The nanny state: over-regulation is killing commonsense

I am finding myself becoming increasingly frustrated with the world in which we live. I feel like I waited eagerly all through my childhood to finally be an adult and have the freedom that I believed would come with the achievement, only to discover that I just graduated to parental higher power.

When I was a kid, I thought there were two types of humans: adults and children. I perceived time as an eternal hourglass where the sands never ran out and I was doomed to be a child forever. Don’t get me wrong, I was blessed with an awesome childhood with two awesome parents. But I wanted to be a grown-up so I could eat cake and drink Coca-Cola whenever I wanted to.

I had a glimpse at this mirage while in university, where the idealists come to die. I was innocent and naïve and I wanted to change the world, but I quickly learned that the big wide world wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows. The freedom of choice I expected to experience as a fully-fledged, degree-carrying grown-up never appeared. Instead, I found myself ruled by regulations for every action I could make. And it’s become worse as the years have gone by.

Many jobs require us to have the ability to analyse situations, make judgment calls and use our commonsense. But how are we supposed to build these skills when we live in a society that doesn’t allow to us to build them?

Every time someone dies through misadventure, we, as a society, influenced by our government, cry out for a law to prevent it happening to anyone else.

A prime example is the bicycle helmet. From 1990-92, Australian states and territories passed laws to make the wearing of a bicycle helmet mandatory and we were the first Western country to outlaw non-helmet wearing cyclists. This followed extensive campaigning by various groups including the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

Why do we need this law? Is it not common sense?  Why does this have to be regulated? Research suggests regulations that rule the bike lane is a key reason as to why 60 per cent of bike owners leave their bicycle in the garage and don’t use it. There are cyclists who are so against the mandatory regulations for cyclists that they are organising protest rides to implore the government to repeal the law making helmet wearing mandatory.

The issue here is not cycling without a helmet, the issue is personal choice.

In so many aspects of our lives, we are ruled by over-regulation with an illusory belief that it is to protect us from our own lack of sound judgment.

Workplaces are rife with these regulations. Small business are wrapped up in red tape. We have laws for walking through a manufacturing plant, for cutting down trees on our own property, for smoking inside our own car, we have lock-out laws, liquor restrictions. We want to ban monkey bars because someone fell off and broke their arm, we want to ban books because they offended someone, refuse entry to our country to people with different opinions to ours and, in Victoria, you could face a fine of $10 for changing your own lightbulb in your own house. Yep, seriously.

I understand that all of these regulations and laws are in place in an effort to “protect” us and keep us safe, or at least this is the illusory effect. However, surely it damages our ability to think for ourselves.

When everything is regulated for us and rules dictate our every move, how are we to build sound judgment skills or a capacity to challenge the establishment? Where has commonsense gone?

Many jobs require us to have the ability to analyse situations, make judgment calls and use our commonsense, often in critical situations for some roles. But how are we supposed to build these skills when we live in a society that doesn’t allow to us to build them and over-regulates our lives?

This over-regulation can be dangerous, especially when it involves medical treatments. The process of changing GPs for example: patients with chronic illnesses such as arthritis and neuropathy can be forced to go without their medication for upwards of two months while the new GP assesses their situation, sends them to specialists again and becomes familiar with their condition.

It’s incredible to think that I spent all my childhood looking forward to the “freedom” of adulthood, only to discover that freedom was an illusion.

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers writer and coach at