrown in for good measure. We were drunks almost to a man, worked best at gunpoint and slacked off at the slightest excuse. We went walkabout at will, waltzing around a great, and essentially empty country as the mood took us, and we considered overbearing government to be something we’d left behind in the Old World. We were larrikins. We were free spirits. We were impossible to contain. Until we weren’t.
Where did it all go wrong? When did Nanny sneak through the immigration net and start to dictate to us again, as if we were no more than a bunch of snotty-nosed, truant children?
The First World War? The Second? You can make an argument for any or all of those, and as it happens I do blame the Germans, but for me, it’s a lot more recent than that. For me, it all dates back to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990.
You’re thinking that’s a stretch, right? Well, ponder this. With the fall of Communism, we lost our favourite whipping boy. Prior to 1990, every hair-brained, half-arsed notion that the Left put forward could be dismissed as the ravings of would-be Commies. Remove the threat, and you remove the fear. Australia no longer had to worry about an invasion of jackbooted Ivans in a fleet of little red Ladas, and all of a sudden nanny-state, interventionist policies were hip and trendy. When we lost our whipping boy, we were the ones who, overnight, became whipped.
Now don’t get me wrong: if a good whipping sets you up for the day, be my guest – lay on with abandon! But the problem with this particular whipping was that it became apparent the Left interfering in their well-meaning way wouldn’t necessarily bring about the end of Western democracy as we knew it.
Upon this realisation, we really let big government get the bit between its teeth. When the wall came down, the Australian taxpayer was shelling out less than $9 billion per year on welfare payments and had approximately 140,000 civil servants sucking at the Federal teat. Ten years later, we were spending a whopping $90 billion – 10 times what we had just 10 short years before – and we were employing an additional 20,000 pen-pushers. We were essentially allowing Big Brother to pay people to sit at home and watch Big Brother. Reality TV had become… reality.
And with that came a slather of nanny-state laws. Nanny was paying us a stipend and keeping us safe, so surely she had the right to tell us what to do? Want me to reduce my speed, sure, no problem. Seatbelts? Too easy. Smoking in public? *Cough, cough*, never. Double shots? Perish the thought, officer. Bike helmets? Pass the matching Lycra, darling!
We now live in a country where it’s perfectly acceptable for the government to take the roof from over your family’s head because you grew six cannabis plants in your backyard for personal use. We’ve allowed our government to do what governments always do in the end – they’ve turned our own laws back upon us.
To quote the late, great, country singer, Merle Haggard, “Are we rolling downhill like a snowball heading for hell?” I sometimes think we are. The only hope I can see for us lies in not shying away from our convict roots but embracing them. We need to seek out the loosest, the toughest, the misfits and the players, the bad and the downright mad – people who know how to party – and remember what fun used to be like. Clap them in irons, give them the number of a damned good people smuggler, and get them into the country pronto!
Earlier this year, The Guardian, that bastion of leftist, cotton-wool-wrapped safe-space morals, called time on James Bond, claiming 007 was too toxic for the #MeToo era. They’re welcome to their opinion. Me, I’d welcome Sean, Pierce and Daniel any day of the week. And you know what? If we’re throwing open our doors to new blood, why not ship us all those unemployed grid girls too – they might be overdressed for our sun-drenched climate, but there are still a few skimpy barmaids who can teach them a thing or two about accessorising. We need to remember what it is to laugh at ourselves, and at our leaders in their starched shirts. We need to reclaim the bar fridge as our safe-space, eat more red meat than is good for us, and remind ourselves that ‘She’ll be right’ so long as we don’t let the pollies loose among the collection plates.
We’ve boundless plains to share, but we need to share them with blokes and sheilas who can drink, smoke and party the way our grandfathers and their grandfathers did. We need to get back to our roots!
Aaron Stonehouse is the Member for South Metropolitan Region in the Parliament of Western Australia. He is a member of the Liberal Democrats.