Illustration: Kerrie Leishman
A law firm sent the following advice to its clients in December, which, in keeping with so much advice from government bureaucracies, local councils and human resource departments, was unnecessary, passive-aggressive and constricting:
''With the festive season upon us, now is the time for employers to communicate important messages to their employees … The rules that apply in the workplace generally also apply to work functions … ''This means that policies relating to, for example, discrimination, sexual harassment, and work health and safety still apply, because of the connection between the workplace and the event.
''Injuries suffered at the party can be the subject of a workers' compensation claim against the employer. Obligations to prevent sexual harassment or bullying also apply, and responsible service of alcohol must be taken into account when managing these risks …
''Failure to observe the employer's policies at all times during the event may be used by the employer as a basis for disciplinary action, or in certain circumstances termination of employment.''
Apart from that, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Multiply this message by 100,000 similar emails, management memos, regulations and public service advertisements and you get the accretion of the cultural and creative asphyxiation by red tape, the accumulating intrusions by a society increasingly obsessed with regulation.
Driving this process is a self-perpetuating political class which seeks relevance through regulation, of which there is always more, while nothing is ever repealed, so that regulations, the tools of legalism and control, simply multiply and grow.
It would, for example, be useful if local government were required to maintain an index of speed bumps, because their proliferation has reached the point of a mania. A speed bump index would measure the growth of local nanny state aggression.
We are never going to be able to legislate recklessness or distractedness from the human condition, no matter how much legislation is passed, regulations imposed, regulators deployed, laws enforced, Orwellian cameras installed, or speed bumps inflicted.
Motorists are going to make mistakes, all manner of domestic accidents are going to take their toll, young women are going to get pregnant, young men are going to injure themselves, many people are going to binge or smoke or take drugs, and some children are going to be neglected. Crap happens.
As we become a culture of speed bumps, everything is imposed in our own interests, and the interest of an abstraction called public safety. Never acknowledged is the tax-funded self-justification of the political and bureaucratic class.
Last week's flare-up over compulsory voting is a case in point. Never has there been an issue of principle in which both sides have self-evidently strong arguments. I have been on both sides for them, supporting one and then the other.
Only a fool cannot see the merit of both arguments: that it is paradoxical and inimical to democracy for the state to impose the act of voting on its citizens. Conversely, it is beneficial to democracy to have the whole of the polity engaged in the democratic process.
Only a fool or a self-interested warrior of the political class could not see and acknowledge these conflicting merits. Which is why the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was so revealing in her narky response to a discussion paper by the Queensland state government on whether to abolish compulsory voting.
The Prime Minister reacted via Twitter: ''Don't let the Liberals make our democracy the plaything of cashed-up interest groups.''
Apart from being ridiculous - as if the federal government itself, and the unions, were not the biggest contributors to political advertising during the 2010 federal election year - her comment does not augur well for federal politics in 2013 .
The self-interest was also obvious. It is well established that the Labor Party benefits from compulsory voting because numerous studies have shown that voter participation is lower among the lowest socio-economic cohorts when voting is not compulsory. Labor has traditionally been the party of the working class, though that is changing.
Her comment also served as an early signal of what is to come. More class war. More narky politics. The Gillard survival campaign is clearly going to emulate the playbook used so successfully by President Barack Obama, in winning re-election in November. He had one major policy, healthcare, and one major tactic, a relentless attack on his opponent's wealth and corporate background. He also played the race card. He created a massive transference of wealth, via Obamacare, then urged voters to act in their self-interest.
Given that in Australia the Leader of the Opposition has a big mortgage and three university-age children that tactic will not fly, so the government will have to tie the opposition to Big Business and Big Polluters, the interests that would make a plaything of politics if they got the chance. As for the race card, the gender card will more than suffice.
As the political class accumulates greater power to government it also accumulates greater costs.
Washington has just seen an abject failure of political leadership. The unsustainable cost of social welfare and the unsustainable growth in government debt have simply been pushed into the future even though every delay is dangerous.
Political cynicism begets voter cynicism. In Australia, this was captured over the weekend by my comrade Tim Blair, blogging in The Daily Telegraph, who offered readers various options as to who was responsible for eight traffic infringements incurred by the Prime Minister's private vehicle.
They voted: Julia Gillard 3 per cent; The Real Julia Gillard 5 per cent; Tim Mathieson 5 per cent; Misogyny 9 per cent; Big polluters 2 per cent; Youth and Naivety 4 per cent; Tony Abbott 72 per cent.