By Bob Halstead
Why is it that we have to have so many rules and regulations in Australia? Someone once said (I think it was me) that the reason had to do with the first English immigrants being either criminal or stupid. But, trouble is, once Governments get into the habit of legislating, there is no stopping them, even in the face of evidence that no benefit occurs and that unintended consequences are mostly negative.
Divers would do well to remember that the Lonergans died while the Queensland Health and Safety Regulations for Recreational Diving in a Workplace (ie Great Barrier Reef) were in place. Zealous dive masters are still forcing divers to dive much deeper than they want on morning dives because of the “no reverse profile” rule, which has been internationally discredited since 1998. Rules tend to hang around as little fanfare is given their repeal, and plenty still linger on dive decks.
When Australia decided to go metric, not content with letting the system work through a generation of school children, the Government banned the import of items displaying Imperial units. An example of this was the SCUBA depth gauge. Many old divers had learned to dive to depths measured in feet. They knew how long a 12 foot shark really was (answer: 6 feet), and how long they could stay at a depth of 60 feet (answer: until they ran out of air).
A diver from Sydney had learned to dive with the Imperial system, but then did not dive for several years. When the opportunity came he got back into diving, bought himself a brand new set of scuba and came diving on one of our Scuba Safaris in PNG.
We had a fabulous start to the Safari with sparkling clear water and calm seas. A couple of days into the trip I took the group to a sheer wall, only 10 m at the top but over 300 m to the bottom. The divers went in then I followed, leisurely checking them and the site. Along the wall I noticed something odd. There were bubbles rising from the deep that were much finer than they should be. I knew this happens when a diver is very deep, deeper than I had advised, and I went over the edge to investigate.
The diver’s buddy was at 40m hanging onto the wall and staring down at the diver who was just visible way below. The buddy did not understand what was happening but had the sense not to go deeper. I realised it was my responsibility to rescue the deep diver so locked in my mind a mantra, “Grab Him, Bring Him Up; Grab Him, Bring Him Up: Grab ….” and dropped quickly down the wall. When I got to him his pressure gauge was just going into the red and he was trying to take a photograph with his Nikonos. My depth gauge read 72 m. I grabbed him, and brought him up.
He struggled a bit to start with but luckily I am quite big and was able to force him up. As we came into shallower water he became cooperative, and I took my hands from around his throat. That last bit is not true, I had grabbed his crotch. I signalled for another diver to get a spare tank and we made him decompress for 90 minutes assuming he had been at 80 m for 20 min. Afterwards we all realised that as he went down to 40m he had become affected by Nitrogen Narcosis – AND STARTED READING HIS METRIC GAUGE IN FEET. He thought he was at 75 feet.
As far as I am concerned the villain here is not the diver, but the officious bureaucratic twit that decided Imperial gauges should be banned. It nearly cost this diver his life.
Swimming pool fencing is another issue of excessive legislation. I heard recently that 80% of private pool fencings are not up to Australian standards. Excellent! I think that is a measure of the contempt people have for them. What we need is not more compliance but fewer rules. It is bad enough to be forced to put in any pool fence and destroy the aesthetics of your back yard, and your bank account, but to then have to comply with a raft of stupid “standards” makes me mad. It drives Dinah crazy too. In PNG kids live on the water from day one. Babies are taken paddling in canoes by their three year old siblings. Yet you never hear of a drowning. She taught all our kids and grandkids to swim and thinks Australian pool laws are pathetic.
Then we had that gormless Desley Boyle from the Peter Beattie Queensland Government trying to mandate compulsory pool inspections (which you pay for) so that they could fine you for a part of the fence being 2 cm too low. “What could be more important than the life of a child” she would twitter, and even encouraged people to dob-in their neighbours. Well I can tell you, Desley, that what is more important is that we are allowed to live our lives in peace and not be set upon buy a bunch of Nazis while we are in our backyards having a sausage sizzle and a skinny dip. I am not trivialising our brave diggers, but, in principle, that is what we fought wars for, and what many Australians died for. It is an important part of our freedom. Maybe she forgot.
Now the Rudd mob want to filter our internet, supposedly from porn, but who knows? Once it is in they could filter anything. Liberal thoughts, for example. Malcolm Turnbull was not much better decreeing that we have to give up our beloved incandescent bulbs. Now this is actually a good idea in most cases, but evidently not if you suffer from migraines nor, ladies, if you wish to put on makeup, and not if you object to a bit of Mercury poisoning in the landfill. However why do we need to legislate? If it is such a good idea, and saves on electricity bills, it will become popular in its own right. Then in cases where the incandescent bulb is superior, it will still be able to be used. Education is better than legislation, or are we still all either criminal or stupid?
Peter Garrett is earning his keep, and showing that he is “doing something”, by banning plastic bags. Presumably we will have to use the “green” bags like the ones I have hanging in my garage and that I always forget to put in the car when I go shopping.
In the Goss era I tangled with the Queensland Government when they introduced their imbecilic rules for “Diving in a Workplace”. It was not a pleasant experience. Because I took Underwater Pictures and sold the odd one, I was classified as a “commercial diver” and deemed unqualified since I did, and do, not have a “commercial diver” certification. It was illegal for me to dive in Queensland for seven years until the legislation was repealed. Fortunately I was resident in PNG at the time, and could give them the finger.
When I think of the time and money wasted by petty rules it makes me weep, and I have to advise you to ignore them whenever you can get away with it and it does no harm. I’m not writing about criminal law here. Stay honest, and do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, but remember that it is nearly always impossible to achieve anything worthwhile sticking strictly to the rules.
The classic case was the PNG administration before Independence. Wiley old District Commissioners ran the “Districts”. They were vastly experienced and knew every rule in the book – and how to break them. They ran the Districts like Kings, and even Gods on occasion. When Gough Whitlam came along and decided on a socialist grandstand to force early Independence, the DCs were given golden handshakes and the Districts, now Provinces, handed over to young, inexperienced and conscientious National Officers together with the unworkable rule book. It was a cynical and sleazy betrayal.
Yet still Australians cry for more rules. They are aided and abetted by lazy and cowardly politicians who promote laws that just make life more difficult, but pretend they are solving problems.
Rules should be our servants and not our masters. They push us into a world of mediocrity, injustice and frustration. I wonder sometimes how much youth drug and violence problems are rebellions against our Nanny State. I believe in learning skills and seeking knowledge, and having ADVENTURE – living the art of safely experiencing increased risk.
Right now I really NEED a dive!