John Roskam and the IPA see a decline in the sense of community, and blame it on – who could have guessed? – government overregulation. People used to accept risk, he says, but “now it is something that must be eliminated”. And what’s the remedy? “Many of the issues council health inspectors try to solve could be fixed by simply declaring that anyone purchasing at a community event does so that their own risk.”
Well, that sounds good – but Roskam does seem to skip over who or what is to do the declaring. If the community group sticks up a sign at its sausage sizzle saying “Eat at your own risk” that has almost no legal effect, if anything goes wrong the group is still liable to be sued for millions, and even if nothing goes wrong the insurance against such suits is likely to be crippling. If the government gets around this by passing a law saying that you eat at your own risk, removing by statute the average citizen’s immemorial common law right to recover damages for negligence, that might create moral hazard – are there really no football clubs out there who would relax their kitchen standards if they were absolutely confident they were immune from suit? It certainly sounds like more government interference, which is what I thought Roskam was against.
Indeed, given the IPA’s previous attacks on not-for-profit groups as anti-business special interest lobbyists one might be forgiven for thinking that the IPA’s real interest was in a more general abolition of product liability suits, something that would be of immense benefit to the corporations that fund it.
Yes, there are real problems in regulating community groups, but they can’t be solved by the IPA’s kneejerk antigovernment rhetoric. It’s not the government that has made us Australians more ready to resort to the courts than we were in the fifties, it’s us Australians. It’s not the government that has left us too little connected to our neighbours, it’s modern consumerist culture’s drive to unfettered individualism. In dealing with these important issues the community sector needs more support, not less.