How many times are we told that politicians’ private lives are just that – private – and that the media should not investigate political sex scandals or interfere in politicians’ personal affairs?
And how many times are we told that the public has no right to know about what their political masters do behind closed bedroom doors?
When scandals erupt, how quickly are we told that as long as only consenting adults are involved, neither the public nor anyone else has any business poking their noses into the private lives of our politicians?
Most of our politicians (including a certain one residing at the Lodge in Canberra) would be very surprised to know that the idea that consenting adults should be left alone pretty much summarises the classical liberal (dare I say neoliberal?) view of the role of government in a free society: that individuals should be permitted to do whatever they please, as long as they don’t harm others.
Whether that behaviour is moral or not (or even a good idea or not) is of course an important issue, but that is not something to be determined by government.
Applied consistently, it is a powerful principle with wide ranging implications, particularly for economic policy.
So, it is a pity that our politicians don’t apply this rule as vigorously to their law-making behaviour as they do to the public’s right to know about their private lives.
Which brings me to the recently released report of the National Preventative Health Taskforce.
This report is a bureaucrat’s dream; a grab-bag of proposals to regulate almost every aspect of our lives. If you thought that living in a free society enabled you to eat, drink and smoke as much as you want, then think again. If the proposals in this report go ahead, then the food, drink and cigarette police will soon be knocking at your door.
But hang on a minute – whatever happened to the consenting adults principle?
A very puzzling thing seems to be happening each day in Canberra. Somewhere between our politicians’ houses and Parliament House, the consenting adult principle goes walkabout, only to be amazingly found again when our politicians finish regulating our lives for the day and return home, with their private lives not to be interfered with by anyone because that’s, well, private.
But if the public has no right to interfere in the private lives of politicians, then what right do politicians have interfering in the private lives of the public?
And what right do politicians have telling us what to eat and drink, and how many packs a day we can smoke? Why can’t they just leave us alone?