Citizens Opposed to Bureaucratic Bullying and Excessive Regulation

Citizens' Rights

The Future of HUMAN RIGHTS in Australia

Australians have long enjoyed a high standard of human rights, individual freedoms, and protection from unreasonable official bullying.

But we are fast creating a society in which only rich corporations and very high income earners can afford the lawyers and consultants to defend themselves if they are targeted by local governments or other bureaucracies  –  who incidentally have access to unlimited resources and top professionals at no expense to themselves.

The ombudsman is sometimes referred to as a democratic safeguard, but in fact can deal with only a token fraction of the thousands of cases of unreasonable oppression by bureaucracies.

Appeal tribunals also are too daunting for most bureaucratically bullied citizens. An appeal system is necessary, but is not the solution to the COBBERs problem. There is no conceivable system which could remedy the endless flood of unfair treatments which are inflicted by various bureaucracies on ordinary Australians every day.

Reform of the bureaucratic mentality is the solution.

The regulators are losing their image as protector of the people and fast acquiring the image of predator of the people.   Our regulators and enforcers are shedding the role of public servants and are evolving into enclaves of self-serving public masters.

The only solution to this decline in the Australian quality of life is a change in the culture of bureaucracy. Not just a rule here and a regulation there  –  our society must recognise the need for good public service, see it as a vocation, and raise the young with awareness of the proper values adhered to by a public servant in a democracy.

As a result, the philosophy of bureaucracy would become:

  1. that we are here to improve the lives of citizens, and
  2. that official powers are only to be used against the will of a citizen when their actions cause an unjustifiable and significant harm to the community.

Interference in a citizens’ life will no longer be smugly justified on the grounds that “regulations are regulations”.  Every regulation has a reason, and any enforcement must (a) accord with that reason, and (b), itself cause less harm than the citizen’s behaviour.

Fining for example is a punitive act, justified only when a citizen is actually behaving anti-socially.  But many bureaucracies today are using their fining powers as a cover for pillage.  Sending parking officers out at odd hours, for example, when there is no pressure on parking space, is itself anti-social behaviour.

And in local government, frustration of someone’s plans just because of the loudness or number or status of objectors, when there is no just reason, is moral cowardice, and actually implies that such local governments are unfit to wield such powers. 

Dobber-driven bureaucratic bullying is rife today and sometimes amounts to no more than adding legal muscle to someone’s prejudice, selfishness, croneyism, spite, envy, sabotage or resentment of fair competition.

In a reborn public service, fair principles, rather than lobby pressure, will decide whether official power will be used to crush individual plans. Thus human rights will be protected.

In today's bureaucratic empires, some operatives have come to see their official power as their personal power.  Many public servants have become accustomed to the homage of citizens, constantly sucking up to them, desperate to avoid the damage the official can do to their affairs.

Some citizens’ projects’ are frustrated even when absolutely no-one objects to them, except the  bureaucracy itself.  Sometimes a citizen is abused just to “teach them a lesson” because they have failed to seek all the permissions  –  even though there is in fact nothing undesirable about their project.  This is government for its own gratification  –  not government for the people.

Regulation should not be inflicted purely to “teach people a lesson”, that is people who have not gone through all the prescribed bureaucratic channels (permits, etc).  Does this mean anyone can do anything?  No, not at all. A citizen who has not jumped through all the hoops still runs the risk that when they are investigated their behaviour is found to be genuinely contrary to the social good.

We are simply saying that hostile exercise of powers should not be used as a whip to enforce conformity to procedures.  This is a fascist notion, not a democratic one.

Times have changed. We have entered a new era. The complexity of modern society provides unlimited scope for entangling the populace in regulation, depriving us of any worthwhile control over our own lives. The concept of ownership of property, for example, has already diminished significantly from what it used to mean.  Many citizens, bullied by unreasonable council controls over their own home constructions and renovations, have painfully learnt that an Englishman’s home is no longer his castle.

Furthermore, extraordinary new powers are available to modern bureaucracy through modern technology.  The facilities for comprehensive surveillance of, interference in and control over personal lives already exist. The only limits are

  1. who can afford these facilities (bureaucracy can), and
  2. whether we as a people will allow it to happen to us.

There’s a story going round that if you slowly heat a frog’s water, he will remain in it until he cooks  –  whereas if you suddenly heat it, he will jump out and save himself. Bureaucracy has slowly increased the stranglehold of regulation around our necks over the past few decades and we have passively adjusted. We are being cooked.

We are on the threshold of a new super-regulated culture.  But we still have time to choose what sort of social order our descendants will inherit. We have reached a crossroads. We can degenerate into a new feudalism, based on bureaucratic power. Or we can enter a new phase of enlightened public service.

COBBERs has come into existence with the aim of transforming the public service  –  to put people first.

In summary:

  1. Public service is necessary  –  civilisation depends on it.
  2. We need good regulators, people who respect people.
  3. Public service needs to become a vocation  –  vows of service should be taken.
  4. Abuse of official powers for self-aggrandisement or other selfish gain should be explicitly renounced by all who assume a public service position.
  5. Children should be raised with an awareness of the dangers of bureaucracy and the principles of true public service.


(From newsleter #1)

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Inform Not Control

The media report some dramatic event such as a nanny killing a baby.  People are shocked, and seek a way to prevent it happening again. Some journalists and politicians inevitably step in with the knee-jerk reflex of urging more regulation.

