Australia’s future hinges on skinny strips of plastic
This week, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, the Federal Opposition and Australia’s leading industry lobby group all armed themselves with sharp cutting implements to confront a menacing threat to the nation’s future: tape.
We’re not just talking about run of the mill tape, either. None of this clear, transparent, colourless, odourless stuff. It’s tape of colour that’s got everybody worried sick. Apparently, the entire country is being held back by brightly coloured bits of plastic. Particularly of the red and green varieties, the ghastly cyan scourge of blue tape having yet to infringe on our precious freedoms.
Even the PM joined in the tape-bashing yesterday. All that onerous red tape needs to be scissored, STAT! But what has tape, a humble piece of material that possesses a variety of stick- and non-stick uses, really done to deserve being endlessly abused as a metaphor for government regulation?
Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
The fact of the matter is that tape rarely bothers people. It’s actually pretty ineffective in performing most tasks. Police tape is notorious for not being able to stop anyone. A yellow piece of plastic is no impregnable fortress. Mark Harmon has no problem ducking under it on NCIS. All the stuff really does is draw attention to the fact that you’re living next door to a particularly violent junkie.
While sticky tape is versatile, it’s easy to half scrunch it up so it doesn’t stick properly, leaving you wondering why you didn’t just pay the David Jones people to wrap up the wedding gift wok instead. Sure: there’s film tape too, but that’s so redundant nowadays it doesn’t even merit a second sentence.
So it’s only natural that tape is especially useless when it comes to being a metaphor for regulation.
Regulation is all about preventing people from doing things that would be damaging to other people. Tape, however, don’t stop nothing. Really, regulation is more like a fence. It keeps entities like businesses operating between reasonable boundaries.
Imagine you owned a farm. If your neighbour decided to tear down the fence they share with you because, say, a wealthy business magnate friend told them to, you probably wouldn’t be happy because next door’s alpacas could easily wreck havoc on your precious tomato crops. And that would hurt your customers too, because you’d have to raise prices on the tomatoes you’ve got left.
Good regulation is more like an electric fence. Let’s assume your wooden fence is still in place. Farmer Sue’s stupid alpacas keep on ramming it and consequently, damage your crops nearby. If you electrified your fence, the alpacas would get stung and learn not to do it again.
It’s also the humane thing to do. It deters alpacas from hurting themselves. Regulations too, often save companies from themselves. BP took a big hit to their profits because of their oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. More stringent regulation, more “green tape”, could’ve prevented that.
On Wednesday, the incoming head of the Australian Industry Group, Innes Willox, complained to Lateline that national companies now have to comply with over 300 different environmental regulations. “There’s overlap left, right and centre,” Innes said. “Let’s strip it back.”
It sounds fair enough, but it’s not that simple. Environmentalists The Punch spoke to yesterday said there is such a patchwork of green tape because some states are better at protecting the environment than others. Naturally the states don’t want to adopt a national standard that could either hike up regulation when they don’t want it - or water-down their high standards.
You also can’t dumb down rules about complex scientific issues. A particularly complex strand of green tape could mean that a pollutant doesn’t build up to dangerous levels in your local waterway.
So when we talk about getting rid of tape of all the colours of the rainbow, what’s really happening doesn’t resemble a pair of scissors cleaving away tangled bits of string. Whole fences are getting ripped up, oil is spurting everywhere and Sue’s alpacas are going berserk.
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