Bureaucracy rubs its hands with glee. This will boost its empire. As a result our authority over our own lives is further diminished.  And the babies are no safer than before.  Why not? Because the officials who have stepped in to take charge are human too. And when they make a mistake, it is grossly amplified by the legal powers they wield.

Just in the child care area for example, officials have made many mistakes. They have broken up families out of prejudice and egotistical motives, inappropriately taken babies from parents based on misguided diagnoses, treated some children very badly in official institutions, etc, etc.

I don’t want to rubbish all efforts of public servants. I just want to expose the lazy and reckless “cure-all” of more regulation. In very many cases, the public would be better served to be informed not controlled. People do care about their babies, their health, their kids’ education, etc.

Indeed the more bureaucracy acts like our nannies, the less viable and less discerning the public become, and the more vulnerable our society is to crises, corruption, and totalitarianism.

We do not need to be treated as babies and have choices taken from us.  If there are statistics, if there are warnings, if there is advice, let us have it.

Give us the information and let us act on it.

(from Newsletter #1)

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The So-Called Food Safety Laws

A Classic Case of Excessive Regulation

  • The most draconian food controls on the face of the earth
  • Dramatic exaggerations about food poisoning in Australia
  • Local governments keen to get the enforcement role to expand their empires
  • More misery for small shopkeepers, already harassed by inspectors

It is an outrage that our health bureaucracy wants people to go cap in hand to them for a PERMIT before they can conduct a sausage sizzle or community barbeque.  Community groups gathering over food is a basic social ritual and human right  –  existing long before bureaucracy was ever invented.  How dare they propose that we seek permission to assemble.  It’s only a few more steps, and we’d have to get a permit to have sex!

Here is an edited version of a submission made by the founder of COBBERs to the Department of Human Services (items A-D):

A. Australia is already one of the safest food places on Earth. This excessive regulation erodes our right to choose our own foods, to cook our own foods, or to choose who shall cook our foods. Even the newly sanctioned food outlets would of course still get it wrong sometimes.  The price for the imagined safety increase is far too high.

B. It is reasonable that monitoring of temperatures, storage periods, etc, should occur in food manufacturing, warehousing, supermarkets and 24-hour outlets where the volume or turnover of staff implies that no one individual is fully aware of what’s happening to the food.

C. But in small family and “corner store” businesses the elaborate measurements and records will not be meticulously kept, but will merely provide the local health officers with more ammunition with which to pester innocent people who have usually never poisoned anyone in their lives.

D. The proposals produce a greater evil. Health inspectors are already notorious for burdening citizens with expensive alterations and threats, even when common sense would indicate that the food is already safe.  There are sanctions if the food-seller poisons someone (prosecution, deregistration), but no sanctions for bullying by the officer.

Inform Rather Than Bully:

  • Display clear and simple instructions for all food handling workers
  • Publicise the figures on types of proven food poisoning so that people can make more informed food choices

In place of this overbearing regime of “prevention”, COBBERs advocates:


  • Inspection and advice to follow any case of poisoning
  • Penalties (fines) for serious and culpable food poisoning
  • Public notice (disgrace) for repeated serious cases of actual food poisoning
  • Prosecution and banning of an operator for chronic repetition of serious cases
  • These steps provide a deterrent to the commercial mishandling of food, while only harassing the wrongdoer.

To cater to any who may still be anxious about food safety, let bureaucracy provide the following service:

  • Draw up their elaborate requirements, and permit any merchant who complies with them to display a sign to customers saying “This outlet conforms to DHS 5-star guidelines”.  Then let the public vote with their feet. What could be more democratic than that?

(from Newsletter #3)

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To help a citizen unreasonably targeted by bureaucracy

The first step, if possible, is to politely speak up for the victimised citizen, and to appeal to the bureaucrats’ sense of fair go.

If this fails, then there may be a solution which needs the help of several people  –  to take up a collection or pitch in with some work. In this case, it is good to let others know that a COBBERs Aid Party is under way.

Take an example. Imagine a poor old lady has a toothless old dog which is her dearest companion. Imagine also that the local Council has decreed that everyone with such a dog must erect a large fence or get rid of the dog. She cannot do either. In this case the rule should not be applied because the REASON for the rule does not come into play  –  that is, her dog is harmless. (COBBERs Code of Good Regulation number 7 in Newsletter #2).

But let us say that the officer or officers in this case are either devoid of empathy, not game to stand up to their superiors, feel they need to impress some dobber, or just want to show who’s boss. Then the COBBERs can perform their rescue mission, by having a COBBERs Aid Party.


The COBBERs might advertise the problem in the local paper, or with a sign, or by phone network.  They take up a collection for the material, or seek a discount or a donation.

Then they gather on a certain day to erect the fence. They may put a sign up where they are working, explaining the situation to passers-by. They don’t hurry over the task, but enjoy the occasion with lots of conversation, possibly even a barbecue. Of course a COBBERs barbecue does NOT seek permission from the food authorities. Citizens gathering freely to help each other out is the very basis of society, of which bureaucracy can only be the respectful servant.

Now why all the fuss, and why the bad publicity for the bureaucracy? Because the COBBERs Aid Party is redirecting the bureaucrat’s violence away from the old lady. They should not have to do this. The old lady should not have to endure the bullying in the first place. Wasting this time and money putting up this unnecessary fence is not the perfect solution  –  it is merely the lesser of two evils. The correct solution is a caring bureaucracy. A COBBERs Aid Party is a peaceful form of protest.

(from Newsletter #3)

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